Open Championship 2013 blog

I forged out onto the course after lunch today to gain a better feel for how the links is playing. I strolled to the side of the par-3 13th and met a group comprising – Ernie Els, Paul Lawrie, Branden Grace and Robert Garrigus. I decided to follow them to the finish.

Now before I go on to some more general observations, I’d like to sing the praises of Muirfield’s closing six holes. This being the first time I’d seen them in the flesh, I was massively impressed. This has got to be the finest finishing third of any Open course.

The 13th is a fantastic par-3 to a raised green with a severe run-off on its front. Two bunkers left and three to the right make for some extremely testing short shots if a player fails to find the putting surface. Before Els and Lawrie came through, I watched Alvaro Quiros and Rafa Cabrera Bello attempting a, seemingly, impossible shot from just short of the first left bunker to a pin cut just a few yards beyond its lip, on a slight downslope. Cabrera-Bello made four attempts, each one coming up short and falling back into the bunker. Every time he did, Quiros shouted instructions, pointed at the bit of green he should be aiming for. He then attempted to demonstrate and played it some 20 feet past the cup. Cabrera-Bello then, finally, got one to land in the exact spot he wanted and the ball trickled down to a couple of feet. The gallery gave a cheer and the Spaniard raised his arms in celebration and relief.

The 14th was playing into the wind today and will probably do so throughout the tournament. It’s an excellent long par-4, stretching to 475 yards. This is one they really need to get a good drive away on, otherwise reaching the green in two will be tough. I was thinking as I strode down from the tee towards the fairway that the average amateur would seriously struggle to reach the short grass. In fact, even monster-hitter Robert Garrigus only made it by some 20 yards.

The 15th is a beautiful left to right, sweeping par 4 framed by high wispy grasses. Well placed bunkers lurk both left and right to capture errant drives and subtle contours take shots away towards sand up at the green, particularly on the right side. Both Garrigus and Lawrie hit good second shots that just drifted slightly to the right, both then bounced right and rolled, inevitably into the same trap.

16 is another excellent par-3 with a testing green protected by large slopes short and left and a selection of devilish bunkers. The players I saw spent a long time around this green, practising shots from all manner of positions to all manner of potential pins. They’re clearly aware of the subtleties of this short hole.

On to the penultimate hole and the course’s final par 5. It’s an absolute beauty, turning to the left around a cluster of bunkers. I hadn’t realised watching on TV, how narrow the entrance to the green is. It’s guarded on both sides by mounding and bunkers. If it plays like it was today then it will be eminently reachable for most of the field. Both Lawrie and Garrigus hit irons in, although Els and Grace found the rough and had to hack out.

The home hole is another cracker played back towards the clubhouse. It’s a long par-4 of 470 yards and, into the wind, will probably require a long iron approach into a relatively narrow green. Yesterday I saw Lee Westwood coming in from long range and he had three attempts to reach the surface with, what looked like, a 3-iron. Each came up short and right. It was a little display that was enough to convince me that my betting money would be better directed elsewhere.

Now, those general observations I talked about earlier:

1 – The fairways are, indeed, extremely firm. Downwind in particular, the ball appears to be rolling phenomenal distances. The longest hitters will have no need to hit driver – Phil Mickelson has confirmed he won’t be using one. Overall, the course is in impeccable condition.

2 – The rough is quite varied in terms of thickness. There are some areas where it’s relatively wispy and dry. To the left of the 15th, Ernie went deep into the cabbage but was able to blast out to only just short of the green. However, there are other spots where, if a ball were foolish enough to venture, it would either become very lost or very hard to move. To the left of the 17th, just 30 yards short of the green I saw some thick stuff that you would need a scythe to get through.

3 – Ernie was looking a little out of sorts. He missed a couple of fairways, came up short on the 13th and generally didn’t look to be striking it quite as well as we’ve come to expect from the big South African. But, by his own admission, he was on poor form at the start of the week here back in 2002 and he went on to win, so my briefest sighting of him probably doesn’t prove too much.

4 – This is a good spectators’ course. There are plenty of vantage points and, thanks to its layout of an inner and outer loop, there’s never too far to walk, and you’re never far away from some action.

5 – I took a brief detour on the way back to see who was hitting it well on the range. Hitting it particularly well were – Brandt Snedeker, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar. Hitting it a little sketchily were David Duval, Peter Senior (although he is about 106) and Lucas Glover. In fact, the knowledgeable Scottish fan standing beside me behind the range, simply said “p**h swing,” after watching Glover semi-knifing a wedge shot.