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Old Course, St Andrews
Often referred to as 'The Old Lady', St Andrews is probably the only golf links in the world that retains a sense of mystery every time you tee it up here. Just ask Rory McIlroy. This year's US Open champion shot a blistering opening round of 63 at last year's Open Championship to give us all a glimpse of what was to come in such a young and promising career. However, the Ulsterman's joy was short-lived as the Old Course took revenge on day two and quite literally blew away any hopes he had of landing what would have been his first major title. McIlroy's second round of 80 showed just how unforgiving St Andrews can be. Therein, however, lies its majesty.
As the home of golf, St Andrews has charted the course of the game as we know it today since 1764 when the R&A decreed that the game of golf should be played over 18 holes instead of 22, as it was back then. Since then, man's hand has touched the home of golf only to enhance one of nature's most wondrous creations.
The most notable modification before last year's Open Championship was to the infamous Road Hole (17th), which was stretched by 40 yards and played as a 495-yard par four. While the line of the tee shot remained unchanged, the carry over replicas of the old railway sheds was more demanding and the approach to the green lengthened. The players reacted favourably to the adjustment. "I like the change," said Lee Westwood. "There are many different ways to play the 17th and regardless of where the flag is you tend to play only to the front of the green." Phil Mickelson agreed. "It makes 17 a harder par and I like that."
Legends of the game like Jack Nicklaus (twice Open champion here in 1970 and 1978) and Tiger Woods (Open champion at St Andrews also on two occasions in 2000 and 2005) hold a torch for the links that has so often been the stage for the game's greatest theatre. Who could forget Costantino Rocca's unforgettable and most unlikely 70-foot putt from the clutches of the Valley of Sin to force a play-off with John Daly in 1995? Or more recently, Jack Nicklaus' farewell to his beloved from the Swilcan Bridge in 2005? Seve's joyous fist-pump celebration too is one of the most iconic images of a generation when one of golf's favourite sons holed out on 18 to clinch the Open Championship in 1984. Golf's most defining memories and seminal moments have been, and will continue to be, crafted and played out here.