ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Visitors often refer to it as a magical, mystical place, a spiritual journey that rarely disappoints. Augusta National might get similar reviews, but it is difficult to beat St. Andrews, specifically the Old Course.
The Home of Golf sits amid the town, and it was already bustling with activity this weekend as players, caddies, tournament workers and a good number of spectators descended upon the ancient place as the 150th British Open is set to commence this week.
This will be the 30th playing of the game’s oldest championship at St. Andrews, the most of any of the 14 venues to ever be used for the competition, dating to 1873 when St. Andrews presented an opportunity to use an 18-hole layout for the first time.
And it will also see three-time champion Tiger Woods compete, something that was far from certain as the year began due to the significant injuries he suffered in a car crash last year. Woods made it a point to get back for this tournament, not knowing how many more chances he might get.
So far, he is taking full advantage, having chipped and putted his way around the Old Course on Saturday evening, finishing up in darkness just after 10:30 p.m. He then returned for a five-plus-hour practice round on Sunday morning with Justin Thomas, playing 18 holes of practice at a tournament venue for the first time this year.
“This is a pretty historic Open that we are going to be playing,’’ Woods said. “I’m lucky enough to be part of the past champions that have won (at St Andrews), and want to play (it) again, and I don’t know when they are ever going to go back while I’m still able to play at a high level, and I want to be able to give it at least one more run at a high level.’’
Woods was speaking last week in Ireland at the JP McManus Pro-Am, where before the second round of the two-day event, he had a brief news conference in which it was good to see him take the historical path as it relates to The Open.
The 15-time major champion has never been one to get too nostalgic or to dive deeply into such matters, although it is clear he’s done his homework.
“I think it goes back to, for me, it’s more about history I think than anything else,’’ Woods said. “For me personally, knowing Arnold (Palmer), when Arnold’s the one who made the British Open what it is and he came over and qualified, finished second, qualified, finished first, qualified, finished first; if you ever make me qualify, I’m not coming back, so here we are.’’
Woods was referring to the early 1960s, when Palmer helped restore luster to The Open simply with his presence.
The year 1960 is when Palmer and sportswriter pal Bob Drum are generally credited with the idea of the modern Grand Slam, as Palmer had won the Masters and U.S. Open that year and openly wondered if a victory at The Open and the PGA Championship would be the equivalent to Bob Jones’ Grand Slam of 1930 – when he won the two Opens and two Amateurs.
Back then, as Woods noted, the entire field had to endure 36-hole qualifying just to get into the field.
So Palmer qualified in 1960, and finished second to Kel Nagle at St. Andrews. A year later, he qualified again, and won by a stroke over Dai Rais at Royal Birkdale. A year later, same thing. After going through qualifying, Palmer won by six strokes over Nagle at Royal Troon.
That happened to be Jack Nicklaus’ first Open as a pro. A month earlier, he had defeated Palmer in a playoff to win the U.S. Open. He traveled to Scotland, had to qualify, and then was surprised to learn he had one of the last tee times – even as the reigning U.S. Open champion. (The qualifying system was altered a few years later.)
“Just look at the names on that (Claret Jug) and you just go right through time,’’ Woods said. “It’s like a time warp, and just how they put the names on and they start at the bottom and they added the lip and they added the bases and just the little things.
“And everyone who won that championship, they know how hard it was and looking at some of the scores, I’m thinking, even with a gutta percha (golf ball), how did they shoot those scores? It’s awfully impressive and to have won The Open Championship and for me specifically to have won at the Home of Golf is even more special.
“As Jack says, your career is not complete unless you’ve won an Open Championship at the Home of Golf, and I feel like he’s correct in that regard.’’
Palmer, who never won at St. Andrews, might have taken issue with that statement. Same for Tom Watson, who won The Open five times, but never at St. Andrews.
