Harrington and Wood head to Holland ten years after Open success
The PGA Tour is taking a week’s break before the Tour Championship, while the golfing world is anxiously awaiting the Ryder Cup in a fortnight’s time.
That means the European Tour takes centre stage this weekend as many of the continent’s best head to the Netherlands for the KLM Open.
Last year in Spijk, Romain Wattel earned his first European Tour win with a final-round 69 – the Frenchman holding off Canada’s Austin Connelly by a stroke.
Both Wattel and Connelly are returning to The Dutch this year, while a number of other stars – including Eddie Pepperell, Lee Westwood and Matthew Southgate – are also teeing it up in what promises to be a fascinating tournament.
Two more interesting names who have entered are Padraig Harrington and Chris Wood – ten years on from finishing as Champion Golfer and Silver Medal winner at The 2008 Open at Royal Birkdale, they will do battle once more.
A case for the defence
To put the magnitude of Harrington’s victory at Birkdale into context – he was only the fifth man since 1956 to become Champion Golfer in back to back years and no-one has managed it since.
A wrist injury had almost forced the Irishman to withdraw prior to the tournament but he did enough to stay in contention heading into Sunday – two shots behind overnight leader Greg Norman.
Harrington then pulled away from the field with a brilliant back nine and won by four strokes from Ian Poulter – a far more comfortable triumph than his dramatic play-off victory over Sergio Garcia at Carnoustie 12 months prior.
A decade later, the 47-year-old is still competing for titles and finished as runner-up to Andrea Pavin at the Czech Masters less than a month ago.
Could the KLM Open be a 15th European Tour victory for Harrington?
Coming out of the Wood-work
While Harrington was taming Birkdale to secure a remarkable defence of the Claret Jug in 2008, an unknown amateur was also showing the professionals how to take on the course.
Illustrious names such as Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson were unable to get inside the +9 cut-line but Chris Wood did – and stormed up the leaderboard with rounds of 73 and 72.
At one point on Sunday, he was three strokes off the lead and although three successive bogeys put pay to his dreams of winning the title, he ended in a tie for fifth alongside Jim Furyk and, more importantly, clinched the Silver Medal as the low amateur.
Standing at 6ft 6in tall, Wood doesn’t look like your archetypal golfer but has gone on to win three European Tour titles – including the 2016 BMW PGA Championship – and admitted after The 2008 Open that he had loved the experience.
“I didn’t feel any pressure all day, apart from the first tee,” said Wood.
“I tried to play one shot at a time, which is hard to do, but I was looking at leaderboards because I was enjoying it.
“It was unfortunate having three bogeys in the middle of the back nine. That’s not what you need to win tournaments like this.”
Pep in his step
While Harrington and Wood would both love repeats of their Birkdale performances at the KLM Open this weekend, they are far from the only men eyeing the title in Spijk.
The year 2018 has been kind to Eddie Pepperell as he secured a maiden European Tour victory at the Qatar Masters in February before earning place one of the final places at The Open by finishing as runner-up at the Scottish Open.
The Englishman certainly made his late entry count at Carnoustie with a scintillating final-round 67 – the lowest Sunday 18 in the field – to finish in a tie for sixth on -5, alongside a certain Tiger Woods.
He narrowly missed out on Ryder Cup selection but seems to play his best golf on links courses and The Dutch’s exposed layout, where the wind often plays a key role, should suit his game perfectly.
The 27-year-old has pedigree on the course, finishing third at last year’s KLM Open, so will fancy his chances of adding a second European Tour title to the trophy cabinet.
Lee-sy does it
Another man with history at the tournament – albeit on a different course – is Lee Westwood, who clinched his seventh European Tour victory at what was then known as the Dutch Open, back in 1999.
The 45-year-old is a proven winner and showed that some of his vintage form was returning when he led the Made in Denmark on the final day earlier this month before being narrowly defeated by Matt Wallace in a four-way play-off.
Westwood – who finished second to Louis Oosthuizen at The 2010 Open and missed out on a play-off with Stewart Cink and Tom Watson by a single stroke at Turnberry a year prior – looks ready to secure a first professional win in more than three years and has the experience to get over the line.
Matthew Southgate has become something of an Open specialist in the past three editions, as he finished tied 12th in 2016, tied sixth in 2017 and was in a tie for eighth following a 69 after the first round at Carnoustie earlier this summer.
Southgate also finished fourth at the 2016 Irish Open before ending as joint runner-up to Jon Rahm at the same event 12 months later, so clearly loves the links.
Once again, that means The Dutch’s exposed layout should play right into his hands and he shot rounds of 65 and 68 at the venue two years ago.
With top-30 finishes in each of this last three starts, the 29-year-old is in good form and a first European Tour victory appears to be just a matter of time.