The seven big Open questions
2. Has the Old Course become too easy?
Comparatively low winning scores suggest something needs to be done to protect the old lady’s dignity.
When you consider the basic numbers, the Old Course seems to have a problem. The winning scores from the last five St Andrews Opens add up to 73 under par. Muirfield, by comparison, comes to -39, Royal Birkdale to -23. So has St Andrews become – in the modern age, among modern pro’s – too easy as an Open test?
Ahead of the 2005 Open, Tiger Woods talked of the course playing “pretty easy” for the long hitters, having just driven to the edge of the green on the 352-yard 9th, then to the fringe on the 380-yard 10th. In 2010, in benign conditions, Rory McIlroy opened with 63, including a back-nine 30. “The old lady had no clothes on today,” remarked Tom Watson. The next day though, she wore a heavy coat and McIlroy shot an 80.
But clearly the R&A had seen enough. The thought of a 59 on the Old Course prompted subtle changes designed to “stiffen its defences in some places to ensure it remains as challenging as ever…” to place “a premium on accuracy and ball control while retaining the spirit and character of the Old Course.”
Was this necessary? Statistics suggest not. The average round from the 2010 Open was more than 73, while the average score on the par-4 17th was more than 4.6. The record Rory’s 63 equalled has stood since 1970. Players are not eroding records with every round.
Equally, does it matter? Consider the list of Open winners on the Old Course – among them Woods, Faldo, Seve, Nicklaus, Locke, Jones and Snead – clearly if the aim of a major is to identify the greatest player from its field, the old lady is still doing something right.