Still, the place conjures so many memories over the years, has produced so many great champions, and endures as a place that the masses can – and do – visit. Sunday was a rare day of golf on the Old Course, as it is typically closed to golfers, except for the rare occasion when The Open looms or during the annual Dunhill Links Championship, a DP World Tour event.
So far, the turf is firm and fast, and little rain is in the forecast for the week. If the wind blows, the Old Course will not be the pushover that is often feared, given its relative lack of length. No matter.
As for Woods, the hope is for a more memorable performance than the last time he was here. In 2015, Woods played some of the worst golf of his career, suffering with the effects of a lower disk issue that ultimately led to two procedures at the end of the year and a more dramatic fusion in 2017.
That year, Woods battled chipping problems, and took time off. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open, shooting a first-round 80. And at St. Andrews, he ingloriously found the burn that fronts the first green on the first day, an ominous sign that led to another missed cut.
Expectations are more tempered this time, as Woods is far from his best, his damaged right leg nowhere near to the level he needs it to be in order to be competitive. But months ago, the hope was that Woods could return here, and not only did he make this his goal, he came back at the Masters and PGA Championship, too.
Woods worked hard on Sunday, and at times appeared uncomfortable. The limp that we’ve all focused on can be more pronounced at times. It was a lot of golf, a lot of walking, in a short period of time. But Woods also appeared determined.
He tweaked the settings on his driver early in the round to get more spin to better deal with tee shots he expected to hit into the wind. He spent considerable time on and around the massive greens, getting a feel for various chips and long putts. And he even drove the par-4 18th green – leaving his eagle putt short.
Earlier, he posted for photos on the Swilcan Bridge with his caddie, Joe LaCava, Thomas, Jim “Bones’’ Mackay and others. It’s a cherished spot for such a picture.
So, too, is the walk across that bridge on championship Sunday. That would be the bonus this week for Woods, smiling and waving to the crowd, regardless of his score.
For a deep dive on all things The Open, a newly-released book is a good place to catch up on history. Commissioned by the R&A, “The 150th Open: Celebrating Golf’s Defining Championship,’’ was written by longtime BBC golf correspondent Iain Carter, who does a nice job of diving into the origins of The Open dating to 1860 as well as all 14 venues – including the four no longer in the rotation. The book is filled with photos both new and old, but a nicely woven stories about all the principals involved the evolution of golf’s oldest championship.
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The R&A put out a statement on Saturday in which it acknowledged that two-time Open champion Greg Norman was not invited to the celebratory activities surrounding the 150th playing of the championship. It did so because of numerous inquiries on the matter, although Norman has known for some time that his presence was not welcome.
Norman, 67, the winner at Turnberry in 1986 and Royal St. George’s in 1993, is embroiled in controversy over his involvement with LIV Golf as its CEO and commissioner. The angst associated with the upstart rebel league is understandable, and the R&A is right to not want any distractions this week.
That is assuming Norman would have been such a distraction. After LIV’s launch in London last month, Norman has been in the background. He’s done few interviews and tried to let the players and the momentum the league has gained speak for itself. To deny him an opportunity to be part of this – he earned it as a past champ – seems small-minded and bringing more attention to the situation than the R&A perhaps wanted.
Norman did not issue any statements on the matter but he did tell Australian Golf Digest that he believed the ban to be petty. “I would have thought the R&A would have stayed above it all given their position in world golf,’’ he said. “It’s petty as all I have done is promote and grow the game of golf globally, on and off the course, for more than four decades.’’
Norman probably did himself no favors when he requested a spot in this year’s Open field. The ask seemed a stretch, given he has not played in The Open since 2009 and passed on a chance to do so in 2015 at age 60 – when his eligibility was expiring – the last time it was at St Andrews.
But denying him a place this week, despite all that has gone on, seems harsh. And making a big deal out of it only seems worse.
1. The R&A announced a prize money increase for The Open of 22 percent, to $14 million up from $11.5 million last year, with the winner getting $2.5 million. That figure ranks last among the majors and the Players Championship, which paid $20 million this year and is expected to go to $25 million in 2023. The U.S. Open was $17.5 million, with the Masters and PGA at $15 million each.
