COMMENTARY | The British Open will produce a fluke winner every now and then - witness the victories of unsung Americans Todd Hamilton and Ben Curtis - but don't count on it happening at Muirfield Golf Club, site of this week's 142nd edition of golf's oldest championship.
Muirfield is to golf what Tiffany is to jewelry - it only produces gems as champions.
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers will be hosting its 16th Open since opening its links course at Muirfield on Scotland's southeast coast in 1891. Every winner at Muirfield dating back to 1948 is a Hall of Famer: Ernie Els, Nick Faldo, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Harry Cotton. All-time greats Walter Hagen, James Braid and Harry Vardon also raised the Claret Jug at Muirfield.
The second most visited course on the modern British Open rotation has witnessed plenty of championship firsts:- In 1892, it hosted the first Open contested over 72 holes in 1892.
- In 1896, Vardon won the first of his record six British Opens here.
- In 1901, Braid held off Vardon to win the first of his five Open titles.
- In 1929, Hagen won the last of his four Opens on a links expanded by architect Harry Colt into the layout that still exists today. Hagen led a contingent of eight Americans in the top 10, a trend that portended American dominance of the event in the modern era.
- In 1959, Player won the first of his nine majors at Muirfield.
- In 1966, Nicklaus won his first British Open here. So enamored was the Golden Bear of the course that he named the golf course he designed in his Ohio hometown Muirfield Village. He would finish second and fourth in the next two Opens at Muirfield.
- In 2002, Els outlasted Thomas Levet, Steve Elkington and Stuart Appleby to win the only four-way playoff in the event's history.
So which of the game's current elite is best positioned to add their name to Muirfield's storied history?
Ernie Els: Repeat winners are common at Muirfield -- Vardon, Braid and Faldo won twice here while Hagen and Trevino won at Muirfield as defending British Open champs. Els carries into the tournament the karma of being defending champion and the last champion on this course as well as the confidence from a victory last month at the European Tour's BMW International Open.
Tiger Woods: A win for Tiger would not only get him back in the major victory column for the first time in five years but also make up for his worst round as a professional -- a wind- and rain-blown 81 that knocked him out of contention in 2002. The course is playing hard and fast, which means Woods can get around without the driver like he did in winning at Royal Liverpool in 2006.
Phil Mickelson: Winning the Scottish Open -- his first career victory in Europe -- could be a great steppingstone to the bigger prize of the Claret Jug. Lefty said this week that winning the British Open would be his greatest accomplishment, and he's got the mojo to do it. Like Tiger, Mickelson can thrive on a course that doesn't require driver.
Padraig Harrington: An 18th-hole bogey kept Paddy out of the four-way playoff in 2002. The Irishman bounced back to win two Claret Jugs in succession, but he has not been a factor since winning his second in 2008.
Rory McIlroy: If Rory is destined for historic greatness, he could follow in the footsteps of Nicklaus in winning his first British Open at Muirfield. Like Harrington, McIlroy comes in struggling but he's been known to turn things around when counted out.
Sergio Garcia: The troubled Spaniard could do worse than break his major drought at Muirfield. Player did it here as did Faldo. Sergio finished two shots out of the 2002 playoff, and he's mostly played well in the big tournaments this year. And I've got to believe Dan Jenkins can't retire from covering majors until Sergio finally surprises him.
Mark McLaughlin has reported on the PGA Tour for the New York Post, FoxSports.com, Greensboro News & Record, and Burlington (N.C.) Times-News. He is a past member of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter @markmacduke.
- Sports & Recreation
- Ernie Els
- British Open
- Walter Hagen
- Harry Vardon
- Jack Nicklaus
- Nick Faldo