Open Championship 2013 Blog

Open week seems to have come around so fast this year. It feels like no time at all since Adam Scott was winning at Augusta, and Justin’s win at Merion can’t have been more than a few days ago can it?

Well, I guess that’s what happens as you get older, the time flies inexorably faster. As I drove down to Muirfield from Aberdeenshire this morning I reflected on the fact this will be sixth Open I’ve covered for Golf Monthly, the first being Carnoustie in 2007 (I missed 2011 because I was at the Tour de France.) So I thought, before things kick off in earnest here at Muirfield, I’d reflect on some of my personal Open highpoints over the last six years.

2007 – Of course, this was one of the most exciting Open Championships in recent history with the agony and ecstasy suffered, and enjoyed, by Sergio and Padraig. But there were a couple of other, quieter moments out on the links that have stuck with me, and both came from the practice rounds.

I wandered out to the sixth tee to watch some players try to negotiate Hogan’s Alley. I was interested to see the strategies they would employ – John Daly hit two massive hooks miles out of bounds, which seemed about right. Then a group came through with two guys I recognised and one I didn’t. The two I knew were Nick Faldo (most people would recognise him I guess,) and young Scot Richie Ramsay – playing at Carnoustie as the 2006 US Amateur Champion.

The other young guy playing looked about 12 and I couldn’t believe he was one of the competitors. He was wearing a white Galvin Green jacket with garish coloured, geometric patterns across it, his long shaggy hair sprouting from the sides of a baseball cap. I remember thinking at the time, ‘who is this joker?’ Faldo teed off first and hit one, sensibly, short of the bunkers to the wide part of the fairway. Ramsay tried to thread the needle but ended in a bunker. Then this young chap stood up, took the most incredible, loose and flowing swing I’d ever seen and blasted one clear over the trouble. He reached down to pick up his tee without watching it finish. I just stood following its never-ending flight, open-mouthed. When I finally came back to my senses I turned to the marshal on the tee and asked about the young phenom. “That’s Rory McIlroy,” he said.

Later that day, I’d finished everything I needed to do in the media centre so strolled out to the far end of the course as the wind died and the sun came out. It was past 7.30 when I reached the 9th hole and met Colin Montgomerie practising on his own. I watched him hit a few glorious long irons into the 9th green. Just a few others and me still out on the links. We followed him down the 10th and I got chatting with a couple of fellow spectators. We left Monty to it at the 11th tee and went for a pint outside a distant outpost of the Open Arms. I still think of it as my most idyllic golf viewing experience.

2008 – The moment that sticks in my mind from 2008 was a single shot I saw played in the third round.

On the 5th, Greg Norman had barely any distance left to the pin, I later heard it was 120 yards, but he whipped out a long club, a 5-iron it turned out. He played a shot that never rose above 15 feet, but such was the strength of the wind it stopped almost immediately on the putting surface – one of the finest strokes I’ve ever seen.

2009 – The Open that might have been. There’s no need to dredge up the desperate feelings we all had late on that Sunday evening on the Ayrshire coast.

I’d prefer to remember the feeling of possibility I had on the Saturday night. When Watson led by one and everyone was asking the question, “could he?” I love that feeling that something great could just happen. It used to be the way you felt before Andy Murray played a Grand Slam final – that’s all changed now of course. But, with Watson one clear of Ross Fisher I recall that amazing sense of anticipation and opportunity. Oh Tom, why didn’t you hit a nine iron into the last?

2010 – St Andrews Opens are just a little different. The whole carnival seems more concentrated, more intense. There are more spectators and the town just eats, sleeps and breathes “Open Championship” for that week.

What I remember from that championship is the constant proximity to golfing legends. Wherever you looked you couldn’t help but see Tom Watson, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson or another great of the game.

One particular moment that stands out was when I’d strolled to the far end of the course during one of the practice rounds and watched Davis Love III play a few holes. He didn’t even make the cut that year but, the way he struck his bladed irons off that crisp hallowed turf had the hairs on the back of my neck standing to attention.

2012 – I can’t help but think of poor old Scotty last year: So reminiscent of my own mental fragility on the golf course, on a slightly different level obviously. But, I’m very glad he’s bounced back and won a Major this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him contend this week.

First sight of the course confirms what you might expect. It’s firm and fiery and the links looks absolutely fantastic. Miguel Angel Jimenez’s caddy told me on the range that, “yes it’s hard and fast, but it’s also fair.” That sounds a good recipe.