By Lawrence Donegan | Open Championship
History makers need only apply.
Muirfield in the modern era of Open Championships anoints only the best, as the list of recent winners on the famous old Scottish links suggest; Trevino, Nicklaus, Faldo (twice) and, when the event was last staged there in 2002, Ernie Els.
No other course on the Open rota is so adept at identifying the very best player in the field. Such is the genius of its layout (the holes form two concentric circles, forcing the players to negotiation multiple wind directions) and its conditioning, which is as pure as any links can be.
If this past record proves anything, it is that this week’s winner will come from the top-tier of talent on show, which means Woods, Mickelson, McIlroy or Els – four generational talents who will be remembered in years to come.
The problem is that two of that quartet (Woods and McIlroy) arrive in Scotland with doubts about their fitness and form. Mickelson and Els, by contrast, have won recently and will tee it up on Thursday with justifiable confidence .
It would come as no surprise to find either man with the Claret Jug in his grasp on Sunday afternoon but let us not anoint either man before considering the claims of a player who, if he has not ascended to the highest level just yet, has the potential to add to his one major championship victory.
Like Muirfield in 2013, Pebble Beach on the eve of the 2010 US Open had a proud record of only identifying the best players, the likes of Nicklaus and Tom Watson. It has an intimidating reputation but it did not deter Graeme McDowell then, and Muirfield’s reputation will not deter him this week.
The Irishman won the French Open earlier this month on a golf course that was as hard and fast as this week’s challenge. He likes narrow fairways and greens that offer a test of the imagination. Muirfield is the course of McDowell’s dreams and it could could be the course to make his Open Championship dreams come true at 25/1.
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Lawrence Donegan is the Guardian’s former golf correspondent and has attended the last 15 Opens. He is the author of several acclaimed books which includes Four Iron in the Soul, based on his experiences caddying for tour pro Ross Drummond. In the 1980s he was a pop star, but we forgive him for that. Follow him on Twitter here.