I’m conflicted about how I feel about the British Open, which will be played this week at Muirfield, second only to St. Andrews among the United Kingdom’s iconic golf courses.
Part of me is brainwashed by American golf courses, which are rolling carpets of manicured grass designed to be played with the ball in the air. Another part of me loves the British courses where often the ball in played on the ground and subject to all sorts of crazy bounces. Indeed, luck plays a bigger role in the Open than any of the other major championships.
Regardless of how much luck is involved, the key to winning at Muirfield clearly is talent. The last seven Opens played at Muirfield have all been won by Hall of Famers. Going back to 1959, the list of champions is Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo (twice) and Ernie Els. Earlier champions at Muirfield include Walter Hagen and Harry Vardon (twice).
Obviously Muirfield brings out the best of the best. It is, you realize, the course that most inspired Nicklaus, whose greatest American creation is called Muirfield Village in his native Ohio.
Perhaps the reason Muirfield surrenders to the best is because by link standards is it considered the fairest of all the Open courses. The fairways are wider and the ball can often be played in the air where distance control is easier. Now don’t ever tell Muirfield’s all-male membership that the course is a bit Americanized, but it is.
So history tells us this week’s winner will be a star player – or at least a player who will soon evolve into a star. That means we could be talking about Jordan Spieth, the 19-year-old Texan who Sunday became the first teenager to win on the PGA Tour in 82 years.
What about the list of usual suspects?
Tiger Woods is having an outstanding year with four victories, but his recent play has been shoddy and he’s been dealing with an injured elbow. Rory McIlroy has been in a funk all year since switching to NIKE equipment and a $200 million contract. Where’s Luke Donald been? Lee Westwood?
Phil Mickelson, seldom a factor in the Open, won last week’s Scottish Open. He now says he loves links golf. Adam Scott simply has played much since winning the Masters.
Els not only won at Muirfield but he is the defending champion, thanks to Scott bogeying the last four holes last year in one of the biggest major championship choke jobs of all time. Els is playing well.
My top two picks are American Matt Kuchar and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland. Both drive it incredibly straight and both are potential hall of famers. McDowell has been up and down this year, but, like Kuchar, they seldom show nerves when they’re in the hunt.
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