This is a stretch of windswept coastal turf where men have been chasing small balls with crooked sticks for 600 years. This is the 28th time the Royal and Ancient Golf Club has held the annual British Open at St. Andrews.
Who and what to watch at this year’s British Open:
1) Tiger Woods’s putting. Tiger has a new Nike Method putter. He told reporters Monday that he’s leaving his Scotty Cameron Titelist behind. This is the flat stick he’s used to win 13 of his 14 majors. But he’s been putting poorly, really poorly. His putting average ranks him at 150th on the PGA tour this year.
Is a new putter enough to bring victory? Who knows, but you can’t discount the fact that Tiger has played well at St. Andrews. This is the course where he’s won two of his three British Open titles. He already knows every gnarly mound of heather and every one of the 112 pot hole bunkers.
2) Experience. One of the most compelling golf stories of the past decade was last year’s British Open near-victory by 59-year-old Tom Watson. The winner of five Claret Jugs, the first in 1977, Watson stumbled on the 72nd hole at Turnberry, and lost in a playoff. He would have been the oldest player to ever win a major championship. Youth may provide distance off the tee and an aggressiveness. But this is a big stage, and course knowledge can be the edge.
"Major championships require patience and discipline," said Graeme McDowell, the 30-year old Irishman who won the US Open at Pebble Beach this year. "A guy in his late 50s and 60s is not as long as he used to be, but he has the mental discipline and the patience to realize that you've got to plot your way around."
Can Watson make another run?
3. Youth. Eighteen-year-old Ryo Ishikawa, known as the “Bashful Prince,” is the youngest player to break into the top 100 world rankings of professional golfers. Last month, he was tied for second place after the second round in the US Open at Pebble Beach, one of the toughest courses on the professional tour. Since turning pro at the tender age of 15, he has one seven times on the Japan Tour.
Another youngster to watch: Rory McIlroy, the 21-year-old from Belfast, Northern Ireland, won his first PGA tour victory at Quail Hollow in May. He's played St. Andrews as an amateur and pro: His worst score to date on this course is a 69.
A dark horse: Chris Wood, a 22-year-old British golfer who is ranked 95 in the world. Finished fifth in 2008 British Open.
4. The Weather. Inclement weather is a trademark of the British Open. Wind gusts hit 50 mph during a practice round this week. A biting, horizontal rain is not uncommon. At the British Open, golfers compete not just against the course and each other, but often against the elements born by angry North Sea winds. The Met Office, the UK weather service, forecasts a cool rain on Thursday, more rains and winds averaging 18 mph on Friday with gusts to 34 mph, and stronger winds but clear skies on Saturday. Sunday’s forecast looks a bit tamer, but that’s just a forecast.
5. Who’s Got Momentum?
Justin Rose – The Englishman has two wins in his last three PGA tournaments. This is Rose’s ninth British Open. His best finish was a fourth place tie in 1998, when the teenager got an eagle on the last hole. But this is his first trip to St. Andrews.
Ernie Els – The Big Easy is having one of his best years ever. He won two back-to-back tournaments and has six top 10 finishes this year on the PGA tour. He finished third at the US Open. He’s No. 2 on the European Tour money list. He won the Claret Jug in 2002. This is his fourth trip to St. Andrews.
Lee Westwood – A hometown favorite. The Englishman is ranked No. 3 in the world and has finished in the top 3 in three of the last four major championships. The only drawback? He’s got a leg injury, but plans to play.
Tiger Woods - Tiger hasn’t won a tournament since his five-month break to come to terms with his off-the-course infidelity. But, as mentioned above, he knows how to win at St. Andrews.
Phil Mickelson – Mickelson is ranked No. 2 in the world, and won the Masters this year, his third. He’s had two top 5 finishes in recent weeks. But he has struggled most years at the British Open, with only one Top 10 finish. And his tendency is to hit high shots, which are more difficult to control in high winds.