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Major challenge beckons

other Updated: Jul 18, 2013 02:00 IST

The Open returns to Muirfield for the 16th time starting Thursday, with two straight weeks of sunshine having turned the famed Scottish links into a firm, fast and furious test for the best.

Drivers will seldom be seen and irons will be the weapon of choice off many tees as an elite field looks to stay out of the punishing rough and create the best angles to attack the pins at the par-71 East Lothian layout.

Graeme McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion who grew up playing on links in Northern Ireland and who will start among the favourites, compared golfing at Muirfield to playing a game of chess.

“This is certainly a game of chess this week, where you have to position your pieces and keep them in play,” he said.

“This golf course is all right there in front of you, there’s no hidden tricks to it. Good quality golf gets rewarded.

“You hit the shots, they’ll be where you expect them to be. It gives you half a chance around the greens. It’s very penal off the tee, about half a chance around the greens, gives you a chance to pitch and hit bunker shots, and doesn’t kind of unduly punish you too much.

Good golf to pay off

“Nine out of ten times this golf course will reward good golf, and punish you off the tee, but give yourself opportunities up and around the greens.

“I think it’s a fair golf course which rewards great players and great golf, probably why we have so many great champions at this venue.”

A quick check down the list of past winners at Muirfield certainly confirms what McDowell says as they include Ernie Els, the last time it was played there in 2002, Nick Faldo in 1992 and 1987, Tom Watson (1980), Lee Trevino (1972), Jack Nicklaus (1966) and Gary Player (1959).

‘No doping concerns’

The head of golf’s governing body says there is no evidence of doping in the sport and stresses there will be no complacency in the fight to keep it drug-free.

Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson says his organization is “right on the case” and that “anti-doping policies do as much as they can to trap miscreants.” Dawson says “Everything I hear is anecdotal and hasn’t had very much specific behind it.”

Rory’s jab at Faldo

Rory McIlroy shrugged off a suggestion from the six-time major champion to spend more time concentrating on golf, saying on Wednesday that Faldo “should know how hard this game is at times.”

McIlroy took a jab at Nick Faldo’s proposed schedule.

“I actually was on the range at 6:15 (a.m.), and got out of the gym at 6:15 (p.m.) - actually a 12-hour day compared to his eight-hour day,” McIlroy said.

‘Review after open’

The Royal & Ancient intends to look at the issue of male-only clubs after the British Open. Even so, the head of the governing body said Wednesday that gender policies in golf don’t compare to racism or religious discrimination.

British Open organisers will look at the issue of men-only golf clubs after the Open. “We will have a good look, try to take a view about all of this and find the most sensible way forward,” said Dawson.