ERNIE Els, the defending champion and winner the last time the event was held in East Lothian, has rubbished a report that he’d described Muirfield’s rough as “waist-high” and “ridiculous” for the 142nd Open Championship in a fortnight’s time.
The claim was made by world No 2 Rory McIlroy in his pre-event interview for the Irish Open at Carton House after he’d bumped into Els at the All-England Championships at Wimbledon last Monday. “He said the rough was like waist-high; he said it was ridiculous,” declared McIlroy, though it seems Els was probably referring to the 2007 Senior Open at Muirfield as it wasn’t until last Thursday that he clapped eyes on the course for the first time since his Claret Jug success there 11 years ago.
The South African, who won the BMW International Open in Munich eight days ago, visited it for a practice round on Thursday in the company of Johann Rupert, his long-time friend and sponsor of the Dunhill Links. And, though admitting there is rough to provide a “tough” examination for the world’s top players, Els believes it will be a “fair” test when the R&A’s flagship event is staged for a 16th time at the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. “I love the course,” he told pgatour.com. “I think it’s set up very similar to 1992 and 2002. The rough is good, the fairways are good, some of the holes have been lengthened.”
Asked about McIlroy’s comments, he said: “There is rough, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t think it’s unfair. I think everyone will find a tough, fair layout.”
Els, who won a four-man play-off in 2002 that also involved Frenchman Thomas Levet and Australian duo Steve Elkington and Stuart Appleby, added: “Your lines off the tee, you have be to very selective. The longer hitters can take holes on, or you can play it safe.
“There’s a lot of doglegs. It has four of the best par-3s you’ll see on linksland. It’s a shot-maker’s golf course. It’s a thinking man’s golf course.”