PER­FECT TEST OR TOO EASY?

John Huggan be­lieves the set-up of Royal Birk­dale for this year’s Cham­pi­onship was spot-on… well, al­most.

Golf World (UK) - - TOUR TIPS -

If the mark of a truly great Open venue is the qual­ity of the cham­pi­ons it pro­duces. then Royal Birk­dale ranks with the very best. With Jor­dan Spi­eth’s vic­tory, all but one of the win­ners at the fa­mous South­port links is or will be a mem­ber of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

At least at first glance, Birk­dale also ticked an­other box. On a great course, a world-class player at the top of his game should be able to shoot a re­ally low score. Day three brought that num­ber – a his­toric fig­ure in the an­nals of golf’s four ma­jor cham­pi­onships. Af­ter 31 rounds of 63 by 29 dif­fer­ent men (Greg Nor­man and Vi­jay Singh both did it twice), South African Bran­den Grace shot 62, eight-un­der par.

It was a won­der­ful dis­play, of course. But closer in­spec­tion brought with it some mis­giv­ings. En route to his record-break­ing round, Grace hit 9-iron or less to 10 greens. Only once out­side of the two par 5s did he need more than a 6-iron to reach a putting sur­face in reg­u­la­tion. The long­est club he hit into any par 4 was a 7-iron. On the 470- yard 18th he hit his ap­proach with a pitch­ing wedge from 165 yards. The ball fin­ished over the green.

Par for the course, Grace reck­oned, was 67. For top pro­fes­sion­als we’re talk­ing not much more than pitch-and-putt dif­fi­culty. Still, none of the above should de­tract from the no­tion that Birk­dale is the best of the four Open venues in Eng­land. The pros cer­tainly en­joyed its chal­lenges. It was in won­der­ful con­di­tion. And it is, by al­most unan­i­mous con­sen­sus, “very fair”. Which is not al­ways the big­gest com­pli­ment. Any­one who en­joys the quirk­i­ness of, say, Royal St.

Ge­orge’s is not go­ing to think Birk­dale is that in­ter­est­ing. Then again, if you like Birk­dale you’re likely to think St. Ge­orge’s is daft in places. Which is not to say Birk­dale was de­void of ec­cen­tric­ity, at least in one spot. The first fair­way was half the width it should be. Hardly any­one was hit­ting it, a fact that did noth­ing for the pace of play.

One last thing. Yes, Birk­dale does pro­duce great win­ners. But so does the Open the ma­jor­ity of the time. One of the world’s best play­ers nearly al­ways wins. So some per­spec­tive is nec­es­sary.

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