Muirfield is golf’s kingmaker. Only the game’s royalty hold their coronations here. There will be no fluke winner come Sunday. No Todd Hamiltons or Ben Curtises. The last seven champions here are names on whose heads a crown sits well: Ernie Els, Sir Nick Faldo (twice), Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. “Look at the list of past champions, the number of Hall of Famers who have won here,” said Tiger Woods, perhaps the greatest Hall of Famer of them all.
Wild and muscle-bound smash-and-grab bombers will not overpower and bully Muirfield. The straight-up-and-down, paint-it-by-numbers hitters used to racking up millions of dollars on US Tour dartboard courses will get cricked necks from staring backwards as their high looping shots are hurled back over their heads. Ball strikers and classic artists who can keep their patience will win the day. Think Woods, Els, Luke Donald, the US Open champion Justin Rose and Masters champion Adam Scott. Names with games that would belong comfortably among Muirfield’s list of stellar champions.
There are 7,192 yards to navigate squeezed in between deep rough that looks like Russell Crowe’s Elysian Fields. Golfers should take note of the advice the general gave to his army: “If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled; for you are in Elysium, and you’re already dead.”
This Home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh (No Girls Allowed) Golfers is on every Top 10 list of the world’s greatest courses and is regarded as the premier Open venue. Celebrated course architect Harry Colt tweaked Old Tom Morris’s design in 1922, giving it an ingenious rerouting which now means a clockwise front nine wraps around an anti-clockwise back nine. All of which means the wind comes at the players from every which way but loose, ensuring that by the time they reach the 18th green swings have been tossed inside out like shirts on a washing line.
Woods said the injury to his elbow is fine and there is further good news for the world No 1 in that the weather is forecast not to batter him with the perfect storm of 2002 that reduced him to crawling home with an 81 in the third round. The glorious British heatwave is baking Muirfield. The fairways are already biscuit brown and rock-cake hard, meaning balls are running along them as if the players are driving shots along the runway at Edinburgh Airport. Except there will not be many drivers released from their head covers. Long irons are back in fashion, like Hoylake in 2006, when the country was again melting in weather to bring back memories of those seemingly endless summers of the 1970s.
Woods won that week. He, of course, is favourite this week. “I only hit one driver that week,” he said. “And so far here, in three days, I’ve only hit a couple of drivers. Jason [Day] was playing with me the other day and he hadn’t hit a driver yet. A lot of irons off the tee: four-iron going 280 yards, three-iron is going 300 yards. It’s so quick.”
Woods has been getting 90 yards of run downwind with a three-wood. “That’s the neat thing about links golf,” he said. “It’s predictable but also unpredictable at the same time.” Which makes perfect sense. Sort of.
Muirfield is no oil painting. It’s not pretty like Augusta National. It’s a windswept tundra wasteland on the East Lothian coastline. It’s beautifully ugly. And every player has fallen in love with it.
Making Hay: Poulter's Muirfield warning
* Ian Poulter has taken to Twitter to warn his fellow players of the dangers of finding the rough at Muirfield this week. “Your asking how the rough is at Muirfield,” the 37-year-old posted, along with this picture. “I thought it was Hay. Big tip for week Hit it on the mowed stuff.”