There is, of course, a little history, too. Consider the fact that the first Open Championship was conducted at Prestwick in 1860. Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States at the time. If an American had won, Lincoln would not have been able to phone his congratulations. Not to worry. First place went to Willie Park, the same man who designed Olympia Fields, site of this years U.S. Open.
Speaking of which, I like Jim Furyks chances of winning his second and consecutive major July 17-20 at Royal St. Georges in Sandwich, less than an hour from London. Furyk is clearly on top of a game that has evolved into one of the worlds most dependable. He has risen to No. 6 in the world rankings and he has played well in the Open Championship before. Two consecutive fourth places finishes in this tournament in 1997 and 1998 are evidence to his ability to handle links golf.
Last years champion, Ernie Els, produced what was later voted the 2002 European Tours shot of the year when he filleted a bunker shot on the 13th hole of his final round to within inches of the cup. Els would later triumph at Muirfield in a playoff that included Steve Elkington, Stuart Appleby and Thomas Levet.
So much has happened in a year. Tiger Woods arrived at Muirfield with both the 2002 Masters and the 2002 U.S. Open under his belt. A third round 81 blew him away. Woods hasnt won a major since. Certain of his critics now insist he is in a slump.
But what has become of Elkington, Levet and Appleby since then? Padraig Harrington finished tied for fifth and has since replaced Sergio Garcia in the world rankings as the highest-rated European. Scott Hoch tied for eighth but now finds himself in a horrific slump caused by a hand injury. Through the Buick Classic, Hoch has missed the weekend in six straight events.
Davis Love III wound up 14th at Muirfield in a tournament he has never won. He has won three times already this year but is still helping his family heal the wounds from the suicide of his brother-in-law.
David Duval, in defense of his Open Championship victory at Royal Lytham, tied for 22nd. Currently he is mired in a vicious slump that has produced a precipitous slide in the world rankings. Through June 23, Duval had dropped to No. 86.
Furyk missed the cut at Muirfield last year. But he was fighting an illness. He is razor sharp now and healthy. Tiger Woods is always the favorite of every tournament he enters. But its hard not to like Furyk.
Meanwhile the course has added 246 yards to now measure 7,106. Eight holes have new tee boxes. Since Greg Norman won at St. Georges 10 years ago, first place money has increased by more than a million dollars. Norman, by the way, is another who has fallen on tough times. He finished tied for 18th at Muirfield. Now a bad back makes even his presence at St. Georges questionable.