The historic links of Muirfield has a long history with the British Open Championship dating back to 1892, when amateur Harold Hilton won the first Open contested here.
Previous winners at this course reads like a who’s who of golfing greats. Walter Hagen, Henry Cotton, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson all won here. Nick Faldo won two of his three Open titles here, in 1987 and 1992 and last time Muirfield played host to the Open, Ernie Els triumphed back in 2002.
The big South African will now tee off on Thursday 18th July defending the Open title he won last year after Adam Scott’s collapse over the final few holes at Royal Lytham St.Annes, but he faces a stern test from a stellar field of stars, not to mention the unpredictable British weather.
Els is one of a number of stars who have used the past couple of weeks to begin their British Open preparation in earnest by playing a few practise rounds at the changing course.
With the United Kingdom experiencing a somewhat unusual period of dry and warm weather, this has changed the hue of the course from green to brown and increased the length of the already notorious British Open rough; which can be vicious in any conditions, as shown in this picture from Royal Lytham last year.
Given that the rough tends to be wild on every British Open course on the rota, this puts accuracy from the tee and with approach shots at a premium.
In terms of weather, long range forecasts for the four days of action look positive. There should not, hopefully, be repeat scenes of the chaotic wind and postponement of play at St. Andrews a few years back, nor should there be the horrific rain that has dogged both the Open and warm up tournaments beforehand over previous years.
Indeed, if weather conditions remain similar to what they have been in the UK this past fortnight, players will be pleasantly surprised to find they are packing sun lotion in their bags, as opposed to wet-weather gear.
For the 2013 Open Championship, the course has been lengthened by an additional 158 yards to a total of 7,192 yards from the professional tees. The biggest change has come on the ninth hole, which has seen the tee moved back 50 yards, extending this par five to 554 yards, with the addition of several new bunkers also.
However, the changes to the course are relatively minimal compared to those undergone by other Open Championship courses on the rota and indeed, it is the size and length of the rough that may cause golfers the most problems this week, especially if the wind – an ever present threat at this glorious seaside links, picks up.
The dry weather leading up to the event will have dried out the course considerably after a wet few months previously, most top players won’t find hitting the ball the required distance a problem, however keeping it on the firm, rolling fairways and greens may well be.
So who will prevail? It’s a tough call, the last time the Open was contested at Muirfield, Els won, but he did so only after a four-way playoff ahead of Thomas Levet, Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington.
Much depends on the weather and wind as to which players will prevail. If the weather stays calm and sunny, the chances of consistent, accurate American players like Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler would all be greatly enhanced.
These conditions would also suit an in form Rory McIlroy, however the Irishman is woefully out of sorts with his game at the moment and victory here looks unlikely.
Adam Scott will have a burning desire to eradicate the memory of last year’s capitulation at Lytham, even with a Masters Green Jacket in his locker from earlier this season. The other Major winner this year, Justin Rose (bel0w), will also feel he has a chance of landing Major number 2. Rose is second favourite with most bookmakers, ahead of world number one Woods, who is a ridiculously short 9/1 to win the event.
Ernie Els will be confident of heading the challenge from the rest of the world, but expect fellow South Africans Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen to feature too. Jason Day will be a strong contender too for South Africa alongside Masters ace Scott. K.J.Choi also has a decent record in major events and could do well.
From Europe, Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald and Ian Poulter will be popular picks after their Ryder Cup success, but don’t rule out players like the in-form Alexander Noren, veteran Miguel Angel Jiminez and the consistent play of Peter Hanson.
The action tees off at Muirfield on Thursday morning, who is your money on to win the season’s third Major?
Images Courtesy of: Ernie Els Facebook Page, British Open 2012 Facebook Page, Justin Rose Wikipedia Page, Scotland – The Home of Golf Webpage)