Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Old Course as an Open venue: Time to face a few facts

By Peter Hutcheon
It boasts one of the most iconic settings of any course in the world. Players fall over themselves to say how much they love it. And it revels in its role as the Home of Golf.
And yet, when it comes to staging the Open Championship, the R and A may have to face up to the hard fact that St Andrews may have outlived its usefulness.
To many, like Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy who proclaim it their favourite course in the world, that may seem like sacrilege, but it’s time to face a few facts.
Louis Oosthuizen won the Claret Jug on Sunday by seven shots.
That could have happened on any course, but a look back through the recent history of Old Course Opens and a pattern begins to emerge.
Woods’ margin of victory there five years ago was by five shots and the manner of his win in 2000 was even more convincing at eight shots clear of the field.
Granted, John Daly needed a play-off to triumph in 1995, but when Sir Nick Faldo won the last of his three Opens, it was by five on the Old Course. That’s one competitive finish in five Opens spanning 20 years.
Colin Montgomerie, runner-up to Woods five years ago, says it is almost impossible to come from behind and win at St Andrews.
“It’s the pin positions which make it so difficult to attack, but relatively easy to defend,” he explains
“If you are trying to force the pace to make birdies, you make mistake.
“But it is a place you can play conservatively and make par to hang onto a lead.
“I found it very difficult to get back at him.”
Compare Sunday’s procession to the drama of Tom Watson’s missed eight-footer at Turnberry 12 months ago.
Or to Padraig Harrington’s two thrilling victories at Carnoustie in 2007 or Royal Birkdale a year later.
Royal Troon produced a play-off for Todd Hamilton’s victory over Ernie Els in 2004 while in 2003 Royal St George’s — next year’s venue — produced the stunning collapse of Thomas Bjorn and the unlikely Ben Curtis as last-gasp winner.
Those are the kind of thrilling conclusion an Open championship deserves — not a dull plod towards the title which Oosthuizen, however well he played to claim the title, enjoyed on Sunday.
The Old Course is also the most awkward of Open venues for spectators.
The double greens for which the course is famed, are also the biggest drawback when it comes to the paying punters who, for the most part, struggle for a glimpse of the action.
To lengthen the Road Hole for this year’s Championship, the R and A was bitterly criticised for straying beyond the boundaries of the original course.
And the 18th tee has been pushed back until it is practically touching the Road Hole green. Yet it is still nothing more, these days, than a glorified par-3.
The Old Course has history on it side, but maybe it’s time that’s where it should be consigned.



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