Gary Player, the South African winner of nine Majors, including a trio of Open Championships across three decades, in 1959, 1968 and 1974, is at Royal St George’s this week watching a new generation of Tour golfers attempting to emulate just a modest slice of the success Player earned during much of the second half of the 20th century. Indeed, Player’s epic record of 167 Tour wins began in 1955 and finished on the Champions Tour in 1998 ­ a display of competitive longevity that may never be matched.

Talking exclusively to Golf Monthly, Player’s devotion for the Open has only grown with time, despite the fact he is one of only five golfers to have completed golf’s Grand Slam, in winning all four Major titles at least once.

The Open is the most important championship in the world of golf ­ it’s number one, starts the timeless Player, now aged 75 although you would never know it. The Open is the oldest Major and it has set the standard for all the many tournaments that have followed since in began.

When you play in the Masters, if you have 160 yards to the pin you know you need to play an eight iron. In the Open, when you have 160 yards you might need to play a three-iron on one day, and then a nine-iron the next. It makes the Open a very difficult golfing challenge, and it is very different from any other event. You have got to have patience to do well in the Open and you have to use your mind.”

When asked who he thought could withstand the test being served by Royal St George’s and today’s inclement weather, Player backed the Irish.

“It has been hard to see beyond Rory McIlroy this week,” with the game he has got, says Player, who won his first Major title, the 1959 Open, at the age of 23, a year older that US Open champion McIlroy.

“I just hope he has the passion to go with his talent. I don’t think there is a golfer in this field who has the natural golfing ability of Rory McIlroy, but then the field was so closely grouped at the start of play today that you couldn’t rule anyone out.”

“Bearing in mind the adversity that Darren Clarke has come through in his life, I would love to see him lift the Claret Jug, I really would,” adds Player. Clarke’s wife, Heather, died of cancer in 2006. “It would be his first Major success and it would be richly deserved. He certainly has the game to succeed on this golf course and in these conditions.”

Article courtesy of Mercedes-Benz, patron of the Open Championship