by Simon Caney for www.sport-magazine.co.uk
The Irishman who lifted the famous Claret Jug a year ago told Sport how the 2008 contenders should deal with the biggest of occasions
1. Rise to it
"There's a danger you can be intimidated by the occasion. A lot of guys said after the US Open last month that, had it just been a regular week, the scoring would have been a lot better. I think it was the US Open that intimidated people - the name, not the golf course itself.
That's the case with any major, including the Open, but the great thing about the majors is that you only need to be good for that single week. When you're on tour, you feel like you have to have a great week every week. In a major, though, it's just about playing as well as you can for those four days."
2. Lighten the load
"You have to create the right atmosphere for yourself, which means not burdening yourself with expectations. You have to try and just treat it as a normal event, and play your normal game. Every former champion needs to play down the significance of going back to the Open Championship. What's gone is gone, and it doesn't matter what happens at Birkdale this week. I'll still be the Open champion of 2007 - nobody can take that away from me."
3. Learn your lessons
"Much of my win at Carnoustie last year was down to experience, about me understanding my own game. There's no doubt that the wins - and the number of close seconds, thirds and fourths - I've had over the years have made me the player I am now. The key is to keep getting yourself in contention, no matter what the event, so that you learn from it. That experience improves you as a player, and makes it easier to interpret situations as they unfold. You become better at knowing when to push it and when to hold back and play more cautiously, which stands you in good stead if you find yourself in contention. In any major, it comes down to the last nine holes - you always need to be mentally prepared for that."
4. Roll with it
"The weather can play a far bigger role at the Open than at the other three majors. The conditions can be dramatically different throughout the day, and can really affect the outcome of a player's round. Much can depend on whether you get a morning or afternoon tee time, but you definitely have to adapt to a links course and the conditions you get with it. The wind dictates that you normally have to hit a lot of low shots, bump and runs, and avoid the rough. If you do go into the rough or fairway bunkers, you just have to take your punishment and get the ball back on to the fairway. Patience and sensible course management are crucial."
5. Lady Luck
"You can be as patient as you like, but there will be crucial moments over which you have absolutely no control. You might hit a bad chip that hits the flag and goes in, or another one that finishes beside a bush rather than in it. You might not realise the significance of them at the time, but moments like these can be crucial. Equally, when things don't go for you, you have to hang in, stay patient and be in position for when your chance does come along. And if it does, you need to stay focused. The worst thing you can do is let your mind wander and start thinking ‘what if...'"
"I'm not the sort of person to build up my own chances. I've never really had that confidence or arrogance, or whatever you want to call it. But the night before the final round last year, when I was six shots off the lead, I ran with it and told myself I was going to win. It wasn't that I was expecting to win, not at all - I was just trying to get myself comfortable with the thought of winning. Looking back afterwards, that definitely helped."
7. Get in the zone
"When I walked on to that first tee of the play-off [with Sergio Garcia], there was only one thing in my head: that I was going to win the Open. I didn't for a second consider that I was going to lose; it never crossed my mind that anybody would have to lose until I saw Sergio's face at the end. I honestly didn't prepare for losing that play-off. It would have hit me hard if I had done, but luckily I didn't get to find out."
8. Be prepared
"It's important to look at the events where you've done well, and assess what you did right and try to build on it. You prepare thoroughly with a view to recreating it week after week after week. Does superstition come into it? Well, there's more to it than making sure I eat spaghetti bolognese at 6.30pm on the Monday night of the Open because I had it at the same time last year. Having said that, though, if I knew which socks I wore during the Open week last year, I'd probably be wearing the same ones again. Can I win it again? If the wrist's okay, then I really hope so. I'm very happy with my game - I've practised hard and prepared myself well. I feel ready."