Ilonen on his Hoylake heroics and Tiger’s 2006 strategyJuly, 2014 News & Tour
The flying Finn explains his love of links
Before Tiger the previous winner at Royal Liverpool is Mikko Ilonen. The Finn, recent winner of the Irish Open, captured the Amateur Championship here in 2000 when he defeated Germany’s Christian Reimbold 2&1 in the final.
This year the 34-year-old is one of many people’s fancies as an outside bet (he is still available at 100-1) given his pedigree at Hoylake – he was also tied for 5th after two rounds here in 2006 – and his recent good form.
Here’s what he had to say on the course, his links history and what Tiger did eight years ago.
I have played two tournaments there, two very different ones. When I won the Amateur in 2000 it was the greenest course, at the Open it was the brownest. I like it both ways.
When we played it in the Amateur it was a lot of tougher as it played longer. At the Open, as we know, you didn’t have to hit driver but there were different ways to play it.
I played with Robert Rock on Sunday, he hit driver on every par 4 and 5.
It is a very scoreable course. If they don’t get overly aggressive with the firmness then you can do well. They got it slightly wrong at Muirfield on the Thursday and they had to slow down the course on the Sunday which is unheard of.
You can attack the course if it is firm, you’re not going to hit many fairways but, if the rough isn’t too thick, then you can. I see it on the short side, maybe that’s because of 2006.
I was very surprised at Tiger’s strategy, I didn’t see that but he was in such good control of his long irons that he could play that way. There was nobody else who could play that way. He had birdie chances with 4-irons, others would just be trying to hit the green.
"A straight putt can have double breaks, you just have to feel it" – Mikko Ilonen
I remember the course was a different order and the 1st (the 3rd this week) was the most difficult hole you could imagine. If you made a five you would win the hole most days. At the Open you could hit any iron and it would run forever or you could hit driver-wedge.
The most difficult holes were the ones coming home which dogleg left. If you miss the fairway you will make a bogey.
When I was at the Amateur I got to know the clubhouse a little bit and I always look at the history and find some familiar names. It kickstarted my professional career, it gave me playing opportunities. The toughest competitor was Zane Scotland, he was a bit younger but the one to look out for.
Learning links golf
I had a pretty good record in match play; I won the West of Ireland (WOI) and we played a lot of match play.
I had some experience of links golf. My first Open was in 2000 and before that played a lot in West Ireland in the spring. We played different courses and always stayed in the same B&B. They always played the WOI at Rosses Point but they had some problems with the greens so we were at Enniscrone.
I have never considered myself a good ball striker but, if you have the imagination and feel of what’s coming, then you can do OK. I don’t like to play cold but I seem to play OK. The key is when to recognise certain shots and the right time to hit them.
They don’t strike you as very undulating. I remember playing on the Tuesday in 2006 and hit my second shot to the 2nd. There was a little bit of wind and I got to the green, it’s moving and they had an R&A guy there checking the greens. I asked if it was time to put water on the greens and they said they wouldn’t be putting any water on them. They were just gone and the 2nd green has no slopes on it.
There are a lot of small undulations, the greens at old courses in the UK tend to lead their own life. A straight putt can have double breaks, you just have to feel it.