The third major championship of the golf season kicks off Thursday morning, as the R&A hosts the Open Championship from Muirfield in Scotland. It’s the 142nd playing the Open, dating back to 1860 when Willie Park Sr. was victorious at Prestwick.
Below is a combination of event and course history, as well as what we can expect to see this week at Muirfield in the Fanatico A-Z Guide To The Open Championship.
A Is For Adam Scott
Before winning the 2013 Masters in a playoff over Angel Cabrera for his first major title, Adam Scott was unable to close the deal on Sunday at the 2012 Open Championship. Going into the final round with a four-shot lead over Graeme McDowell and Brandt Snedeker, Scott had a rough start on the front nine and ended up with a five-over par 75, missing out on the playoff with Ernie Els by one stroke. He is expected to contend once again this year, hoping to improve on his missed cut from the 2002 Open at Muirfield.
B Is For Brown Grass
One of the first things that people notice when the Open Championship comes on television every year is that the grass isn’t a vibrant shade of green, and that weeds appear to be growing out of every corner. In North America, a lot of courses are manipulated to make them seem perfect. It’s not uncommon for courses to put some extra colour into the fairways or greens, and it makes for a much better look on television, but in Scotland, that doesn’t happen. The ground is hard, balls carom in every direction and the wind can be absolutely brutal. It’s all part of the Open Championship mystique.
C Is For Claret Jug
The Claret Jug, or the Golf Champion Trophy, is one of the more recognizable trophies in all of sports, having been first presented to the winner of the Open Championship back in 1873. The trophy was made by Mackay Cunningham & Company of Edinburgh at a cost of £30, split evenly between Prestwick, The R&A and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the three clubs that were scheduled to host the Open.
C Is Also For Challenge Belt
As recognized as the Claret Jug is, it wasn’t the first prize given out to the winners of the Open. For the first ten years of the tournament, the winner was presented with the Challenge Belt, which was made from Moroccan leather and was lavishly decorated with emblems and a huge silver buckle. From the official Open site:
“The party winning the belt shall always leave the belt with the treasurer of the club until he produces a guarantee to the satisfaction of the above committee that the belt shall be safely kept and laid on the table at the next meeting to compete for it until it becomes the property of the winner by being won three times in succession.”
After Young Tom Morris won the event three straight years from 1868 to 1870, the belt was retired and given to Morris as per tournament rules. While waiting for a decision on what to do next, the tournament wasn’t played in 1871. The Claret Jug was decided on before the 1872 Open, but wasn’t ready in time, so Morris was presented with a medal when he came away victorious. This is why Morris’ name is the first inscribed on the trophy, despite Tom Kidd being the first to hoist the trophy in 1873. I’d suggest that more tournaments should go down the championship belt route, especially if they look like this:
D Is For Dark Horses
There’s probably more luck involved with the Open Championship than any other major, so it’s no surprise that players have come out of nowhere to win this event so frequently in the past. It’s the only major that has not produced a winner from the top 10 in the world over the last five years, and if you look back at the winners from more than five years ago, names like Todd Hamilton, Ben Curtis and Paul Lawrie are present as well. Don’t get me wrong, these guys are all good at this level, but don’t be surprised if another non name-brand player is lifting the Jug this week.
E Is For English Golfers
Before Justin Rose won the U.S. Open at Merion this year, the last Englishman to win a major championship was Nick Faldo at the 1996 Masters. Faldo was also the last Englishman to win the Open, right here at Muirfield in 1992, and outside of him, you have to go back to Tony Jacklin in 1970 to find the last English major winner. We’re not talking about a Wimbledon-esque drought here, but it would mean so much if an Englishman could capture the Open, and with seventeen of them in the field, there’s certainly a chance. As usual, the top English contenders will be Rose, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.
E Is Also For Ernie Els
Not only is Els the defending champion, but he was also the last man to win the Open at Muirfield, defeating Thomas Levet, Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington in a four-hole playoff. He missed the cut last week at the Scottish Open, but before that he won in Germany at the BMW International Open, and finished tied for fourth at Merion. How likely is a repeat? Oddsmakers have him pegged at about 30-1, but the repeat has been done twice in the last decade, first by Tiger Woods in 2005 and 2006 and then by Padraig Harrington in 2007 and 2008.
F Is For Fair
Prepare to hear the word ‘fair’ an awful lot this week. Of the nine courses currently in the Open rota, the players say that Muirfield is the most fair of the bunch because there are very few hidden tricks on the layout. Compared to the other courses, the amount of blind shots is at a minimal number, and the thought is that the track is just more predictable than the others.
