Senior writer Alex Miceli, affectionately known as the Bulldog, will be in England and Scotland for nearly a month and will be keeping you updated with his latest tidbits in a daily blog for Golfweek. Here is his July 24 installment . . .
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Monday morning, I woke up still wondering how Phil Mickelson won by three shots. Muirfield wasn’t a golf course that should’ve or could’ve given up a 32 on the back nine, which all week was the harder nine.
Was the performance the best I’ve ever seen in the final round of a major championship? I think so. And in talkingwith a lot of guys on the range Tuesday at the Senior Open at Royal Birkdale, they agree.
One of the best parts of Monday morning was collecting on Mickelson from the betting parlor in North Berwick. Mickelson was 20-1, and I had him both to win and each way.
Actually going to the betting parlor before the tournament is always interesting. Looking at the odds and the individual matchups between players, I wish we had that opportunity in the states.
By the way, you could have gotten Mickelson at 20-1 Sunday morning as well.
Talking about odds, Tiger Woods is the favorite at 9-2 to win the PGA Championship at Oak Hill, followed by Mickelson at 12-1. It does boggle the mind that Woods was the favorite for every major in 2013 when he hasn’t won one since Torrey Pines in 2008.
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Never really spent much time with Tony Jacklin before. Any time spent with him was in the buildup to his course, The Concession, in Bradenton, Fla.
Jacklin, winner of the 1969 Open Championship and 1970 U.S. Open, also was a two-time successful Ryder Cup captain in the ’80s. Not many Europeans can say that.
Like at the Scottish Open when Ballantine’s called and asked whether I’d like to play in the pro-am, when Glenmorangie asked if I’d like to play Monday with Jacklin, it was hard to say no.
We started at Muirfield at 2 p.m. off the back tees, the same time spot where Woods had played 24 hours earlier, though obviously devoid of crowds and TV cameras.
It was an overcast day with the threat of rain, so I didn’t bring my camera but used my iPhone instead.
The course was brilliant, maybe a little more water on it than the field experienced during the week, but still hard and fast.
It took Jacklin a little time to warm up – but like a true champion he did, hitting some pretty good shots for someone who doesn’t play very much this time of year.
It’s always interesting to watch great players when they aren’t playing so great or hitting a bad shot. In Jacklin’s case, if he didn’t execute properly on a shot that he thought he should have made, he yelled out something like, “Oh, TJ,” or, “Come on, TJ.”
Funny thing was, he got into the little match we were playing against the other two U.K. journalists we were playing with, and as we progressed his putter warmed up and he was into it.
One benefit of playing with an Open champion at Muirfield is his comments on when he played there during his heyday, which for Jacklin was in 1972 when Trevino beat Nicklaus.
Jacklin finished third that year, two shots back of Trevino, with whom Jacklin was paired in the final round.
Along the way, Jacklin would say, “I was here,” and, “Trevino was there,” and make comments about what happened. It was truly fascinating, especially on the 17th hole when Jacklin had outplayed Trevino on the par 5 and he walked off with a bogey and Trevino parred and would win the championship.
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The drive to Royal Birkdale from Muirfield is about 4 hours and 30 minutes, but the hillside on the M6 was scenic and made the trip a little easier.
Royal Birkdale is set up as hard as Muirfield, according to players on the range this week. The need to control the ball off the tee will be imperative, and keeping the ball down will be just as important. A lot of driving irons are replacing rescue or 4- and 5-woods in players’ bags this week.
On the range, the discussion of Mickelson’s feat at the Open Championship is a large topic of conversation, many seeing it as one of the best back nines in a major championship.
Some players point to Nicklaus’ final round in 1986 at Augusta National, or Player’s or Schwartzel’s Masters victories. But one player made the keenest observation: Augusta is set up differently; a player can go low there almost any time. The course is generally set up for low scores, but Muirfield was set up to play hard and not give up anything, which made Mickelson’s 32 even more special.
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I’ve never done this myself but always found it appealing that anyone can tee it up Monday of the Senior British and try to qualify.
It’s only 18 holes – and the three courses used were Hillside, just next door to Birkdale; Southport & Ainsdale, which is also very close by; and Formby, which is less than 15 minutes away.
None of the scores wwas impressive. The medalists were 71 at S&A, 72 at Hillside and 71 at Formby. Of the 40 players who got in through qualifying, the highest score was a 76. So if you ever thought you wanted to compete in a Senior British Open, you might want to start working on your game now, because the opportunity is out there.
By the way, PGA Tour caddie Lance Ten Broeck shot 72 at S&A and is in this week.
After spending the day at Royal Birkdale on Tuesday, I checked out Formby.
What a gem.
I had never been there before, but the course is by far one of the best I’ve played in England. With a lot of large pine trees on the front nine, the course doesn’t have the same links feel as many U.K. courses, but the course has links turf and it plays hard and fast, it’s a true links course.
The back nine has fewer trees, and you can see the water standing on the ninth tee, a great par 4.
Formby opened in 1884, and Willie Park designed the original 18 holes in 1912. In 1922, James Braid came in and made changes to the 15th and 18th holes and also lengthened the course.
In the early ’70s, erosion was a concern and the original seventh, eighth and ninth holes – those closest to the water – were abandoned. New holes were designed by Donald Steel, and the 10th used the ninth green and changed into a par 3.
This is pretty much the course you see today and the one on which Jose Maria Olazabal and Matteo Manassero won their amateur titles.
Both players were made honorary members two weeks ago during a ceremony at the Scottish Open.
Something interesting about Formby is that they have a women’s clubhouse and women’s golf course.
It turns out that the women didn’t like playing on the men’s course or didn’t like playing with the men, so in 1896 Henry Colt designed a women’s course, surrounded by the man’s course.
Formby is a great experience, fun, challenging and from a design standpoint one of the best I’ve seen, but make sure to play with a member or get a yardage guide, because the bunkers are hidden in many places and can jump up and grab a shot.
Formby is definitely a don’t-miss if you’re coming over to the west side of England.
Like I said earlier, I have some pictures off my iPhone that I want to share, so please excuse the quality.
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One last thing: As I was closing my blog, the press secretary at Royal Birkdale came by and said they were going to have a little ceremony on the 18th green with Mark O’Meara, presenting him with an honorary membership.
I did grab my camera for that, and the pictures of “MO,” as Woods calls him, are in the gallery as well.
I put one picture of the clock on top of the clubhouse at 9:12, only because Birkdale lost power Wednesday morning and the clock is stopped at 9:12.
It’s my blog, so allow me a little diversion now and then.
– Driving back up to Scotland today, but will be making a couple of stops along the way, so stay tuned from Britain.