Five things to know: British Open

Originally Published: July 12, 2009
ESPN Research

What should we expect when the 138th edition of the British Open begins Thursday at Turnberry in Scotland? ESPN Stats & Information has been dutifully on the case to share the latest and greatest tidbits of knowledge about the oldest of golf's majors.

1: Turnberry's Ailsa course

Turnberry has hosted the British Open three times prior to the 2009 event. Tom Watson (1977), Greg Norman (1985) and Nick Price (1994) have all captured the Claret Jug on the Scottish coast that has seen some wild weather in previous editions of golf's oldest major. Since Price's win, the course has been lengthened by 247 yards to 7,204 yards and will play as a par-70.

Another addition to the course has been 20 new bunkers to tighten up the landing areas off the tee, with many of them now invaded by sand at the 280-yard mark.

The biggest changes come in the final three holes: the 16th, once a straightforward and relatively short par-4, has been extended and its fairway has been moved to create a more challenging approach shot to a green protected by a deep burn. At the 2008 Amateur Championship, with the wind blowing into competitors' faces, many players needed woods to reach a green that used to be a drive and a wedge.

The 17th, one of the course's two par-5s that is often seen as an excellent eagle opportunity, has been extended to around 560 yards. And finally the 18th has been made significantly tougher, with the tee having been moved from the right of the 17th green to the left, making the new hole a tough right-to-left dogleg that is likely to encourage plenty of final-hole drama.

Here's how the Ailsa course goes hole-by-hole:

Best Ball Challenge

No. 1 -- par-4, 354 yards
No. 2 -- par-4, 428 yards
No. 3 -- par-4, 489 yards
No. 4 -- par-3, 166 yards
No. 5 -- par-4, 474 yards
No. 6 -- par-3, 231 yards
No. 7 -- par-5, 538 yards
No. 8 -- par-4, 454 yards
No. 9 -- par-4, 449 yards

No. 10 -- par-4, 456 yards
No. 11 -- par-3, 175 yards
No. 12 -- par-4, 451 yards
No. 13 -- par-4, 410 yards
No. 14 -- par-4, 448 yards
No. 15 -- par-3, 206 yards
No. 16 -- par-4, 455 yards
No. 17 -- par-5, 559 yards
No. 18 -- par-4, 461 yards

2: Tiger Woods

For the first time since 2004, all four major championship trophies are in the hands of someone not named Tiger Woods. After missing last year's Open Championship and PGA Championship and watching Angel Cabrera win the Masters and Lucas Glover win the U.S. Open, Tiger will be looking to get one of the trophies back at Turnberry.

So what's on the line for Tiger? Here's a few bullet points to wow your friends:

• If Tiger can win either the British Open this week or the PGA Championship in August, he'll have won at least one major in each of the past five years. Only Walter Hagen (from 1924 to 1929) has done it more consecutive years.

• Only three players finished in the top 10 in each of the year's first two majors: Woods, Phil Mickelson and Hunter Mahan. With Mickelson out this week, only Woods and Mahan can continue that streak.

• Prior to last year's British Open at Royal Birkdale, Woods had played 46 consecutive majors before ACL surgery ended his 2008 season prematurely.

• Woods can inch closer to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championship victories as he seeks his 15th career major and fourth British Open title at Turnberry.

• Woods might not win every major he plays, but a top-10 finish is an almost certainty. Woods has finished either first or second in seven of his past 10 majors since missing the cut at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. He has nine top-10 finishes in his past 10 majors.

• The Ailsa course at Turnberry has been known to yield some low scores and that bodes well for the world's No. 1-ranked player. In Woods' three previous British Open wins, his cumulative score in relation to par was 19-under (2000 at St. Andrews), 14-under (2005 at St. Andrews) and 18-under (2006 at Hoylake.)

3: No Lefty

With the news of his mother's breast cancer coming just weeks after he learned his wife was suffering from the same disease, Phil Mickelson isn't playing the 2009 British Open. His absence will end his streak of consecutive major starts at 61 -- currently the longest active streak.

Taking over the mantle of longest active major streak will be Fiji's Vijay Singh, who at Turnberry will be playing in his 61st straight major.

Entering the 2009 British Open, here's a list of the longest active starts streaks at the majors:

Phil Mickelson -- 61
Vijay Singh -- 60
Stuart Appleby -- 50
Mike Weir -- 41
Sergio Garcia -- 40

4: Irish hat trick?

Only four times in the history of the British Open has someone won the event three straight years -- and it's happened just once since 1882. Ireland's Padraig Harrington hopes to be the fifth name on that exclusive list, but he'll have to overcome some poor play this year to do so. Harrington hasn't finished inside the top 10 in a PGA Tour event in 2009, with his best mark a T-11 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.

So who is Harrington trying to match at Turnberry? Below is a list of players who have won the British Open three consecutive years:

Peter Thomson -- 1954-56
Bob Ferguson -- 1880-82
Jamie Anderson -- 1877-79
Young Tom Morris -- 1868-70 (he also won in 1872; the tournament was not played in 1871.)

5: To the victor

The Claret Jug, or to use its proper name, the Golf Champion Trophy, is presented to each year's winner of the British Open. Yet it is not the original prize. When the tournament began at Prestwick in 1860, the winner was presented with the Challenge Belt, made of rich Moroccan leather with a silver buckle.

The Claret Jug was made by Mackay Cunningham & Company of Edinburgh, Scotland, and was hallmarked 1873. The first winner to receive the new trophy was 1873 champion Tom Kidd, but Tom Morris Jr.'s name was the first to be engraved on it as the 1872 winner.

In 1920, all responsibility for The Open Championship was handed over to The Royal & Ancient Golf Club. Following the 1927 Open, which was won at St. Andrews by Bobby Jones, the club's championship committee retained the Claret Jug in future years and presented the winner with a replica.

In 1928, Walter Hagen won the third of his four Open titles and accepted the replica, having already been presented with the original in 1922 and 1924. During the half-century in which the original Claret Jug was used, 28 different players held it aloft, including Harry Vardon on a record six occasions.

The original Golf Champion Trophy is on permanent display in The Royal & Ancient golf clubhouse. It sits alongside the Challenge Belt, which was donated to the club in 1908 by the grandchildren of Tom Morris Sr.

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