F Is Also For First Time Winner
So far in 2013, we’ve seen Adam Scott and Justin Rose claim their first major titles, years after we expected them to do it. Inside the top-25 ranked players in the world, there are twelve of them who are seeking their first major victory and all of them, save for Steve Stricker, are playing this week. Colin Montgomerie used to say that it was more difficult to win a major than before because you could pencil in Tiger Woods for at least one, plus an annual win from Els, Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh. Now though, eighteen players have won the last twenty majors. The field is more open than it’s been in the last fifteen years, and it’s a perfect opportunity for someone to break through.
G Is For Graeme McDowell
There might not be a player in the world who has had a more interesting three months than McDowell. In those twelve weeks, he has played seven events, winning three of them and missing fourcuts. The theory is that his game is perfectly suited for Muirfield, but really, the way he plays is pretty much a fit for any course. He’ll be a big focus on the first two days of the coverage at least, as he has been paired up with 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and Tiger Woods.
G Is Also For Greywalls
Greywalls Hotel borders Muirfield, and you’ll likely see it at some point on the broadcast, when the cameras are focusing on the par-4 10th. There’s also a secret doorway that connects the hotel right to the clubhouse. Also, if you’re interested in potentially playing on the course at some point, Greywalls could be your best chance, as apparently an undisclosed set of tee times are given to select Greywalls guests on Monday and Friday mornings.
H Is For Hazards
A lot of courses in North America place hazards around their layouts in order to reach some kind of quota. This is why you’ll almost always see some kind of bunker around greens, or running up the side of a fairway. The problem is that most of these aren’t really hazardous, and in a lot of cases, the players would rather be in those “hazards” than in regular rough. At Muirfield, the bunkers are deep and well placed, with 150 of them present, including the famous island bunker on the 18th. The rough is disastrously thick, with difficult mounding all over the course. Hazards were originally intended to penalize players for going in them, and that’s exactly what you’re going to see this week.
H Is Also For Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers has their base right on the grounds of Muirfield, and they are recognized as the oldest organized group of golfers in the world. Their history dates back to 1744 when they wrote the original thirteen Rules of Golf, and predating the R&A by about ten years. They officially handed over the running of the tournament to the R&A in 1919, so while they don’t necessarily have a major place in the current game, they are still an incredibly important part of golf history.
I Is For Ivor Robson
Even if you’ve watched a lot of golf, you might not know who Ivor Robson is, but you definitely know his voice. Robson has been an official starter for the European Tour for decades, and has worked the Open Championship every year since 1975. It’s a job he takes very seriously, as he doesn’t stray from his post for the day once he gets out there. No bathroom breaks. No food. No drinks. He doesn’t have anything to eat or drink after 7:00 PM the night before, and he’s always dressed for the occasion with his suit and tie and perfectly coiffed hair, as he gets ready to announce the players on the first tee. He’s the ultimate perfectionist, and claims that in the 37 years of announcing, he’s never had a single complaint that he mispronounced a player’s name. I know it’s a Rick Reilly essay, but ESPN put together a piece on Robson ahead of the Open, and you can check it out below.
J Is For Jordan Spieth
The 19-year old Spieth has had quite a season on the PGA Tour, and was able to qualify for the Open by defeating Zach Johnson and David Hearn in a playoff at Sunday’s John Deere Classic. It was the first win by a teenager on the PGA Tour since 1931, and there’s a lot of focus on him this week. Only two teenagers have ever won major championships: Young Tom Morris and John McDermott, with McDermott doing it most recently at the 1911 U.S. Open.
K Is For Keep It Low
One of the reasons that people love the Open is because of how different it is compared to what they see on the PGA Tour. In a lot of cases, the better approach into a green at the Open is to keep it low and run it up, as opposed to trying to get one way in the air and have it land soft. Golf balls landing soft at an Open Championship is pretty much non-existent, so don’t expect to see too many Mickelson flops this week. This is the way golf was originally intended to be played.
L Is For Layout
Muirfield is a great course without question, and one of the things that makes it unique, especially amongst other links courses, is the layout. It has an architectural quirk in that the front nine is played in a clockwise direction, while the back nine intersects with the front in a counter-clockwise direction. What this means is that the players will have to deal with different wind directions on just about every hole, as opposed to most courses where they are generally consistent from tee to tee. You can see a photo of the layout here.
M Is For Mother Nature
If you’ve been watching the PGA Tour at any point this season, you’ll know that weather has been crazy, causing all sorts of delays and trouble for the players and tournaments. At the Open, weather is usually a big difference maker, and there might not be a better indicator of that than Tiger Woods in the 2002 Open at Muirfield. Going into the third round, Woods was two shots back of the lead, and looking to win his third major of the year. He teed off right when a bad section of weather came through, making an already difficult course almost impossible to navigate. He ended up with a 10-over par 81, which is still the highest round of his career to date, and further illustrates the idea that sometimes you just get a little unlucky with the draw. Right now, the forecast doesn’t look too bad, but that can change in a heartbeat, and if it does, nobody will have any idea what to expect.
