Muirfield: The famous links course will stage its 16th Open Championship this summer
Last Updated: 20/05/13 12:33pm
Jack Nicklaus once called Muirfield "the best golf course in Britain" and it's easy to agree when you pay a visit to the famed Scottish links.
Opens at Muirfield invariably throw up a top-quality champion and my caddie for the day, Martin, is in no doubt why.
"It's the fairest course on the Open rota. No quirky bounces. Good shots are rewarded and bad ones are punished," says Martin who caddied in the 1992 Open here won by Sir Nick Faldo.
2002 final leaderboard
-6 Ernie Els (won playoff)
-6 Thomas Levet
-6 Steve Elkington
-6 Stuart Appleby
-5 Shigeki Maruyama
-5 Padraig Harrington
-5 Gary Evans
-4 Thomas Bjorn
-4 Sergio Garcia
-4 Retief Goosen
-4 Soren Hansen
-4 Scott Hoch
-4 Peter O'Malley
And when I ask Martin for the identify of this year's event, there is no hesitation.
"Tiger," he replies.
True, it's the day after Woods has just completed victory in the Players Championship - his fourth win of the season - but it makes plenty of sense.
Since the war the list of winners at Muirfield reads like a who's who of golf: Henry Cotton (1948), Gary Player (1959), Jack Nicklaus (1966), Lee Trevino (1972), Tom Watson (1980), Nick Faldo (1987), Nick Faldo (1992), Ernie Els (2002).
Yes, Tiger's name would sit very comfortably amongst those multi-major winners.
One of the great appeals of Muirfield is its unusual layout. Most links tracks have a front nine running out along the coast and a back nine coming back towards the clubhouse.
By contrast, Muirfield has two concentric rings of nine holes. The outward nine run clockwise around the perimeter of the course and the inward nine run anti-clockwise and sit inside the outward nine.
The result is that the wind direction constantly changes. A run of three holes might see you first driving into the wind, then playing into a crosswind, then hitting downwind.
True, it's mentally challenging having to adjust your strategy but the thought that a downwind hole is never far away actually keeps spirits up. At no point is Muirfield ever a slog and the range of superbly designed and challenging holes is part of its great appeal and charm.
In fact it makes you rise to the challenge. Try and hang in on the tough holes and cash in on the easier ones. Then keep your fingers crossed that the weather doesn't get out of hand like it did famously on the Saturday of the 2002 Open.
I'm playing off the medal tees today which add up to a testing 6,700 yards although it never feels too long. From the tips it measures in at 7,192 but that's still on the short side by modern standards.
Due to the long winter and still cold weather, the rough is down on my mid-May visit which is just as well as I'm fighting a slice. But come Open time they expect it to grow, although maybe not to the heights of 1992 when "it was up to here" says caddie Martin pointing at his chin.
Thanks entirely to Martin's expert reads I hole some putts and post a pretty respectable 32 stableford points - not bad with the winds gusting up to 25mph at times.
At 18 I fan one into the grandstands on the right which isn't ideal of course but somehow it's strangely satisfying. Think about it, when do you ever get to play a golf course with stands up? If you do, you may as well enjoy the rattling clunk of the ball ricocheting between the green seats (these ones borrowed from the London Olympics).
It's a real thrill to play any Open track and I would put Muirfield right up there with any course I've ever played.
Back home the following day, I fish out the official video of the 2002 Open (and then try and find something to actually play it on).
"It's one of the most fair golf courses we play. It presents itself right in front of you. There are no hidden agendas, no tricks."
That year Tiger had arrived at Muirfield chasing a Grand Slam after winning the Masters and US Open but a third round 81 in the worst of the weather had ended his bid for history.
Pre-tournament though he had raved about the course. "It's one of the most fair golf courses we play. It presents itself right in front of you. There are no hidden agendas, no tricks," said Tiger.
Having closed with a 65 in 2002, Woods has proved what he can do when conditions are calm at Muirfield.
If the East Lothian weather doesn't throw up anything too severe (don't bank on it though!), the sage words of one of Muirfield's veteran caddies about Tiger being the man this year may very well come to pass.