The Open Championship 2013: Stout Leaderboard Looks to Avoid Weekend Carnage

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistJuly 19, 2013

GULLANE, SCOTLAND - JULY 18:  Phil Mickelson of the United States hits from the rough on the 5th during the first round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield on July 18, 2013 in Gullane, Scotland.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

They often say that U.S. Open courses are brutal because United States Golf Association officials want to provide the best golfers in the world with a golf course that provides the stiffest test.

The British Open is always considered a tough event, but not quite as tough as its American counterpart. That's hardly the case this year, as Muirfield is proving to be nightmarishly difficult to its competitors.

The course—sun-baked and hardened—is taking its toll on everyone. Golfers like Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler failed to make the cut, but even the leaders are talking about how brutal the ancient course is.

Tiger Woods spoke about the conditions after his even-par round of 71 on Friday.

"The wind obviously is a completely different direction than it was yesterday," Woods told the media after his round, through The Sporting News. "On top of that we've had quite a bit of moisture on the greens overnight.

"With this golf course, it's what this golf course does. It's so quick. It depends on where you land, on what side of the slope. It's going to be a big test."

Woods has obviously done much better than most through the first two rounds, with a two-round total of 140 that has him tied with three other golfers who are a stroke behind leader Miguel Angel Jimenez, but some of the other contenders described Muirfield in harsh tones.

Phil Mickelson shot a three-over-par 72 in the second round and is one-over-par for the tournament. He criticized Muirfield on Thursday, but then spoke out of both sides of his mouth after the second round when he said there would "be a lot of carnage" over the weekend, but also said the setup was "fantastic."

There are many reasons why Muirfield is so tough. Top pro golfers play in difficult conditions all the time, but Muirfield is such an unpredictable course that it makes the best pros struggle to find any peace of mind.

Kyle Porter of CBS wrote about the inconsistency, saying the golf ball would run through some greens while it would stick on others. That's what makes it so difficult for these golfers.

When top golfers look at an approach shot and can't be sure if their shot will stick on the green with backspin or whether the hard surface will make the ball jump, their expertise at creating artful and skilled shots goes out the window.

The best golfers in the world can look like amateurs (albeit low-handicappers) under those circumstances.

When Mickelson and other golfers like Ian Poulter and Zach Johnson criticize the course, it tells you that the layout and conditions have gotten under their skin.

You don't see Jimenez or Woods making such pointed remarks. They are just playing their games and trying not to get overly concerned about the difficult conditions.

Jimenez spoke about playing the game for the love of it and he seemed to understand that the conditions were hard, but he had to accept that.

"I feel relaxed. And I tell you, I love what I'm doing. I play golf," Jimenez told Evan Hilbert of CBS Sports. "I do this for a living. And I've kept doing the same thing for 25 years."

"This condition is tough. The golf course is very hard. Some of the positions, the pin positions, they are very tough."

Woods was of the belief that the course conditions were difficult, and there was nothing he could do about it. It was something he chose to accept and move on.

The leaderboard is packed with big names like Dustin Johnson, Angel Cabrera, Henrik Stenstrom and Lee Westwood who have the ability to play superb golf over the final 36 holes. However, golfers who are worried about the conditions are not going to be at their best.

The golfers who can worry least about the course conditions and concentrate most on the next stroke have the best chance of coming away with the Claret Jug.