GULLANE, Scotland — Every major golf tournament has a distinctive quality. This one will be the year of following the bouncing ball at Muirfield.
This could be the British Open remembered not so much by who won, as by who putted for eagle the most on par fours. The ground is so hard here that it may be precedent setting. Riviera wants the U.S. Open back and it could use, as a selling point, the possibility of having the 405 Freeway as the first fairway. They could promote it as a British Open prep event.
There is the fear here that they will: 1. run out of wooden tees or 2. need to provide marshals with hammers on the tees. The pros who take big divots, such as Tiger Woods, may need to schedule their elbow surgery now, so they can start their rehab in time for the race to the FedEx Cup.
Woods, who hurt his elbow recently, was asked about that the other day and said his elbow had healed and he wasn't concerned. That probably means he is. Brandt Snedeker also said he's not concerned. "I don't take big divots," he said. "I'm a picker."
All the pros say they are loving the hard ground conditions. These are, of course, the same pros who said, prior to the start, that they loved the softer conditions at the U.S. Open last month, when Merion got a lot of rain. That was so soft and easy, as you might remember, that Justin Rose won with a score of one over par. There seemed to be less love for Merion afterward.
The Brits have a wonderful term for the current cement-fairway conditions here at historic and venerable Muirfield.
"It's firm and fiery," said England's Luke Donald, a former world No. 1 player, who is high on that dreaded media list of best players never to win a major. Donald, who takes his home-cooked, fish-and-chips dinners in suburban Chicago, may be among the bigger beneficiaries of the rolling ball this week. In his sport of rocket launchers off the tee, he is a pea shooter. He even joked about it Wednesday, while fielding questions about golf's drug testing and how silly it might be to test him.
"I haven't given a lot of thought to it," Donald said. "If you've seen how far I hit it, you'd understand."
Donald said he played a practice round Wednesday with one of those rocket launchers, Dustin Johnson.
"Dustin hit driver on No. 11," Donald said, "and he was five yards short of the green."
No. 11 plays 387 yards.
If the rain holds off, unusual in Scotland in July but forecast to be so, this British Open could be greatly reminiscent of Woods' last victory in this event in 2006. That was at Royal Liverpool, played on a hard, dry course where the dominant color of the grounds was brown, and where Woods used a driver just once in the entire tournament.
He said that will likely be his game plan here. After all, why hit a club tougher to control when you can hit a three-iron 280 yards, he reasoned. (All the guys at Azusa Greens are now asking the same question: You can control a three-iron?).
Phil Mickelson, who has created a little buzz around here by winning last week's Scottish Open for his first win on a links course, said he won't even put a driver in his bag all week.
"I just don't see how a driver is going to help me in any areas," he said. "I'm able to hit a three-wood on this firm ground every bit as close enough in distance on these holes."
He said he would replace the driver with a 64-degree wedge, a club that Mickelson, and perhaps a few dozen others on the planet, can actually hit well consistently.
If it stays dry and hard — ah, "firm and fiery" — look for that magic moment when the TV announcers tell you, in their classic whispered voices, that Mickelson is 135 yards out and "has the 64-degree wedge in his hand." Then you'll know you are watching something unique in golf. Same thing if you see Hard Rock Café suddenly pop up as a sponsor.
This could be great TV watching, despite the time difference in the States. The course is set up so that it circles constantly and exposes the players to a different wind angle on almost every shot.
Expect drama. Expect eagles and possibly even holes-in-one on par fours. Expect seven-irons off tees on 400-yard-plus par fours. Expect wonderfully shaped tee shots to disappear into previously unreachable pot bunkers.
And the really good part? Expect a lot of whining.