The Open 2013: Muirfield’s majestic links will offer major challenge

In the imagination of golfing romantics all links courses look like this


The arid outreaches of East Lothian have rarely looked so inviting. Rise above Muirfield’s pre-historic attitude towards women and what remains is a course every mother could love. You might take issue with many of the  sentiments expressed yesterday by the chief executive of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club but at least one claim made by the game’s leading statesman, Peter Dawson, was indubitably right; no course has looked  better in the 13 years he has been running the Open shop.

The R&A’s impromptu pre-Open conference drew the ire and the cant from the day. By late morning the  entrenched views of an institution  reluctant to sack from the Open rota a club mired in Victorian Britain were already bulldozed, their remains scattered across the ether. The last word of Rory McIlroy’s noon appearance  before the media expressed in all its eloquent minimalism what really should not need to be said. “In terms of life in general I think men and women are treated equally for the most part these days. And that’s the way it should be.” Amen to that.

It is fair to say that beyond the media enclave, Muirfield’s misogyny did not appear to be troubling the golfing community. By late afternoon as the last of the starters were setting out on final practice into a stiffening breeze, the old place was bathed in a balmy light and the atmosphere fairly crackled with pre-tournament excitement. Beside the putting green behind the 18th green Ian Poulter shared a joke with Sean Foley. You wonder how that little tête-à-tête might have looked from a distance in the week in which Lee Westwood revealed his association with the camera-toting Canadian coach.

Darren Clarke headed across the footbridge to the driving range in white trousers, which for more traditional observers signalled the end of golfing civilisation. Coming the other way, the venerable Tom Watson was greeted by a fellow traveller from the United States, “Hey Tom, Howard from Huntsville, Alabama, says hello.” Is there no end to the love the world of golf has for America’s Ryder Cup captain? “Hello Howard,” said Tom, waving as he bustled by.

At this point in proceedings everyone is a friend. The players are well disposed towards each other and tolerant of the intrusion of strangers. Out on the course the prep continued. Graeme McDowell chipped to white discs on the 18th green where holes might be. Behind him South Africa’s George Coetzee took an extra drag on his fag while waiting as his practice partner Justin Harding searched for a ball sprayed off the tee. The circles of relief otherwise known as drop zones painted into the edge of the rough are forbidding enough. The fescue forest beyond does not bear thinking about.

In the imagination of golfing romantics all links courses look like this; fairways as hard as roads, baked the colour of hay bales. When the grass dies back under autumn’s advance what bounty will the fairway fringes yield? A king’s ransom in golf balls, that’s what.

Picking a winner is a conversation that might run all day and all night. Tiger Woods takes his customary place at the top of the betting. The case was made during a blistering spring  when he won four times, culminating in the swatting of Sergio Garcia at the Players Championship. If we take him at his word and discount his performance at Merion and before that at Muirfield Village on the grounds of a strained elbow, there is no player with a stronger case.

Justin Rose’s effortless grace is hard to ignore, less so the statistical ball and chain attached to winners of the US Open. Only two players in the past 40 years have won back-to-back at the US Open and the Open – Woods and Lee Trevino. Phil Mickelson is another playing into a brisk statistical wind, having completed back-to-back victories at a major only once in his career, seven years ago adding the Masters to the Bell South Classic. The prospect of a repeat after his triumph at the Scottish Open on Sunday led him to the erroneous claim that he was the last to achieve that double. In fact, it was Woods the following year, winning at Firestone the week before the US PGA.

If there is a contender short on form and deep on talent it is McIlroy, who brings to Muirfield an amended driver and an improved demeanour. The  concern for his form revealed by the experts is not shared by him. If a poor six months is the price to pay for a  career of high achievement in Nike clothing then so be it, he said. McIlroy nurtured his love of the game on tracks like this. At some point golf will feel as easy as breathing again. Thought processes full of clutter will cease their restless incursions and all will be one. The McIlroy that ended last year was  unrecognisable from the player that left for America in July. The mojo is out there somewhere.

Westwood and Luke Donald will be hoping that the pattern of the past five years continues to throw up a new winner. The last 20 majors have been won by 18 different players. Westwood is the only player in the history of the game to finish in the top three of all four majors and not win one. He boasts eight top 10s in the past six years. Never has he featured less in the build-up to a major in this period. About this he will let us know should providence lift him clear of the field on Sunday.

Donald is equally deserving, and the conversation around him just as quiet. It is hard to think of a course more suitable to the qualities that took Donald to world No 1. All of this has been said before, of course. Twice in the past four years Donald has finished in the top five. The trend is promising, the weather set fair. Muirfield must make a hero of someone. 

Driving forces: Kevin Garside’s three bets for the Open

Tenner on the nose: Rory McIlroy (28-1)

Fantastic value for a current major champion. McIlroy was in the doldrums this time last year too, but recovered to win his second major tournament at the US PGA in August and seal the money list on both sides of the Atlantic. Has a new driver and is happier with his game.

Tenner each way: Henrik Stenson (40-1)

Quietly contending again. After falling off the golfing map, Stenson’s name is once more a feature of leader boards. Finished 18th at the Masters in April and 21st at last month’s US Open. Third at the Scottish Open last week, Stenson is at home in this sort of territory.

Fiver on the nose: Thorbjorn Olesen (100-1)

Slowed a little after a fast start to the year, as runner-up in Abu Dhabi and third in Dubai. Went out in the penultimate pair with Tiger Woods last year, demonstrating his suitability to the links challenge. Might prove why Nike unveiled him alongside McIlroy.

Kevin Garside

The 142nd Open: Tee-off and TV times

* Selected tee-off times:

(all BST; GB & Irl unless stated)

8.22am M Kaymer (Ger), G Porteous, J Day (Aus)

8.44am B Watson (US), N Colsaerts (Bel), D Johnson (US)

9am T Watson (US), Sir N Faldo, F Couples (US)

9.11am J Rose, E Els (SA), B Snedeker (US)

9.22am I Poulter, K Bradley (US), B Horschel (US)

9.44am R McIlroy, H Matsuyama (Japan), P Mickelson (US)

1.01pm M Thompson (US), P Harrington, R Ramsay

1.12pm V Singh (Fiji), D Clarke, M Laird

2.01pm C Schwartzel (SA), L Westwood, S Garcia (Sp)

2.12pm A Scott (Aus), M Kuchar (US), L Donald

2.45pm T Woods (US), G McDowell, L Oosthuizen (SA)

* Television coverage

9am-8pm BBC 2.  Highlights: 12.20-1.05am, BBC 2.

* Weather

Today Warm, sunny. Max temp: 23C.

Tomorrow Cloudy with sun. 20C.

Sat Cloudy, brighter in evening. 19C

Sun Mostly overcast. 20C.

* Odds

9-1 Woods; 16-1 Mickelson; 18-1 Rose; 20-1 Scott; 25-1 McDowell; 28-1 McIlroy, Els, Garcia; 30-1 Donald, Westwood; 33-1 Day; 35-1 Schwartzel; 40-1 D Johnson, Snedeker; 45-1 Fowler, Kuchar, Stenson; 55-1 Poulter; 60-1 Grace, Kaymer.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss