COLUMN: Open ready for more magic

In 2010, Rocco Mediate called his championship at the Open a “life-saving” win. The 2011 champion Bryce Molder, who outlasted Briny Baird in a memorable six-hole playoff to claim his first PGA Tour title, said the win gave him a sense of validation.

Ernie Els, too, rediscovered magic on the CordeValle Golf Course, proclaiming his 2011 performance, in which he finished fourth, sent him into a a career upswing.

So despite Tiger Woods not returning this year, the 2012 Open, which is underway today, will continue to provide that who-will-shine-this-time promise.

In the last year before the tournament moves to the beginning of the PGA season, the 2012 Open is a celebration of sorts for the tournament entering its third year in San Martin. After last year’s footprint of record crowds and attention, 2012 brings a healthy combination of major winners, and youngsters waiting their chance and searching for a breakthrough moment.

The fervor that Woods brought last year, would never be more than temporary. Sure, if he decided to come back for a second year there would be slightly more anticipation for this year’s outing – not only from a media standpoint but from the spectators. But that would have overshadowed all of the benefits of what the Open represents.

As a Fall Series stop, the tournament has always given the South County area every chance to check out some of the younger golfers in the sport. Many of them will carry the Tour for years to come. It’s not a major, but it’s one of this area’s best opportunity to see live golfers every year.

In essence – no Tiger, no problem.

Els’, the 2012 British Open champion, highlights the field. While Davis Love III and Molder will also tee off this weekend. Nicolas Colsaerts, 29,  a member of Europe’s Ryder Cup team that two weeks ago stunned the United States to retain the Cup in comeback fashion,  will begin his attempt for a PGA Tour card this weekend. First-year pro Patrick Cantlay returns after shadowing Woods shot-for-shot in last year’s tourney. And former British Open champ Justin Leonard makes his third trip to San Martin. And Vijay Singh returns, still searching for his first Tour victory since 2008.

But a lot of the focus will remain on Els, the most recent major winner in the field.  Els returns to CordeValle for the second time after last year’s fourth-place finish – his only top-10 finish of 2011. It was that first go-around in San Martin that helped Els capture the Claret Jug in July, he said Wednesday after participating in the Pro-Am. He also enters the Open as the only player that secured a berth into the end-of-year PGA Tour championship.

“You know, I did fairly well last year here and that definitely gave me a bit of a boost obviously,” Els said.

The strong finish gave Els, who was still testing out a new “belly” putter last year, confidence entering the 2012 season, he said. It was a resurrection of his short game and play.

“I played well here last year,” he said. “For some reason, I just liked it here last year. I kept going, and I think that gave me a little bit of hope of this year. I keep holding that hope.”

After his British Open championship, Els has found his game once again, he said.

“I was fortunate,” he said. “With a bit of talent – and I always believed that talent never goes away completely. Confidence comes and goes, but, you know, I just kind of found something and that’s really been the change.”

Starting Thursday, he is expecting to continue that rise against a strong field.

Last year’s champion Molder also returns to the course that netted him his first Tour title a year ago. After an up-and-down year that began with his “best start” to a season, Molder is hoping to replicate his success of a year ago.

“No question there will be certain golf courses that fits your eye and fits your game.  This one certainly does that,” Molder said. “I think it plays into my hands pretty well. Also, I played it today and I felt like I hit a lot of the good shots and I think I made four birdies.”

If history says anything about the Open, whatever happens in San Martin over the weekend will be something to remember.

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