St. Andrews still packs appeal and a test through centuries

St. Andrews
Tiger Woods prepares to tee off on the 7th hole during a practice round at the British Open golf championship on the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland.
AP Photo/Peter Morrison

By DOUG FERGUSON AP Golf Writer

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Jack Nicklaus posed atop the Swilcan Bridge, birdied the last hole he ever played in a major championship and had no intention of ever returning to St. Andrews, not wanting anything to dilute from such a powerful ending to an incomparable career.

That was 17 years ago. And those plans changed when St. Andrews wanted to make Nicklaus an honorary citizen on occasion of the 150th British Open. The only other Americans given that distinction were Bobby Jones and Benjamin Franklin.

It was the first time Nicklaus has been to the Old Course without golf clubs, and his appreciation only seemed to deepen.

“When I came here in 1964, I couldn’t believe that St Andrews was a golf course that would still test golfers of that time,” he said Monday. “It still tests the golfers at this time. It’s a magical golf course. … And to believe the game of golf essentially started here, it just absolutely is mind-boggling to me that it still stands up to the golfers of today.”

That’s to be determined later this week.

The Old Course always feels a little older when it’s crusty and firm, yellow and wispy, when the quality of a shot isn’t measured until it hits the ground and starts bouncing along.

But without much wind in the forecast, and with the increasing talent of today’s game, few courses are more vulnerable to low scoring. The par is 72 with only two par 5s, one on each nine. But there are a few par 4s reachable from the tee without strong wind.

U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick was a junior tournament winner at St. Andrews. Most recently his experience has been at the Dunhill Links Championship on the European tour in early October when the sky is gray and heavy and the turf is soft and green.

“I think with it being firm and par 4s more gettable, it could be a low one as well, weather permitting,” Fitzpatrick said.

Tiger Woods was back on the Old Course on Monday morning for nine holes, keeping up with an unusually busy schedule given the state of his battered right leg. He walked the course with a wedge and putter on Saturday into night and played 18 holes on Sunday. Woods also had the “Celebration of Champions,” a four-hole loop with other R&A champions through the years.

He is a two-time champion at St. Andrews, aware this might be the last time the 46-year-old plays an Open at the home of golf, at least at a high level. He first played in 1995 as an amateur.

So many others are getting to the course. That includes Collin Morikawa, who won in his first test of true links last year at Royal St. George’s.

“Most courses by the second time I see it, I feel like I have a good grasp,” Morikawa said. “This course takes a little extra learning and memorization because there are so many blind shots and you’re aiming at so many towers, it just kind of meshes into one. There are so many greens that are double greens and big greens that you forget the little slopes, but that’s what you can’t do.”

There are seven double greens. The 18th hole is a par 4 that players can reach off the tee. The 17th hole requires a tee shot over the corner of a hotel and has a road behind it.

It’s been that way forever, or seems that way.

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