Ernie Els is defending his Open Championship at Muirfield, where he won in 2002, as well.
Editor's note: Ernie Els is writing a weekly blog for PGATOUR.COM in 2013 and this is his latest installment. For more information on the World Golf Hall of Famer, visit www.ernieels.com.
A missed cut obviously isn’t great any time, but it was a good decision playing the Scottish Open last week. It is a great tournament in its own right and I always had in the back of my mind that it is tough to go into a major on the back of a three-week break. I might have done it in the past but I feel a little awkward doing that now. I’d much rather compete, feel that links turf underfoot and see a bit of bounce on your golf shots.
Conditions were basically perfect the first couple of days at Castle Stuart. I thought I played okay, but I didn’t get the run of the ball and definitely didn’t get the hang of the greens. Still, my game is where I need it to be. At Merion a lot of things came together – as they did in the U.S. Open last year, as it happens – and then we had the win in Munich straight after that. I had chances that week to pull away, but in the end I outlasted the guys like I used to back in the day. A close one like that might do me good in the long run, though.
Now I’m just looking forward to starting my final preparations at Muirfield. We’re staying at Greywalls Hotel again, where we stayed in 2002, which brings back some fond memories. The little snug bar here is where some of my friends, led by Nick Price, sprayed me with champagne when we returned after winning my first Open. There are some nice photos up on the wall from that week.
The defense of my Open Championship title began this week with the job of giving the Claret Jug back to Mr Peter Dawson of the R&A. I didn’t want to give it back, but it was a nice little moment and obviously I’ll be trying to get my hands on it again this coming Sunday. Also on Monday I had some commitments with the BBC and the rest of the world’s media. Then on Tuesday evening we’ll attend the Association of Golf Writers’ Annual Dinner, as is customary I believe for the defending champion.
Aside from that, it’s all about focusing on my golf game. I’ve been to Muirfield three times in the last couple of weeks and the course is in amazing condition, running firm and fast just like a links course should. Accuracy is going to be at a premium, although if your ball runs into the first cut of rough you’re going to have a shot at the greens. It’s looking like a tough, but very fair set-up and the greens are pure, quick and perfect.
Anyone who knows me knows that Muirfield is my favorite of all the courses on the Open rota. It’s the kind of golf course where you can’t hide – a true test where you have to drive it well, hit your irons well, have your short game working nicely and manage your game and your emotions. You really have got to have your wits about you. It reminds me a little bit of Lytham. But where Lytham goes out and comes back, this course moves in different directions on almost every shot you play. It’s just a wonderful design. The par-3s are unbelievable. Each and every hole is a little bit different. There’s left to rights, right to lefts, it all happens out there.
People might talk mostly about the youngsters, which is fair enough, but I still believe I have a couple more majors left in me and this is my favorite of the four. I love links golf and if you’re on your game it’s incredible how this Open crowd can lift you. That’s what happened to me at Lytham. I could just feel the crowd over the back nine willing me to do it. Scotty helped me, but I still played that tough back nine in 4-under par and when all is said and done I’ll look back on that as one of the best rounds of my career.
This is my third Open at Muirfield – some of the guys playing this week probably weren’t even born when I first teed it up here in 1992 – and I have a good feeling about this week. I genuinely believe that experience is quite a big deal on this type of golf course and in this championship.
Anyway, it’s an honor to be the defending champion, but now I just have to get on with my own stuff, get my game sharp and take it from there. Trust me, when the gun goes on Thursday I’ll be giving it as good a shot as I can. I can’t wait!