By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) There’s something special about the British Open.
Devout fans of the game know that the game played across the Atlantic often looks much different than the one played in the United States. Instead of finely manicured greens and beautiful fairways that could make White Sox groundskeeper Roger Bossard jealous, courses in Great Britain have an aged and worn look.
This year’s British Open is at Muirfield in Scotland. There is some green grass on the course, but it seems there’s more of the brown and sun-baked variety than anything else.
It may not be aesthetically pleasing, but the British Open will challenge golfers like few other courses. At Muirfield, the golfers have to deal with unpredictable winds that come off the sea.
They are unpredictable because they are in a golfer’s face at one point and at his back just a few minutes later. The course itself is hard and unforgiving, which makes it difficult to control shots.
As you watch the British Open unfold this weekend, it’s notable that few golfers will use their drivers. Accuracy is rewarded while distance is not. Some golfers will use a three-wood for their longer shots but many more will stick with their irons.
The game of golf was born in Great Britain and that makes it special for Americans who come over as well as the European, Australian and South African golfers who participate.
This is where it all began. It is the best of all the majors.
The Masters is certainly a beautiful and remarkable tournament, but it is steeped in exclusionary, old-world southern traditions. It doesn’t compare with the U.S. or British Open.
The PGA championship is very much underrated. It is clearly the fourth major, both on the calendar and in stature, and it often produces some of the best golf of the year.
While the U.S. Open will often beat down the best golfers in the world, the British Open rewards the smartest golfers. If you can figure out the wind, the baked-out fairways and greens and how to minimize the damage when the ball goes in the rough, you will be rewarded.
The British Open courses are built for the thinking man. You must keep your wits about you after a bad shot or two poor holes in a row. You can’t let the course get in your head.
Could this be the major where Tiger Woods gets back on track? There are a couple of factors that make this the spot that he ends his five-year winless streak. The first and most important factor is that he is so strong mentally.
He may play with an edge and he appears to get hot under the collar when he hits a shot he doesn’t like, but he is thinking ahead. He knows what he needs to do on each shot and there is no guess work when he is on the course.
Muirfield has seen many big-name winners in the past. Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo (twice) and Ernie Els have won the last seven British Opens at the storied course.
It seems likely a big name will win here again. Look for Woods, Els, Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell and Masters champion Adam Scott to make legitimate runs at the most storied championship in golf.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.