COMMENTARY | Fair. Firm. Fast. Fiery.
All words used to describe the host of this week's 142nd Open Championship and the home club of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers: Muirfield.
The course is held in high esteem by nearly every player to walk the hallowed links, so much so, in fact, that Jack Nicklaus named his crown jewel in Dublin, Ohio in honor of the Gullane course.
"It's a great golf course, very fair, everything is right there in front of you," hailed Rory McIlroy. "It's in front of you and it's flat, but the ball rolls a lot. Wherever you pitch is going to roll forward, but it won't roll sideways, there's no hills, it's just flat, so that's why it's fair, " Matteo Manassero explained. "A fantastic championship on one of the best venues," echoed Tiger Woods.
Those glowing compliments transformed into bitter disdain for the course following the completion of the first round of Open. The vitriol was aimed more accurately at the competitions committee of the Royal and Ancient, the host organization of the Open.
The previously "fair" course was set up unfairly, argued a handful of players, most notoriously Phil Mickelson and Ian Poulter.
Interestingly enough, both Mickelson and Poulter find themselves within a handful of shots of leader Zach Johnson following Thursday's play, yet still felt the need to lambaste the course setup.
As he does, Poulter took to Twitter to air his grievances, spouting off a line of tweets that likened some hole positions to a miniature golf course.
"Beyond angry at the moment, 5 bogeys for 1 over," he began, giving us a hint as to his temperament. "Two 3 putts, so frustrating when you play so well and don't finish it off. Game's in shape.
"Unfortunately the guys this afternoon will struggle with a few pin positions. 8th hole is a joke, 18th needs a windmill & clown face."
Mickelson followed suit, saying, "I got really lucky because I think the R&A was really worried about the scores going too low, so they used some really funky pin placements" he told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi. "They used some funny spots and about a third of every green has died, it's so brown. I got really lucky to play early because at least I had a fighting chance."
Both Poulter and Mickelson ended on a low note. The Englishman bogeyed four of his last five holes and Lefty three-putted from 15-feet to bogey the 18th. ESPN commentator and Open participant David Duval rejected their claims of unfair pin positions, chalking up the duo's comments to "sour grapes" after poor finishes.
Still, there was no denying that the R&A toed the line of fairness with where some holes were punched. With the whole of Scotland experiencing an unusually hot and docile summer by their standards, Muirfield's greens were exposed as under maintained and unprepared for the sweltering heat and lack of water that comes from hosting a major championship.
Examples of the extent of the difficulty of the greens were exemplified by the top two players in the world rankings both putting balls off green's surfaces. McIlroy hit a putt into a pot bunker off of the 15th green and Woods spanned the green, finding the first cut off the 14th's surface on a stroke that he described as "not that bad a putt."
Yet Woods and McIlroy both stopped short of calling the layout unfair. Lee Westwood, purveyor of a 1-over par 72, defended the setup saying when asked if the pin positions were unfair, "they were on the greens, weren't they?"
The challenge for the R&A overnight will be how they address the course conditions and what weight they give the comments of the competitors, both of which R&A Chief Director Peter Dawson said the organization will do.
With fairness for all players as the key, it is paramount for the R&A to present a golf course in very similar condition on Friday to the one they laid out Thursday. As such, the morning wave should see a better-conditioned course, while the afternoon wave will be forced to deal with drying and dying greens speeding up throughout their rounds.
After the second round when the field is cut in half, the R&A will have the option then, and only then, to throw a decent amount of water on the greens in order to keep them playable for the weekend.
The legitimacy of the pin positions is a moot point, but equal conditions for both waves over the first two days is of the highest priority.
Chris Chaney is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based sportswriter. He has written for multiple outlets including WrongFairway.com, Hoopville.com, The Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer and The Clermont (OH) Sun.
Follow him on Twitter @Wrong_Fairway.
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