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Thursday, July 15, 2010

'New' Old Course logic is flawed on course record

Staff Writer
Associated Press
British Open leader Rory McIlroy (left) shot 63 on Thursday, which is considered a new course record at the Old Course, supplanting previous 62s because the course is now longer.

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland --- When is a course record not a course record? Apparently when you give grown men bulldozers and erasers.

Rory McIlroy fired a major-championship record-tying 63 on Thursday in the first round of the British Open -- a superlative round of golf by any standard. The good folks at St. Andrews credit him with the Old Course record as well, edging out the 66 posted by John Daly an hour or so earlier.

Not to be confused with the old Old Course record, of course. Or the old New Course next door.

The guardians of such semantics is an entity known as the St. Andrews Links Trust, which for obvious reasons doesn't include the word "brain" between links and trust. According to the Links Trust, the storied jewel at the home of golf is now one day old, which conflicts just slightly with the 600-plus years generally accepted in the historical records.

But these historical records tend to be fluid in the minds of men with too much time on their hands and too little logic in their heads. The world's oldest championship is apparently being played this week on the planet's newest golf course.

McIlroy's feat may come as some surprise to Curtis Strange, the Hall of Famer and two-time U.S. Open winner. It was Strange who shot 62 on the Old Course during the 1987 Alfred Dunhill Cup. He has hanging on his wall a sterling silver replica of the scorecard his wife, Sarah, made for him to commemorate the accomplishment.

Strange's mark was later matched by Brian Davis in the 2003 Dunhill Links Championship.

But then the keepers of St. Andrews and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club added a couple new tees to extend the course 164 yards for the 2005 British Open and decided that all previous scores were expunged and the new record was 64 shared by Bradley Dredge and Mikko Illonen.

At least until Thursday, when the brand new 17th tee went into play for the Open Championship and the Old Course started from scratch once again.

It is the silliest thing, really. Just ask Strange.

"As far as I'm concerned, I still have it," Strange told The Associated Press last month. "And until someone shoots 61, the course record belongs to me."

These things tend to be common in the UK, where any little alteration gets treated as if the grounds were blown up and started anew. It's a pretty curious way of looking at things when you consider the technological advances that have more than offset the yardage increases courses all over the world are doing to keep their relics relevant.

Thankfully, not everyone goes to such absurd lengths when things get altered. Augusta National currently measures 7,435 yards. But the club still recognizes the 63s shot by Nick Price in 1986 and Greg Norman in 1996 when the course was more than 500 yards shorter.

The folks at Southern Hills still recognize both Ray Floyd's 63 in the 1982 PGA Championship and Tiger Woods identical score in the 2007 PGA as course records, even though the course evolved and stretched 269 yards in the intervening 25 years.

Mike Woodcock, the spokesman for the Links Trust granted the tough task of defending such logic, calls the choice to start anew "a difficult one" but claims "the only measure you can take is the length of the course."

Whatever you call it, McIlroy's 63 was special even on a new Old Course playing as welcoming as it possibly could with no wind and soft conditions.

"You're never going to get St. Andrews playing any easier," McIlroy said.

He could have made the whole argument somewhat moot by making a 3-footer on the Road Hole for birdie that would have broken the glass floor of major standards. Apparently the golf gods have deemed that one should never do better than 63 in any major championship. It's been 24 times by 22 players throughout history.

Tiger lipped out for 62 at Southern Hills. Price lipped out at Augusta. McIlroy yipped out at St. Andrews.

"It sort of went through my mind on 17 that 62 would have been the lowest round in a major," McIlroy admitted. "That's probably why I missed the putt."

His consolation is a two-shot lead on a golf course he's never shot higher than 69 upon in nine competitive rounds at St. Andrews. He rattled off his career scores on the Old Course like he'd just shot them -- "69, 69, 67, 68, 67, 68, 65, 69, 63." Any assortment of those over the next three days would almost certainly come with a claret jug.

"If I had one course to play, this would probably be the course, because it's just an enjoyable golf course," McIlroy said.

The 21-year-old Northern Irishman -- who broke the Quail Hollow course record with a winning 62 in May and set the standard at Royal Portrush with 61 as a 16-year-old -- was just coasting along at 1-under through eight holes when an eagle on the ninth sparked an 8-under run over the last 10 holes.

"I think the 61 was probably slightly better, if I'm honest," McIlroy said. "But this is definitely up there. It's nice to put my name on the few guys that have shot 63 in majors. It would have been lovely to shoot 62, but I can't really complain."

He's trying to follow countryman Graeme McDowell, who won the U.S. Open last month.

"I wouldn't like to be the only Irishman at the Ryder Cup without a major," he quipped.

No doubt, McIlroy would trade his "course record" for a claret jug any day. None of the former record holders has one of those.

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