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Teeing up the British Open

Golf's best convene in Scotland this week with (guess who) Tiger Woods the oddsmakers' favorite -- unless you're betting on top geezer.

July 15, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

TURNBERRY, SCOTLAND — The British Open gets underway Thursday. Here's some inside information heading into the tournament:

The course

Turnberry's Ailsa Course along the Firth of Clyde on Scotland's west coast may not be especially long or notoriously vicious. Its ultimate fame may come from a sunny day (the Tom Watson-Jack Nicklaus final round in 1977). It may have held only three previous Opens, but its titlists have been Watson in 1977, Greg Norman in 1986 and Nick Price in 1994. So as courses go, it's a scrupulous siren with exquisite taste.

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Players to watch

World rankings in parentheses:

Tiger Woods (1), U.S.: It's almost inaccurate to list Woods among "players to watch," as if the eyeballs had any choice. Voluminous TV-ratings evidence has shown they can't help but.

Padraig Harrington (14), Ireland: Having missed six cuts in his last seven tournaments, it seems loony that the two-time defending British Open champion tried to tinker with his swing this year. Where in the world would he get the idea that an elite player could do that and continue to thrive in . . . oh, wait, never mind.

Martin Kaymer (11), Germany: In winning the Scottish Open on Sunday only seven days after winning the French Open, this soaring 24-year-old from Dusseldorf said he "really should get a bottle of whiskey" for his up-and-down from a bunker on No. 12. Some people really do just know how to make the locals swoon.

Ian Poulter (18), England: After finishing second last year at Birkdale, he seems more ready than before, and he claims a tougher hide because of the mild ruckus after Nick Faldo semi-controversially chose Poulter for the Ryder Cup last year. It just goes to show that in an information age, everybody can benefit from the occasional media mauling.

Rory McIlroy (22), Northern Ireland: When this 20-year-old prodigy won at Dubai in February, he dialed up the Holywood Golf Club where he grew up and told the bartender not to charge anybody for the rest of the night, that he'd cover it later. That means if he starts to contend Sunday, fans might want to hurry across the Irish Sea in anticipation of free happy hour.

Kenny Perry (4), U.S.: When he skipped the British Open last year to aim for the Ryder Cup in his home commonwealth of Kentucky, he caught some flak. Evidently individual freedoms and the pursuit of happiness do not necessarily extend to golfers planning their annual calendars.

Hunter Mahan (26), U.S.: Tied for 10th at the Masters, tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, and the Brit punters like him.

Paul Casey (3), England, and/or Lee Westwood (17), England: No, they're not a team here, but they're similar in that they're in their 30s, they have spotty Open records, they have excellent form of late, and the dimpled brains of England have sort of wondered if they'll break through. And that if they did break through, the telling of the story around here might just become rather loud.

Ryo Ishikawa (78), Japan: Someday, in September it would seem, the charismatic "Bashful Prince" will get around to turning 18, and life will seem just a tad more fair.

Anthony Kim (15), U.S.: You really can't help but look.

Ernie Els (24), South Africa: You really always have to look, just in case.

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A player not necessarily to watch

Sergio Garcia (5), Spain: His infamous putting goblins did howl last year at Birkdale when he missed two from inside two feet on Nos. 1 and 18 within the same Friday round. As he stands only two majors from his 30th birthday without a major title as of yet -- who would have guessed that at Medinah in 1999? -- people could always watch him from tees and fairways, then turn away from the greens and go to the fish-and-chips stand.

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Did that happen?

Did 53-year-old Greg Norman really lead the 2008 British Open after 54 holes, after playing zero of the previous 11 majors and three of the previous 22? And will he be back this year at 54? And will Chris Evert join him again?

Yes, yes and presumably yes.

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Other golf-tennis romances to report?

Oh, there's been much in the press about Adam Scott going to see Serbian tennis star Ana Ivanovic play at Wimbledon, and Ivanovic following around the struggling Scott last week at the Scottish Open, and Scott saying it helps to have somebody around who knows the pressures, but it just wouldn't be right to mention any of this gossipy frivolity here.

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A British player hasn't won since. . . .

Well, since Fred Perry in 1936. No, sorry, Wimbledon hangover. It was Scotsman Paul Lawrie in 1999, and before that Englishman Nick Faldo in 1992. So there's just a bit of a hunger, plus an occasional hope that Sunday, elite English players such as Casey, Westwood and Poulter might cease their penchant for warranting the old horse racing lingo "failed to menace." Ten of the last 14 Claret Jugs have gone to Americans in the years 1995-2008, where only one did so between 1984 and 1994 (1989, Mark Calcavecchia).

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Phil-less

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