The image of Japanese golfer Shigeki Maruyama huddled behind an advertising board – blowing on his hands to keep them warm – on the fourth hole in the third round of the 2002 Open Championship at Muirfield is, in my mind, an iconic golfing image.
With winds whipping off the North Sea and rain pelting the players, train wrecks were everywhere. None were higher on the par-71 layout than Tiger Woods’ 81 and Scotland’s Colin Montogmerie’s 84.
Maruyama himself managed a 75, but it wasn’t enough as he fell one shot shy of joining the four-man playoff, won the next day by South African Ernie Els.
Twelve years after what I believe was the most weather-influenced and challenging round of golf professional golfers have battled through on a links course, another Open Championship tees off on Thursday.
Germany’s Martin Kaymer, England’s Justin Rose and Australian Adam Scott are among the favourites for the 143rd Open Championship, which returns to Royal Liverpool (Hoylake) for the first time since Woods captured his third Claret Jug there in 2006.
Rose heads to Hoylake fresh off two consecutive wins on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, while Kaymer won the Players Championship in May and the United States Open in June.
Scott is the No. 1 player in the world and is looking to snare his second career major championship. He finished second and third at each of the last two Opens, so one could argue he’s due to finally lift the Claret Jug in celebratory triumph.
Other marquee names that have legitimate chances to leave Hoylake with a major championship include Ulsterman Graeme McDowell, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, defending champion Phil Mickelson and, of course, Woods, who tees it up in a major for the first in 2014.
I personally expect Rose to keep his hot streak going and win his second major in as many years (2013 U.S. Open), but I could easily see him missing the cut. After all, he’s missed three of the last four cuts at the Open, and wasn’t part of the field eight years ago.
That said, as a mega golf fan, I merely want to see an epic conclusion to the year’s third major. Bubba Watson easily won the Masters and Kaymer blew past the field at Pinehurst No. 2.
Does the golf world deserve a riveting end to a major championship? Yes, it does. Will it get it? I’m not a fortune teller, so I couldn’t tell you.
All I know is that if you’ve ever played links golf, you know the possibility of having the exact same shot doesn’t exist. That motto also holds true when it comes to golf on other golf courses, but it’s even more accurate on a links golf course – especially when high winds and sideways rain causes havoc on a golfer.
So while I hope this year’s Open is as memorable as the 2009 and 2013 editions, more than anything I would enjoy watching the best golfers in the world have to deal with weather like they did at Muirfield in 2002.
Because that’s the way links golf was meant to be played.
Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks