The Open 2015: Claret Jug at St Andrews is golf's holy grail

The Open buzz is building ahead of golf's biggest prize, writes Paul Mahoney

Paul Mahoney
Fri, 10 Jul 2015
The Open 2015: Claret Jug at St Andrews is golf's holy grail

Cancel Rory McIlroy versus Jordan Spieth. Enter Tiger Woods.

While golf aficionados attending the 144th Open at St Andrews will set off for a hike around the Home of Golf to see if this young fellow Spieth can add the Claret Jug to his Masters Green Jacket and US Open trophy, in the absence of world number one McIlroy, this hallowed corner of Fife must brace itself for another bout of Tigermania. 

Thousands upon thousands that would have trekked after the Northern Irishman will now undoubtedly transfer their allegiance to stalk the world number 226.

St Andrews golf guide: the best courses in and around the Home of Golf

The champion in 2000 and 2005 posted a bogey-free round last weekend (the fact that is news illustrates just what a pickle his swing and brain have been in of late). But he can’t possibly make it a St Andrews hat-trick, can he?

“I don’t think he’s shown any form that would suggest he has a justifiable chance of winning,” said Europe’s victorious 2015 Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley. “Having said that, Tiger knows his way around St Andrews.”

More than any other Open Championship, St Andrews is the one they all want to win. “If you're going to be a player people will remember, you have to win the Open at St Andrews.” So said Jack Nicklaus. And Jack is right.

The Castle Course, St Andrews: review

Working backwards from 2010 who could ever forget Louis Oosthuizen, Woods twice, John Daly, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Nicklaus twice, then legendary names from the black and white pages of history, Bobby Locke, Peter Thomson, Sam Snead, and all the way back to Bobby Jones, Jock Hutchison, James Braid, JH Taylor, Bob Ferguson and St Andrews’ very first champion golfer of the year, Tom Kidd who, in 1873, probably set off to the nearest pub behind the 18th green in search of refreshment with his £10 winner’s prize.

Next Sunday’s champion will head to the pub with a cool £1.15 million.

But, as they say, it’s not about the money. It’s all about the Claret Jug.

“It’s the sexiest trophy in all of sport,” says Greg Norman in an Open Championship promotional video called ‘The One To Win’.

“To me, it was a trophy for everybody. It was incredible to see the emotion that comes out of people."

“You’re holding history,” says Woods. 

Tom Watson at the Open: a career in pictures

Are you feeling the emotion, yet? Tissues at the ready. This year will see Tom Watson’s farewell photograph and wave goodbye from the Swilcan Bridge as the 65-year-old five-times champion plays in his final Open Championship. Is he prepared for the emotion? “We’ll see,” he said. So that’s a ‘yes’ and probably also a ‘no’, then.

The 2013 champion, Phil Mickelson was already feeling the emotion playing the Scottish Open at Gullane just down the road from his now beloved Muirfield. “It’s a very emotional place for me. Probably the most special victory of my career,” he said.

Phil Mickelson: swing sequence

But what about St Andrews? “I know going back to Bobby Jones, you play it for the first time, you don't get it,” Mickelson said.

“You look at some bunkers and they are so far out of play, and you just don't understand why they are there. And then the wind changes the next time you play and now those bunkers are the ones that are in play,” he said.

“The more you play it, the more you appreciate its greatness. I fell in love with it early on because I had a chance the first four or five times I played there to have different wind each time.”

Padraig Harrington has won the Open twice but he still hasn’t fulfilled his boyhood dream. The Dubliner is feeling the Old Course emotion. “When I was a kid and pretended to have a putt to win the Open, it was always at St Andrews,” he said.

“The hairs stand up on the back of my neck thinking of all the history. I still get a buzz standing on the 1st tee trying not to hit it out of bounds.  St Andrews is the greatest Open venue.

“The Home of Golf. The fact that it’s in the town. It’s just such a cool place.”

What about the young guns - the ones's that haven't yet supped from the cup? Are they feeling the emotion?

Rickie Fowler already looks like a future Open champion. “As far as the history goes, you don't really have to think about it to be aware of it,” said  the 26-year-old from California. “You can feel it when you walk out there, whether it's staying at the Old Course Hotel and walking over to the 1st tee - really, anywhere you walk, going over the bridge on 18.”

Oh yes, Fowler’s feeling the emotion. “Growing up, as far as thinking about a putt to win, for the most part, I think it was the Masters,” he added. But when it was thought about the Open, it was always at St Andrews.”

And what of Spieth, the 21-year-old  tilting at history on the third leg of a potential Grand Slam? Is he feeing the emotion? We’ve no idea.

The Texas Ice Man has been playing in the John Deere Classic on a lush parkland course in Illinois and practising for the Open by hitting balls at a simulator screen at a virtual Old Course. “I’ve got a full swing simulator at home,” Spieth told Golf Channel in the States.

“I know it’s not the same as being there but I’ve played a few holes and was able to see some of the lines.”

Jordan Spieth: swing sequence

There’s only one thing missing that could have made the 144th Open Championship even more emotional. Get fit soon, Rory McIlroy. “Football – bloody hell,” as Sir Alex Ferguson once said.

Can Tiger challenge at St Andrews? Who are Spieth's main threats? Share your thoughts in the forum, on Twitter, on Facebook or visit us on YouTube.