M Is Also For Morning Golf
For those who don’t watch the European Tour on a regular basis, the idea of morning golf in North America is pretty much limited to them getting on the course for a round, but not this week. The last tee time for the first two days of the event is 11:13 AM ET, and the TV coverage starts anywhere from 4:00 to 7:00 AM ET, so make sure to set those alarms.
N Is For Nick Faldo
The three-time Open champion is teeing it up this week at a place he loves dearly, and it might be the last time we ever get to see Sir Nick in action. Faldo has played six competitive events in the last five years, and none since the 2010 Open at St. Andrews. Between his work with CBS, injuries and lack of interest, he doesn’t get out often anymore, suggesting this week that he’s played about twenty rounds total in the last year. He won here at Muirfield both in 1987 and 1992, and has suggested that the only reason he’s playing this week is because of the venue. At least he’ll be comfortable with his pairing, as the R&A has put him with Tom Watson and Fred Couples.
O Is For Old Tom Morris
We talked earlier about his son, Young Tom Morris, but the senior Morris is a big part of the history of both the Open and Muirfield. Morris won four of the first eight Open Championships in the 1860’s, and when the Honourable Company felt that they were getting too big for the likes of Prestwick and Musselburgh, they decided to build a new club and course. That course ended up being Muirfield, and the man they picked to design Muirfield was Morris, who had previously done work on famous courses like Carnoustie and Prestwick.
O Is Also For Open Championship
As stupid as it sounds, the proper way to refer to the tournament is a bit of a sore spot for some people. In North America, we commonly refer to it as the British Open, but in Europe, it is the Open Championship. The amount of people who are upset and confused by this every year is staggeringly high, and surprisingly, ESPN has started to refer to it as the Open Championship.
P Is For Peter Alliss
North American golf coverage is in a pretty good place right now, and even though we can all find places to pick apart, it’s way better than where it was a few years ago. Europe, however, has been fortunate enough to have Peter Alliss working for them since the 60’s, later becoming the lead analyst for the BBC in 1978. He’s honest and funny, and despite being 82 years of age, he still knows the current game as well as just about anyone. ESPN has been bringing him onto their coverage for a few hours here and there at the Open for a few years, and it should be happening again this week. When he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last year, he had a highly entertaining acceptance speech, which you can watch below.
P Is Also For Phil Mickelson
This year will be Mickelson’s 20th year playing in the Open, and let’s just say that he’s never exactly had the best of success here. He’s finished inside the top-10 just twice, with his best a runner-up to Darren Clarke in 2011. The good news for him is that he’s coming off of a win in Scotland last week, which was his first win in Europe in twenty years. That win has currently placed him as the second favourite behind Tiger Woods this week.
Q Is For Quotes
A collection of the best quotes over the years at the Open, courtesy Golf Today:
- Tom Watson (when asked if he collected anything Scottish for luck).
At 15 we put down my bag to hunt for a ball, found the ball, lost the bag.
- Lee Trevino (during the 1971 Open at Royal Birkdale).
You think I play the hole the wrong way?
- Seve Ballesteros (on being asked why he used a four-iron off one tee instead of the driver, and then holed a 40 foot putt for a birdie during the 1991 Open at Royal Birkdale).
It doesn’t hurt much any more. These days I can go a full five minutes without thinking about it.
- Doug Sanders (in 2000, thirty years after missing a two foot putt to win the Open at St. Andrews in 1970 – he went on to lose in a playoff to Jack Nicklaus).
It’s like turning up to hear Pavarotti sing and finding out he has laryngitis. (Of Tiger Woods’ 81 in the 3rd round of the 2002 Open Championship) – Peter Alliss.
Golfing excellence goes hand and hand with alcohol, as many an Open and Amateur champion has shown.
- Henry Longhurst.
Do I have to know rules and all that crap? Then forget it.
- John Daly (when asked whether he’d like to join the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, after winning the 1995 Open at St. Andrews).
Wind is part of the British Open. It is an examination and it took me a long time to pass the examination. Eighty per cent of the fellows out there have not passed the test.
- Gary Player (after winning the 1974 Open at Royal Lytham and St. Annes).
One good thing about rain in Scotland – most of it ends up as scotch. – Peter Alliss.
