The Open: Els predicts ‘fiery’ Muirfield contest

South Africa's Ernie Els at a press conference for the Scottish Open. Picture: SNS
South Africa's Ernie Els at a press conference for the Scottish Open. Picture: SNS
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HAVING watched the course turn from green to brown in front of his own eyes over the past fortnight, Ernie Els is predicting a “really fiery” and “great test” when he defends his title in the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield next week.

The South African has paid two visits to the East Lothian course in the past couple of weeks, the first almost straight after he won the BMW International in Germany and the other earlier this week en route to Castle Stuart for the Scottish Open, which starts today.

With the weather having taken a significant turn for the better in between those visits, Els admitted he’d been shocked by the visual change of appearance and reckons the punishing rough could get even thicker between now and next Thursday.

Describing what he’d seen a fortnight ago today – his first visit to the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers since claiming the Claret Jug there in 2002 – the three-time major winner said: “It was as green as this sweater I’m wearing. “But, when I went on Monday and Tuesday to play it again, it’s become brown, this colour,” pointing to the sweater of someone in the room at his pre-tournament press conference in Inverness.

“It’s really fiery and the rough is up – it’s going to be a real great test. We’ll see what the weather does, but the course is ready right now. They could have started The Open last week as it’s really in great shape.”

Els has used those practice rounds to “know what it’s going to take” to repeat his victory 11 years ago and will use this week’s warm-up event in Inverness to “work on certain stuff” for Muirfield.

While a huge fan of Loch Lomond, which he says is “definitely in my top-ten courses in the world”, and just as happy to be playing in the event for the third year running at Castle Stuart, Els is backing the possibility of the Scottish Open embarking on a countrywide tour.

It is definitely moving to Royal Aberdeen next year and discussions will start soon about what lies in store after that, with The Renaissance Club in East Lothian just one venue keen to stage the event.

“Any national Open should move around the country,” insisted Els, a two-time winner at Loch Lomond. “It shouldn’t be played at the same course every year because that way you get very familiar with it and can get the same names up on the leaderboard.

“I’ve never played Royal Aberdeen, but I saw a little bit when they played the British Seniors there a few years ago and it looked very difficult. It’s also very highly ranked by the Scottish players I speak to – they love it.

“I’d love to see the Scottish Open move around the country. Who knows, maybe it could be along the road at Nairn or up the road at Dornoch – that would be great.”

However, he added: “I love it at Castle Stuart because it’s the perfect preparation yet is not as tough as the week of The Open.”