The Open Championship always seems a little unfair. If you have watched golf over the years than you must know all eyes are focused on the Royal Liverpool Golf Club at Hoylake in the small town of Merseyside on England’s Northwest coast. Links golf can be difficult enough, but throw in the winds that blow off of the Irish Sea and you have a golf course that demands patience and precision. 

The 143rd Open Championship will feature golf at its purest form, requiring players to keep the ball in the fairway at all costs. This tournament brings out many 2 irons and even 1 irons simply because the competitors leave the driver in the bag to ensure some chance at hitting Royal Liverpool’s soft and challenging greens. After warming up with three difficult 400 yard+ par four’s, the players will deal with the cross winds firing off England’s northwest coast. In fact, the field will battle 12 straight holes where the wind comes sideways making ball striking a key component to victory. 

Players will fight the elements while trying to conquer some of the more intimidating holes on the golf course. Holes with names like Punch Bowl, Far, and Alps describes some small or even large symbolic value to the hole it represents, adding to the drama that will be played out on this historic test of golf. However, the individual personalities of each hole at Royal Liverpool are usually over-shadowed by the conditions of the course itself. The Royal Liverpool Golf Club last hosted the Open Championship in 2006 and when you see the highlights this week you will notice two things that are different in 2014.

Number 1:

Tiger Woods was at the top of his game and on a mission to win his 11th Major Championship when he arrived in Hoylake back in 2006. It had been a very difficult two months leading up to one of his most dominating performances on foreign soil in his impressive career. Tiger lost his father to a heart attack in May of that year making his early exit from the US Open at Winged Foot Golf Club a month later not that surprising. Tiger regained focus and spent the next month preparing for his chance to defend his Open Championship title and show the golf world that nothing could stop him. Making things even more interesting was his final day pairing against what many call his European rival in Sergio Garcia. Unfortunately, the young Spaniard did not show up that day, but Woods certainly did. He dissected fairway after fairway leaving the driver in the bag and scoring when and where he needed to. 

Chris DiMarco’s final round of 68 presented the only threat to the returning champion, but Tiger played near perfect golf firing an amazing closing round of 67. He finished the 2006 Open Championship 18 shots under par giving him a two shot victory in a tournament that never seemed close. Once Tiger holed out his final putt on the 72nd hole, he hugged his then caddie Stevie Williams for what seemed like hours fighting back tears of joy and pain as he celebrated his first major championship without his biggest fan.

Tiger Woods is on a different mission in 2014. Much has changed in eight years, but his desire to be at the top of the leaderboard may be at an all-time high. So much has been said about Tiger’s quest to catch Jack’s record of 16 Major Championships. Many golf enthusiasts feel he has run out of chances to do so. If he plans to have any chance at reaching that incredible goal, he needs to take advantage of golf courses like Royal Liverpool. The conditions on the course will almost guarantee that players miss greens and fairways. Players will need to showcase their short games and creativity on almost every hole. Whoever is lucky enough to hoist the Claret Jug on Sunday will certainly have demonstrated some incredible skill and talent around the greens. 

In 2006 Tiger was the game’s premier finisher because of his incredible wedge game and ability to get up and down when he needed to. His difficulties with his knee and now his back makes it hard to believe he has any shot at winning this weekend. Yet, the major difference between Tiger then and Tiger now isn't the health problems. In 2006 he was at the top of his game and rolling the competition. Now, he is a 20-1 underdog in a tournament he led wire to wire only eight years ago. Tiger has that extra gear many golfers can’t match and it all starts between his ears. If his mind is right and he can play with the discipline and drive he exhibited so many times before, we may see the return of the games most polarizing and exciting performer on a stage he once ruled all by himself.

Number 2:

The Open Championship in 2006 featured a golf course that resembled something out of the 1800’s. The course clearly was dried out far beyond what many of the players in the field had expected. Narrow fairways turned to near concrete and the field took advantage of the opportunity to roll the ball down the fairway with an iron shot. Many of the more memorable shots in 2006 rolled a very long way before resting near the hole. Tiger teed off with an iron on 48 of the 56 par 4’s and 5’s focusing on hitting the ball in areas he could score from. Now, in 2014 the course is noticeably more lush and green than we have come to expect for an Open Championship. 

The field will obviously continue to attack many of Royal Liverpool’s challenging holes with longer irons off the tee, but some may take advantage of the softer conditions by risking more dangerous shots with the driver in their hands. The risk is rewarding considering the difficulties the course presents. The deep dish bunkers strategically placed across Royal Liverpool’s 184 acres can make finding the fairway very difficult. Course designers Robert Chambers and George Morris may not be happy with the way players can avoid these bunkers with long irons in their hands, but Hoylake offers one thing today that is no different than it was in 2006 or 1869. The wind. The course has been manicured to encourage players to try and score extremely low, but all of that goes out the window if the Irish Sea and her strong winds breathe down and across the fairways at Royal Liverpool. What else more could we ask for?