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British Open at Muirfield could be special for Ernie Els

By Kyle Porter | Golf Writer

Can Ernie Els become the third man in nine years to win back-to-back British Opens? (USATSI)
Can Ernie Els become the third man in nine years to win back-to-back British Opens? (USATSI)

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Only two golf courses have played host to more British Opens than Muirfield. St. Andrews and Prestwick Golf Club have both hosted 28 times, though the last at Prestwick was in 1925. This will be Muirfield's 16th.

A place Golf Digest recently said was "by any measure ... one of the top 10 golf courses in the world" is ready to hold serve on her first tournament since 2002, when Ernie Els won his first British Open.

Before that, Nick Faldo won there twice. Before him, winners included Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Walter Hagen.

It's not a place for the faint of heart or, apparently, golfers who don't have ambitions of someday becoming hall-of-famers.

Muirfield is home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers which, in addition to having the coolest name ever, is, according to its website, one of the oldest golf clubs in the world (Golf Digest calls it the oldest).

Jack Nicklaus has called Muirfield "the best golf course in Britain" and even named his course in Ohio (Muirfield Village) after it.

There was another great line in that Golf Digest article from Herbert Warren Wind in 1966: "Muirfield's great quality is its frankness -- its honesty."

Based on Muirfield's history (did you see those names?) and the way this year has been going (two top 10 major winners so far), it's kind of hard to see a star not winning this year's British Open, isn't it?

It's difficult for me to envision the Ben Curtis-Todd Hamilton back-to-back triumph like we had in 2003 and 2004.

It's not hard, on the other hand, for me to envision Els becoming the third golfer in nine years to win two straight British Opens. Tiger Woods did it in 2005-2006 and Padraig Harrington did it in 2007-2008 before Stewart Cink broke the streak by failing to win in 2009 and 2010.

The 43-year-old Els, who has called Muirfield "a thinking man's golf course," could beautifully bookend his fantastic career with a return trip to glory at the place that launched him from star to superstar over a decade ago.

It's not out of the realm of possibility, either. Els has finished in the top 10 in five of his last seven Opens, including his win last year.

It would complete his legend too. The list of men who have won five or more majors is only twice as long (18 golfers) as the list of just four-time winners (nine golfers). Els could ascend another rung on the historical ladder.

And with a course he knows intimately in a year that's been about as wide open as anything we've ever seen, you probably shouldn't bet against him.

For more golf news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnGolf and @KylePorterCBS on Twitter or Google+ and like us on Facebook.

 
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