Date: July 15, 2013
Author: Mike Clayton /

Clayton: Muirfield will identify the best

The Open Championship, the world championship of golf, comes back, this week, to the Scottish links at Muirfield. Every Open Championship venue is a great links but this one, just up the road from the golf centric town of Gullane, is one of the very best and it has proved to be conspicuously efficient at identifying the best players in the world. In 1959 it was a young South African Gary Player who broke the domination of the championship by his countryman Bobby Locke and Australian Peter Thomson. Since, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo (twice) and Ernie Els have stood on the lawn between the final green and the small, single storey clubhouse with the trophy. If history were to repeat, one of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Justin Rose and the defender Els would be the winner. For Player in 59 and Faldo in 1987 it was their first win in a major championship but the others were experienced winners with games well capable of managing the unique challenges of the links where judging what the ball is going to do after it hits the ground is a critical part of playing seaside links effectively. It is fair to say however that Woods failure to win a major championship since the 2008 U.S Open has left a void and just who the best player in the world is isn t particularly well defined. Six months ago Rory McIlroy s name was at the top of that list but since he changed driver, irons, wedges and ball and his subsequent play has failed, by some way, to match the brilliance of the last half of last season. He will be back and only he knows how in that milli-second that is impact how different the new clubs and ball are from the long trusted old ones. On the challenge of links golf and playing off the bouncy and sandy ground that is so often battered by seaside winds, former U.S Open champion Geoff Ogilvy says, we get so used to the ball stopping where it lands in America but the golf in Britain is so much different. Playing here reminds me of why I play the game it’s never more fun than it is over here. Muirfield itself is the complete test , added Ogilvy. It’s relatively obvious what to do and normally that would be a negative but in Muirfield s case it s not. You have to keep out of the fairway bunkers; you try to open up the best angles into the green by placing the tee shot thoughtfully. St Andrews, in contrast, keeps you more off-balance and it continues to confuse. Muirfield is not so much like that but no doubt it s a great course,” said Ogilvy. Scott, of course, was the story of last year&aposs Open right until the very end when he was done in by three putts at the 16th, a pulled iron into the 17th and a bad tee shot at the last. Els too played his part, timing his run perfectly with late birdie threes at the 70th and 72nd holes. Since, with his play at Augusta, Scott has more than redeemed himself and clearly he has all the required skill and shots. Jason Day has so far this season been brilliant in the majors finishing in the top few at both Augusta and Merion. He hasn t won much (except money) to this point in his career but he is young and he seems to reserve his best play for the biggest events. This week is another chance for him, as it is for Scott and Ogilvy. They will have to play their best on one of the game&aposs great courses but they are not without hope.