GULLANE, Scotland —
Tiger Woods is always a favorite, and he has the best odds this week, even though he hasn’t won the claret jug since Hoylake in 2006.
Els is well aware of the quality of champions Muirfield tends to produce, from Harry Vardon and James Braid to Walter Hagen and Henry Cotton, from Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to Lee Trevino and Tom Watson, along with Nick Faldo and Els.
And yes, he believes the course has something to do with that.
“It’s just a wonderful design,” Els said. “The par 3s are unbelievable. The par 5s have been changed a little bit — they’re longer. Each and every hole is a little bit different. There’s left-to-right, right-to-left, and it all happens out there. Every links shot that you can imagine, you’re going to play it this week.”
Els returned to Muirfield a few weeks ago, and he played a quiet nine holes Sunday evening. He remembers much about Muirfield, a course where he tied for fifth in his professional debut in 1992 and won a decade later. And there are some shots he is trying to forget, such as the double bogey on the 16th hole that nearly cost him a chance at having his name on that claret jug.
Els had to make birdie on the par-5 17th and close with a par just to get into a four-man playoff over four holes, and he won in the first sudden-death moment in Open history over Thomas Levet on the fifth hole. Even then, Els hit into a bunker on the 18th and had to save par for the win.
He certainly is not ruling himself out this week, not after the victory in Germany and his tie for fourth in the U.S. Open. Els might not win as much as he used to, but he plays the hard courses well. And with a forecast for dry weather and strong wind, this might be hard.
The claret jug is the oldest trophy in golf, first awarded in 1873. Els took it around the world over the last year, as he did after winning in 2002. The jug stayed outside London the last two weeks, cleaned and buffed so it was shiny when he handed it back to the R&A.