RORY McILROY says he is looking for a spark to ignite his season.
But Royal Birkdale is not the kind of place where you go to find your game – not when merely finding the fairway can be a serious challenge.
Not when you stand on the first tee 448 yards from the green with the wind blowing left to right and out of bounds on the right.
Nick Faldo describes the tee shot as “brutal – one of the hardest opening shots in golf”.
Birkdale’s first tells you everything about the venue that this week stages The Open for a tenth time.
For it is a place of fatal attraction.
Find the short stuff and birdies await- providing the wind isn’t blowing.
Miss the fairway – and many are only 20 yards wide – and the hay that awaits nine feet beyond the second cut will smother the ambitions of the very best.
On the day we played one of the most beautiful but deceptively tough Open courses the wind was merely a zephyr-like ten mph and the sun scorched us.
Yet the last time The Open was at Southport in 2008 cross winds howled at 30 mph and Padraig Harrington’s winning score on the par 70 course was a three-over 283.
That week only four men posted totals that were within ten shots of par for the week.
Back in 1961 when Arnold Palmer won his first Open title there, gales brought down marquees and a whole day was lost to storms.
This week’s weather forecast indicates north west or west winds of around 12mph and that will be a relief to Rory and the rest of his rivals.
Yet even a breeze of that strength can be enough to alter a player’s mind-set as he stands among the Birkdale dunes.
The opening handful of holes – four par fours and the par three, 199-yard fourth with a cross wind from the left and heavy gorse on the right – are a major challenge on the nerve and tough enough.
But then comes the sixth, 499 yards of potential purgatory, dog – legging up to a green exposed to the elements from the west.
A bunker on the right-hand corner of the bend just makes things so much more complicated and as the scores over the last two Open suggest it is going to be the hardest hole of the lot.
In 1998 when Mark O’Meara won the 6th’s score average was 4.61. Ten years on it was 4.76.
In ’08 there were only ten birdies all week and just 160 pars – along with 246 bogeys, 53 doubles and seven triples or worse.
Graeme McDowell insists that the great thing about Birkdale is that it is not tricked up. “What you see is what you get,” the 2010 US Open champ declares.
And he is right. From the middle of the ninth fairway the challenge is to hit it onto a sloping green raised above the rough with Birkdale’s famous Art Deco clubhouse as the backdrop.
It is the kind of hole that defines a great, great links golf course and the world’s top players love the challenge it provides.
Yet often he challenge is not about just pulling the big stick out of the bag and thumping the drive away but in flighting the ball lower, shaping the shot – and thinking.
Just like Harrington did nine years ago at the par 5 par 576 – yard 17th on the penultimate hole of his challenge.
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Another test of stunning grandeur, the temptation is to blast away but the Irishman hit two five woods to around six feet to ensure victory with one of the best eagles in the history of the championship.
A few holes back lies the 12th, a par three of 183 yards with a mound on the right edge of the green and the wind blowing off the right.
Bunkers – and there are some around Birkdale that could hide small armies – lie in wait for a pulled shot.
This hole may not have the iconic status of Royal Troon’s Post Stamp 123 yard eighth, but it is surely Birkdale’s signature, one of the most challenging on the Open circuit.
Anyone in contention this Sunday who birdies it will surely believe he is on the way to glory.
Yet treachery awaits at every turn.
And that’s the thing about Birkdale.
It’s beautiful, it offers fantastic vantage points for the galleries and every hole is set out in front of the player.
But what you see it not always what you get and the R&A don’t have to turn into an Erin Hills-like monster as was last month’s US Open stage.
Just ask Harrington or ’98 winner O’Meara who won in a play – off over fellow American Brian Watts after they had tied on level par 280.
Accuracy and clear thinking under pressure – not giant yardages – are what define it.
Nobody – not unless there is no wind – is liable to be beating up Birkdale this week.
Sky Sports will show the 146th Open Championship exclusively live as part of a summer of sport that includes Formula 1, England cricket and more.