Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley didn’t qualify for the Open but that doesn’t mean he won’t be hanging on every shot played at Muirfield.
And while he doesn’t rule out anyone as a candidate for Claret Jug glory - not even his opposite number and Monday night dinner partner Tom Watson - he looks to master tacticians such as Tiger Woods and Graeme McDowell as the men everyone must beat this week.
Forever a fan of cerebral golf - where the ball goes from A to B, C, D, E and F before finally stopping at G - McGinley reckons hard and fast conditions will give many a chance but eventually play in the hands of patient, intelligent players like McDowell and Woods.
“I give everybody a chance,” McGinley said. “I think the fact that it is running firm and fast gives everybody in the field a chance. So I think it will favour the player with the most patience because you are going to be bouncing off the fairways and bouncing off the greens. Somebody is going to require a high degree of patience.”
Woods, the 14-time major winner, has always impressed the Dubliner with his power but it’s the quality of the American’s course management skills have come as something of a pleasant surprise to him since he started watching more golf in his role as an occasional analyst for Sky Sports.
“I have to be honest, the Sky Sports thing has opened up a new world for me because I have never been a big watcher of golf on TV throughout my career,” McGinley said. “I kind of wish I had watched a bit more on TV over the years because I have certainly learned a lot from the little bit I have done with Sky and I was very impressed with how Tiger won the TPC at Sawgrass.
“I covered that one with Sky out there and I had never given Tiger the credit for how good a course manager he was. I watched every shot he hit for the four days and I was most impressed with the way he managed himself around the golf course.
“I wouldn’t have said he played his very best but he managed to win the tournament through being very patient and good course management.”
It’s been five years since Woods won his 14th major but McGinley is certainly not writing off a player who has triumphed four times already this season.
“There’s no doubt, you can never discount Tiger,” he said. “He’s proved he can do it and won so many times.
“He won around Hoylake in similar conditions [in 2006] when the course was fast and bouncy and he displayed a high degree of technique and good course management around there. I think the same kind of skills are going to be required this week.
“The weather report I heard is that the wind is going to die down and there is going to be bright sunshine.
“There is going to be a big onus on course management and not being too aggressive on a links course. You have to play for position, be patient and let your score build up and I think Tiger has proved he is good under those conditions.
McGinley is a massive fan of McDowell’s and points to the Portrush star’s wins on tactical tests at Hilton Head, Thracian Cliffs in Bulgaria and Le Golf National in Paris this year as a big plus for Muirfield.
He said: “The courses Graeme has won on this year have all be tight and the French Open is probably the toughest set up we face all year on tour.
“He won that. He won at Hilton head, which is a very tight golf course with a big onus on course management and then his other win was the Volvo World Match Play where again you had to play for position off the tee and couldn’t overpower the golf course.
“There is a common denominator with all courses where he has won this year and having been brought up on a links course in Portrush he will be looking forward to the challenge this week.”
As for his dinner date with Watson and his wife, McGinley said: “We just went through the structure of the week in terms of timing and general philosophy about the spirit of the Ryder Cup and it was very amiable and fun and I really enjoyed it.
“It was just a really nice dinner and a nice catch up. We will see each other again at the US PGA and see each other again at the year to go in September.”