HOYLAKE, England – The British Open packs history on links courses that have been nurtured more by time than by tractors.
It returns this year to Royal Liverpool, the second-oldest golf club in England, established in 1867 before anyone in America knew much about the Royal & Ancient game.
For all its heritage, though, the charm of this major tournament is what lies ahead. No one knows what to expect.
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Royal Liverpool was so brown and baked when The Open was last here in 2006 that the R&A asked players to take extra care if they smoked, and it had two fire engines stationed on the course. The ball rolled so far when it hit the ground that Tiger Woods used his driver once over 72 holes and won by two shots.
This year, the grass on the course is greener than it was at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina for the U.S. Open last month.
“It’s lush. The greens are soft and very green. Fairways are pretty similar,” said Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who took a recent scouting trip to Hoylake. “But I think they are going to get a spell of good weather leading up to The Open, and hopefully, it will get a bit firmer.”
He recalled watching in 2006 when “the ball was like bouncing down a road on the fairways.”
McIlroy said he could hit as many as five drivers each round.
Woods was at the height of his powers eight years ago when he won the claret jug for the third time. He was the first player in more than 20 years to repeat as Open champion. He would go on to win the PGA Championship that year, making history as the only player to capture multiple majors in successive years.
But Woods, a 14-time major champion, has had three surgeries since he was last at Royal Liverpool and the British Open will be his first major in 11 months.