R Is For Rory McIlroy
Okay, so what do we make of the number two ranked player in the world? Nobody has any idea. When the golf season kicked off, McIlroy was listed as a 12-1 favourite, second to only Tiger Woods. That has more than doubled now, with most books listing him anywhere from 25 to 28-1. He’s got just four top-10 finishes this season, and has broken 70 in just one round since the middle of May. He’s too talented to count out at this point, but as hard as this is to believe, there will be people who’ll be surprised if he wins this week.
S Is For Sexism
The R&A has been around since 1754, and have never had a female member. The same goes for Muirfield, established in 1891, and there’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks about these policies since the Open is returning to Muirfield for the first time in over a decade. People have called for the R&A to no longer stage the Open at courses with that kind of policy, but there’s no chance of that happening. See, after Augusta National decided to admit female members, the Open is the only major that is played at these clubs, hence the pressure to change, but don’t expect it that to happen anytime soon, despite the fact that Peter Dawson, head of the R&A, has been on record saying that his job would be a lot easier if the issue didn’t exist.
T Is For Tiger Woods
So, here we are again with Tiger Woods, still looking for his 15th major victory, and as mentioned above, he doesn’t exactly have fond memories of the place, but he’s still the odds-on favourite to win the whole thing. He’s taken the last six weeks off due to an elbow injury that he says is fully healed, but that is something to keep an eye on. One other thing to remember is that in tough conditions, Woods did shoot 70-68-65 at Muirfield back in 2002, with that third round 81 in some of the most brutal weather you will ever see on the course. All eyes are on him.
U Is For Undulations
At the Open, it’s often about what you avoid, as opposed to what you end up doing, and a lot of that has to do with the undulations in both the fairways and on the greens. Wild kicks and caroms are going to be present throughout, especially when you consider that the course will be very dry when the players tee off on Thursday. There are a lot of players in the field this week who have never played a professional round at Muirfield, so there will have to be a lot of learning on the fly, especially if the wind does get up.
V Is For Vivid Memories
With a tournament that dates back to 1860, there are going to be many moments that stand out, but there are three from recent years that are especially vivid.
• 1999: Jean Van de Velde blows a five-shot lead on Sunday at Carnoustie, and a three-shot lead on the 18th, eventually losing to Paul Lawrie in a playoff after probably the worst course management in major championship history.
• 2005: Jack Nicklaus, playing in his final major championship with Luke Donald and Tom Watson at St. Andrews, makes birdie on the 18th to finish with an emotional even par 72. It was the last time Nicklaus played a competitive round.
• 2009: After a birdie on 17, 59-year old Tom Watson needs par on the 18th at Turnberry to become the oldest player to win a major by eleven years. His approach takes an unfortunate kick and rolls off the green, where he was unable to get up-and-down for par. He would go on to lose to Stewart Cink in a playoff.
W Is For Winners List
The list of champions at the Open is an illustrious one, but the one at Muirfield specifically is ridiculously good:
• 1892: Harold Hilton
• 1896: Harry Vardon
• 1901: James Braid
• 1906: James Braid
• 1912: Ted Ray
• 1929: Walter Hagen
• 1935: Alf Perry
• 1948: Henry Cotton
• 1959: Gary Player
• 1966: Jack Nicklaus
• 1972: Lee Trevino
• 1980: Tom Watson
• 1987: Nick Faldo
• 1992: Nick Faldo
• 2002: Ernie Els
All but two champions, Perry and Ray, are in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
X Is For X Marks The Spot (Yes, again)
Yes, I’ve done this for the previous two Fanatico guides, but it still applies. The R&A is likely going to get really difficult with their pin positions if the wind stays down, so players are going to have to be absolutely pinpoint from the tees to have any hope of scoring well. End up in the rough/fescue/bunkers here and you’re going to be dead to rights, especially on Sunday.
Y Is For Yellow Scoreboard
One of the defining features of the Open is the sight of two giant yellow scoreboards that appear on either side of the 18th green, with all the work on the boards itself being done by hand, but the operation is much bigger than that. Each group on the course has a walking scorer with them, and immediately after each shot is hit, data is sent electronically to the scoring headquarters at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. That info is then relayed to those in control of the boards, who update it, ensuring that the data is always the same on each board.
Z Is For Zero Open Wins
The list of players looking for their first major win is long, but the longer one is those who are looking for their first Open. It’s often been said that all of the best players won the Open, from Jones to Hagen, Player to Nicklaus, and Watson to Woods. Guys like Mickelson, McIlroy, McDowell, Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley may have a major or two already, but winning the Open really is something special.
Peter Senior, Lloyd Saltman and Oliver Fisher officially start the tournament Thursday morning at 1:32 AM ET. Enjoy the Open, everyone.