Muirfield ready for another Open

GULLANE — The practice round schedule posted each day at Muirfield is not the only way to determine how players are getting ready for the British Open. Johnson Wagner’s name was on the tee sheet at St. Andrews over the weekend.

GULLANE — The practice round schedule posted each day at Muirfield is not the only way to determine how players are getting ready for the British Open.

Johnson Wagner’s name was on the tee sheet at St. Andrews over the weekend.

Geoff Ogilvy could be found on the other side of the country, on links courses like Turnberry, Royal Troon and Western Gailes. Justin Rose was at North Berwick. So were Bubba Watson and Luke Donald, who got in plenty of golf along the Firth of Forth the week before the British Open.

It’s not unusual for players to take off from their regular tours a week before a major to prepare. What’s different about the British Open — isn’t everything? — is that preparations aren’t limited to the course they will be playing.

“You can prepare for the U.S. Open on the range,” Ogilvy said Wednesday. “But you can only prepare for The Open on the course. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be the course you’re playing. The seaside courses here, they’re the only courses with turf like this, with sand like this. There’s something different about the seaside wind in Scotland. … You can fly to Shanghai or Abu Dhabi and work on what you need at home. But you can’t work on what you need at home until you get here.”

Tiger Woods, a three-time Open champion, arrived Sunday morning and has played nine holes a day. There was a time he would leave home a week early and head to Ireland with Mark O’Meara and David Duval, both former Open champions, and play the links courses there.

Woods loves to recall his first experience with links golf in 1995 as the U.S. Amateur champion. He played the Scottish Open at Carnoustie, and then drove down the North Sea shoreline to St. Andrews for the British Open.

“I absolutely fell in love with it, to be able to dink a 5-iron from 150 yards and bump it on the ground, or vice versa — have 260 out and hit a 4-iron and it bounces over the green. That, to me, is pretty neat. Because we play everywhere around the world — an airborne game where you have to hit the ball straight up in the air and make it stop. Here it’s different. A draw will go one distance, a fade will go another, and they’re so dramatic. And I just absolutely love it.”

True, adjusting to links golf can just as easily take place at Muirfield, where the British Open starts Thursday. Defending champion Ernie Els came down from Castle Stuart and has stayed at Muirfield, wrapping up his final practice round Wednesday just after 6 p.m.

But there are no tricks at Muirfield. There are hardly any blind shots. Most of the bunkers are in plain view from the tee. That’s one of the reasons that Muirfield is a favourite of so many players, who use words like “fair” and “honest test,” which aren’t always heard on other links courses.

“I think of all the Open venues, it’s probably one of the least quirky ones,” Donald said Wednesday. “It’s quite straightforward. Obviously with the weather conditions, it’s playing firm and fast. It’s going to be about controlling your golf ball this week. And the weather looks good. The course is set up just the way the R&A would like it. It’s bouncy. It’s a little bit of a breeze out there. Firm conditions are a good protector of the golf course, and we certainly have that this week.”

The forecast is dry for the week, with perhaps some mist on the weekend. Even though officials had the course just the way they wanted it early in the week, they have turned on a few sprinklers in the evening to keep it from getting overcooked.

“I think it’s no exaggeration to say that in my time at the R&A with direct involvement in The Open Championship, which goes back to 2000, factors have combined this year to make this the best course set up we’ve ever had in that period,” R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. “The course is just as we want it. It’s hard. It’s fast. It’s in wonderful condition. The rough is just right. I think the players are enjoying it.”

It all starts to unfold Thursday morning when Peter Senior of Australia hits the opening tee shot.

Among the early starters are Els, Rose and Brandt Snedeker in one group, with Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Hideki Matsuyama a few groups behind. The afternoon groups include Woods, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen, along with Masters champion Adam Scott, Donald and Matt Kuchar.

Tom Watson won at Muirfield in 1980 by four shots over Lee Trevino, which was a rarity in one respect. That was the only Open in the last six times at Muirfield that golf’s oldest championship was decided by more than one shot. Els won in a record four-man playoff the last time in 2002.

Muirfield is seen as a thorough examination that requires solid contact in any weather, which might explain why only the best players seem to win here — Els, Nick Faldo twice, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Walter Hagen, Trevino.

Snedeker tied the 36-hole record at the British Open last year at 130 — the same score Faldo had at Muirfield in 1992 — and eventually tied for third. That was at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and he sounds like he loves Muirfield even more.

