Ernie Els practices at Muirfield.
“Every links shot that you can imagine, you're going to play it this week,” defending Open champion, Ernie Els said Monday. He said the course is getting firm, and there’s a good stand of rough. “Accuracy is going to be at the premium and your shot making is going to be really tested. You're going to have to come in high sometimes. You're going to have to come in with bump‑and‑runs. Your short game will be tested.”
Els likes Phil Mickelson’s chances at The Open Championship, coming off a win at the Scottish Open.
“He's such a talented player. With his short game, it's amazing he hasn't done better,” Els said. "But obviously getting used to the bounces, that's the big thing. You've got to envision that a 3‑iron could go 280 yards downwind, and into the wind it's probably going to go 180. Those are the things you have to really take into consideration.”
Els said there are a lot subtle differences playing links golf, right down to the sound the ball makes when a shot is hit and the kind of divot that is taken.
Nick Faldo, always known as a perfectionist in practice and a tactician during play, said he and former caddie Fanny Sunesson calculated every shot prior to his second victory at Muirfield.
“You have to know where you're going to land it, where the next bounce is and where the run is,” he explained. “What we worked out so well in '92, where to land the ball 20 yards short of the green, which way it would kick, and obviously where it would stop.”
According to Faldo, some of the “youngsters” aren’t even going to use the full assortment of clubs. Jason Day told Faldo he played a practice round using just irons, even when hitting into the wind.
“He's got a 2‑iron, which he's cranked to a 1‑iron,” Faldo said. Day told him he can hit the club 275 yards. “That might be the game strategy, here. The golf ball can go a mile. The eighth might be for these big guys like be a 6‑iron off the tee, and it runs to 280 or something crazy.”
He also said the weather and ability to hit solid shots would be factors.
“We're all going to be seriously tested,” he added. “Mis‑hits, the bounce is 30 yards off line, or it's in the hay. There's no options here. “
Faldo also had thoughts on the games of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods. He said Rory is still testing clubs.
“Tiger is in a different mode where he's winning regular tournaments, but he gets to the majors and something happens,” Faldo said. “The self-belief you have to have, maybe there's a little dent in there. He hits the wrong shot at the wrong time, where before Tiger would hit the right shot at the right time.”
Phil Mickelson, who won the Scottish Open over the weekend—his 50th professional victory—said it was a big step for him to win on a links course. As has happened a time or two in Mickelson’s career, he didn’t do it the easy way. It was vintage Phil the Thrill. His one-shot lead on the 18th evaporated when he three-putted, forcing a playoff.
“Nobody likes a movie that's predictable. You always want to have a little bit of suspense,” he joked.
In the playoff, Mickelson was able to hit a miracle 60-degree wedge to about two inches at the 18th hole for a certain victory.
"It's probably the biggest challenge of my career is hitting the shots that are required here,” he said about links golf. “If I were to win an Open Championship in my career, I think that would be one of the greatest accomplishments I could achieve as a player, because it's the biggest challenge of my career, adapting my game, hitting the shots here that I have never had a chance to practice growing up.”
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour, R&A or PGA of America.