The 18th hole at iconic Muirfield Golf Course. (Kinnaird/Getty Images)
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
• COURSE: Muirfield Golf Course, 7,192 yards, par 71. Owned by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Muirfield is widely considered the fairest course in the Open rota and home to the finest list of winners. Every Open champion at Muirfield except two are in the World Golf Hall of Fame – a list that includes Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Ernie Els. First laid out in 1891 by Old Tom Morris as a tight 16-hole course, an overhaul came in 1923 when the club purchased adjacent land and Harry Colt remade the routing into the inner and outer loops used today.
• FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 600 points.
• CHARITY: The R&A distributes more than $7 million annually to curriculums designed to enhance the game worldwide. Particular emphasis is placed on junior golf programs, along with growth initiatives in emerging golfing nations.
• FIELD WATCH: World No. 1 Tiger Woods, now five full years removed from his last major title, and defending champion Els head a list expected to feature 74 of the top 75 in this week’s world rankings. … Openings remain for the winners of this week’s Scottish Open and John Deere Classic if not already qualified. … Watson, whose five Open crowns includes 1980 at Muirfield, is set for his 37th edition. He’ll move one behind Nicklaus for No. 2 on the Open’s all-time appearance list. … Faldo, a two-time champion at Muirfield, will tee it up there once more as he ends a two-year competitive hiatus. … Notable absences: World No.11 Steve Stricker (family time) and 1995 winner John Daly (elbow).
• 72-HOLE RECORD: 267, Greg Norman (1993 at Royal St. Georges).
• 18-HOLE RECORD: 63, Mark Hayes (second round, 1977 at Turnberry), Isao Aoki (third round, 1980 at Muirfield), Greg Norman (second round, 1986 at Turnberry), Paul Broadhurst (third round, 1990 at St. Andrews), Jodie Mudd (fourth round, 1991 at Royal Birkdale), Nick Faldo (second round, 1993 at Royal St. Georges), Payne Stewart (fourth round, 1993 at Royal St. Georges), Rory McIlroy (first round, 2010 at St. Andrews).
• LAST YEAR: Ten years after winning his first Claret Jug, Ernie Els watched a second fall into his hands when Adam Scott bogeyed his last four holes at Royal Lytham. Els began the day six shots off Scott’s pace, closing with a 2-under-par 68 that put him position for a runner-up finish. But Scott’s stellar play, which produced a 64 one day earlier, suddenly hit turbulence down the stretch. A missed 3-foot par at No. 16 cut the Aussie’s lead to one, and he flew the green with his approach at No.17 as Els drew even. Scott’s 3-wood found a fairway bunker off the 18th tee, forcing him to blast out sideways, and couldn’t convert a 10-foot par attempt that would have brought a playoff. Tiger Woods tied for third, four shots back in his best major finish since 2009.
• STORYLINES: Woods returns to competition for the first time since the U.S. Open, where he finished 12 shots behind winner Justin Rose while battling a tender left elbow. Strained ligaments forced him to skip the AT&T National, though he was on site as host. … Scott, a tragic figure when last seen on British soil, returns in a different class after becoming a major champion at the Masters in April. … Graeme McDowell will be among the favorites after making the French Open his third win in his past eight starts. In each of the other five, though, he’s missed the cut. … Els has the opportunity to become just the third man to capture two Open titles at Muirfield. Faldo (1987, ’92) and James Braid (1901, ’06) are the others.
• SHORT CHIPS: Over the past five years, the British Open is the only major that has not crowned a champion from among the top 10 in the world rankings. Padraig Harrington was No. 10 when he won in 2007, the first of back-to-back titles. … This marks the 16th Open staged at Muirfield, ranking third on the all-time list behind St. Andrews (28) and Prestwick (24). … The R&A is prohibited from erecting grandstands behind the 18th green at Muirfield – preserving the view from the clubhouse for Honourable Company members.
• TELEVISION: Thursday-Friday, 4 a.m.-3 p.m. EDT (ESPN). Saturday, 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (ESPN). Sunday, 6 a.m.-1:30 p.m. (ESPN).
• RADIO: Thursday-Friday, 7 a.m.-1 p.m. EDT (SiriusXM Radio). Saturday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. (SiriusXM Radio). Sunday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. (SiriusXM Radio).