“There are defined areas where you need to hit it. How you get the ball in that defined area is up to you,” Snedeker said. “It’s a great mix of holes. I chart what I hit in the practice round, and I’ve hit every club in the bag every day. You’re hitting driver on some holes. You’re hitting 5-iron off the tee on some holes. It’s just a really cool mix. And depending on the wind, they can all play completely differently.

“I think it’s a great test,” he said. “There’s no letup out there whatsoever.”

What happens from here is difficult to project. Woods is trying to end a zero-for-16 drought in the majors. Rose is trying to become only the seventh player to win the U.S. Open and British Open in the same year. Els believes he has a chance to win again, which would put him in rare company — Old Tom Morris in 1872 is the only other player in his 40s to successfully defend his title in a major.

“There’s so much to look forward to the way everything has shaped up for this Open Championship,” Scott said. “Very exciting week ahead.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

École Secondaire Notre Dame High School Grade 12 students Lily Forsyth (left) and Allyne Simonot helped design the “Big Smile” burger. Throughout May, for every Big Smile burger sold $2 will be donated to the Smiles Thru Lindsey Foundation. (Photo contributed)
Red Deer students design burger to raise funds for mental health awareness

Cilantro and Chive donating $2 from every Big Smile burger to Smiles Thru Lindsey Foundation

Red Deer Regional Airport CEO Graham Ingham has ambitious plans for the airport. (Advocate file photo).
Red Deer Regional Airport revenues climb in 2020

Bringing in more business is the 2021 goal, says director

City council will have to wait longer to hear back from administration on possible alternative sites — if the homeless shelter is moved from Red Deer downtown. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Alternative sites for homeless shelter will be explored by the City of Red Deer

Council gave administration more time to return with a report

Quentin Lee Strawberry was found not guilty of second-degree murder in connection with stabbing death of Joseph Gallant in March 2019. (Photo from RCMP)
Updated: O’Chiese man found not guilty of 2019 stabbing death of Red Deer man

Quentin Strawberry found guilty of assaulting murdered man’s common-law partner

Vancouver Canucks’ Nils Hoglander (36) scores on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit (30) during first-period NHL action in Winnipeg on Monday May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Hoglander scores twice as Vancouver Canucks dump slumping Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Hoglander scores twice as Vancouver Canucks dump slumping Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Edmonton Oilers' Dominik Kahun (21) celebrates with teammate Connor McDavid (97) after scoring the third goal against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen (34) during second-period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canadiens clinch playoff spot with single point, fall to McDavid and Oilers in OT

Canadiens clinch playoff spot with single point, fall to McDavid and Oilers in OT

Rory McIlroy tees off on the fourth hole during the fourth round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament at Quail Hollow on Sunday, May 9, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)
McIlroy ends 18 months without winning at Quail Hollow

McIlroy ends 18 months without winning at Quail Hollow

Canada , left to right, lead Briane Meilleur, third Val Sweeting, skip Kerri Einarson, and second Shannon Birchard discuss strategy against Sweden in a qualification game at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, May 8, 2021. Both of Canada's teams were shut out of the medals, marking the first time ever that Canada did not reach the podium at either the men's or women's worlds in the same season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Bubble Wrap: Fresh questions for Canada after medal shutout at curling worlds

Bubble Wrap: Fresh questions for Canada after medal shutout at curling worlds

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Oilers plan to keep playing McDavid, Draisaitl as NHL regular season winds down

Oilers plan to keep playing McDavid, Draisaitl as NHL regular season winds down

Canada's Tyler Ardron, right, tries to block the kick by Italy's Callum Braley during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match in Fukuoka, western Japan, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kyodo News via AP
Canadian men to face Wales and England in July rugby test matches

Canadian men to face Wales and England in July rugby test matches

John Velazquez, right, rides Medina Spirit ahead of Florent Geroux aboard Mandaloun to win the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Saturday, May 1, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Darron Cummings
Casse believes colleague Baffert deserves “due process” folowing positive test

Casse believes colleague Baffert deserves “due process” folowing positive test

Canada forward Liam Millar (23) moves the ball past Bermuda defender Eusebio Blankendal (2) during the second half of a World Cup 2022 Group B qualifying soccer match Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-John Raoux
Canadian men to play next two World Cup qualifying matches in the U.S.

Canadian men to play next two World Cup qualifying matches in the U.S.

Most Read