Why Old Course needs Mother Nature's help for 150th Open
The year when we should probably be worried about someone doing something silly score-wise on the Old Course at St Andrews has started ominously.
Playing in the first event of the new calendar year, Australian Cameron Smith shot ridiculous rounds of 65-64-64-65, giving him a winning total of 34-under-par in the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions on the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Hawaii.
Since 1950, it was a new record on the US circuit for most strokes under par in a 72-holer, the previous mark having been 31-under, set by Ernie Els in the same tournament in 2003. On that occasion, Els won by eight shots, but there was no such victory procession for Smith. Far from it, in fact.
Despite shooting the lights out, golf’s mullet man only ended up winning by a shot from world No 1 Jon Rahm, with Smith’s compatriot, Matt Jones, a shot further back in third.
Due to the weather, preferred lies had been in operation for the opening three rounds, but, even then, it was astonishing scoring.
“I just think that's how golf is” was the winner’s summing up of the level of play that had been required to get the job done and fair play to Smith for landing a victory that has moved him into the world’s top 10.
Given that Harris English landed the same title last year with a 25-under total, the course conditions on this occasion were clearly a factor and, though perhaps stating obvious, that’s the worry about St Andrews in July.
Yes, of course, it’s stood up to big-hitters in the past and there’s plenty of scope to have holes cut in some of the nastiest spots you can imagine, but this Claret Jug joust more than any other on the Old Course could produce scores similar to those in Hawaii.
Do we really want to see that? Personally, I don’t mind the world’s top players facing a straightforward challenge for a couple of days and it would certainly be interesting to see how many greens Bryson DeChambeau can, indeed, hit if it is flat calm.
At the same time, though, it would be demoralising to see the Old Course ripped apart over 72 holes, so here’s hoping that Mother Nature has something up her sleeve for 14-17 July.
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