2. Rickie Fowler is missing The Open for the first time since he debuted in the tournament in 2010. He started the final round of the Scottish Open in position to perhaps earn one of the three spots in the Open field for players who finished among the top 10 and were otherwise exempt. A front-nine 39 ended his hopes.
3. MasterCard has paused its business relationship with brand ambassadors Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell in the wake of their moves to the LIV Golf Invitational Series. Sports Business Journal reported the news and said the company has not decided how long the pause will last as the players – who were members of both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour – sort out the fallout from their decisions.
4. Chatter persists that more names will be announced who will jump to the LIV Golf Invitational Series following The Open. The situation has been so fluid over the past several months and there has been considerable waffling at times. But there will be some new faces at the next event in New Jersey, with others expected to wait until after the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs.
Given his immense success this year, including winning the Masters and holding the No. 1 ranking in the world for the last four months, it is easy to forget that Scottie Scheffler has very little links golf experience. Last year at Royal St. George’s was his lone Open appearance, and he still managed to tie for eighth.
At the Genesis Scottish Open, Scheffler missed the cut and admitted he is still learning the nuances of the links game.
“I had some trouble kind of going into the greens playing the bounce and judging stuff like that, and I felt like when I wanted — thought it was going to be firm when it was a little soft, and when I thought it was soft, it was a little firm,’’ he said. “Got on the wrong side of things more often than not this week.
“Going into next week, if I clear up a few things with the putter, I’ll be ready to go.’’
The Scottish was a rare hiccup for Scheffler, who missed the cut at the PGA Championship but hasn’t had too many other off weeks. He finished tied for second at the U.S. Open and 13th at the Travelers. And now he was able to get an early start on St. Andrews preparation.
And that might ultimately prove more important than making the cut at the Scottish Open. Before coming to St. Andrews this week, Scheffler had never played the Old Course.
The Open Countdown
The last major championship of 2022 is upon us. The Open begins in three days at the Old Course, where Collin Morikawa will attempt to defend the title he won a year at Royal St. George’s in the south of England. This will be the 150th playing of the championship that dates to 1860 and years of planning has taken place to celebrate the occasion, which was supposed to occur last year but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Old Course will stage The Open for the 30th time, more than any other venue, the first being in 1873 when Tom Kidd won the tournament as it was played for the first time on an 18-hole course.
The last playing of The Open at the Old Course was in 2015, when Zach Johnson won in a playoff over Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman.
The last players earned their way into the field Sunday via the Genesis Scottish Open (Kurt Kitayama, Brandon Wu, Jamie Donaldson) and the Barbasol Championship (Trey Mullinax), and the remaining spots were to be filled by the highest-ranked players in the Official World Golf ranking who were not already in the field, which will be at 156 players.
Among the unique aspects to The Open is that all players will go off the first tee. They do that at the Masters, too, but with far less players. Tee times will begin around 6:30 a.m. local time and run past 4 p.m. in the afternoon. It will stay light out in Scotland until approximately 10 p.m.
> Tiger Woods took in some night golf with wedges and a putter upon his arrival to St. Andrews on Saturday.
> Tiger and Rory got in some links golf prep at Ballybunion.
> It’s true: playing out of pot bunkers is far more of a hazard than at other Tour venues.
> Tiger and Jon Rahm got into the weeds about hitting a draw.
In addition to The Open at St. Andrews, the PGA Tour is conducting another co-sanctioned event along with the DP World Tour for players not in the major championship field. The Barracuda Championship – much like last week’s Barbasol Championship – is an opportunity for players from both tours. Last year’s winner was Erik Van Rooyen.
The tournament dates to 1999 and was for years played opposite the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. It now has a different format, modified stableford, in which players earn points for eagles and birdies, get nothing for pars and lose points for bogeys and worse.
The event is being played at Tahoe Mountain Golf Club in Truckee, California.
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