History Major

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He won by 12 at Augusta. He won by 15 at Pebble Beach. Now Tiger Woods is on golf's most sacred ground. And the question persists, will he assault the Old Course in the same manner in which he has other reverent venues?
 
Woods is a 2-to-1 favorite to capture the career Grand Slam this week in St. Andrews, Scotland, site of this week's 129th Open Championship. It's the lowest odds ever posted in the tournament's history, and it's warranted. Woods has won 14 of his last 26 PGA TOUR starts. He's won two of the last three majors. We won't go into detail what he did at this year's U.S. Open.
 
Aside from his length, short game, mentality and resume, Woods has something else on his side - history. Every time he tees it up, you know there's a chance you're going to witness something you've never seen before. And wouldn't it be fitting that at just 24 years of age he would become the youngest player to win all four majors on golf's oldest course. Maybe it's not history. Maybe it's destiny.
 
'If there's any two tournaments you want to win, and have them on specific golf courses, you're going to want to win the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and win the British Open at St. Andrews,' said Woods.
 
'It's just ironic it happened to be in the same year, and ironic the fact I get to have the chance to complete the Grand Slam on the most historic golf course ever designed,' he said. 'It's just a wonderful opportunity.'
 
But, there is hope for the field. The last time Tiger was this prohibitive a favorite was the Masters. He finished 5th. There are also the elements. Woods may have an advantage over his peers in terms of ability and mentality, but in Scotland, Mother Nature reigns supreme. And she's fickle at best.
 
Then, there's putting. Tiger never three-putted at the 2000 U.S. Open or the 1997 Masters (see opening paragraph). In his last start, Woods took 123 putts through four rounds of the Advil Western Open. He tied for 23rd, his worst finish of the season.
 
And lest we forget the 155 others in the field. They're not half bad.
 
At 14 to 1, Ernie Els is the odds-on favorite to finish runner-up to Tiger. He's already accomplished that feat three times this season. He's also finished second in both of the year's first two majors. However, this week there's a new Ernie Els in town. Or, actually, it's an old Ernie Els. One of confidence. One on form. One who's just won. Last week, Els captured the Standard Life Loch Lomond, in what proved to be a dramatic primer to this week's Open. It was his first victory anywhere in nearly 17 months.
 
Americans have won four of the last five Open Championships, dating back to John Daly's win a St. Andrews in 1995. Last year, Paul Lawrie came from 10 strokes down on Sunday to defeat Jean Van de Velde and Justin Leonard in a playoff. Of course, he did have a little help along the way.
 
This week, Lawrie is 125-to-1 long-shot to defend in his homeland. The Scot hasn't won since his triumph in Carnoustie. In recent months, he's suffered through a groin injury, which forced him to skip the U.S. Open. Then, on Tuesday, he was struck in the wrist by a child's backswing while conducting a youth clinic. It forced him to skip a scheduled practice round on Tuesday, but the defending champion says he'll be ready come Thursday.
 
'I normally only have one practice round, so it's not going to do me any damage,' said Lawrie.
 
As with any major there are a myriad of storylines. There's the ERC driver controversy. How many players will use the club that's legal in Europe, but illegal in the states? Can Nick Faldo continue his reemergence at the site of his second Open championship? How will Sergio Garcia fare a year removed from his 89-83 performance at Carnoustie?
 
Will Jack Nicklaus make the cut in what could be his final Open appearance? Will David Duval be a factor? Will Duval, Colin Montgomerie or Phil Mickelson earn their first major? Will Lee Westwood make it 3-in-a-row in Europe? What in the world will Daly do? And of course, we can't forget about Van de Velde.
 
By day's end Sunday, a new chapter in golf history will be completed. As to who writes it, well, we'll have to wait and see. Then again, British bookies will give you 2 to 1 odds it will be Tiger Woods.
 
NEWS, NOTES AND NUMBERS

  • This week's purse is $4,330,000 (approx.). The winner will collect $787,400 (approx.).
  • Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen are the only four players who have won each of the four current major events.
  • This is the 26th British Open contested on the Old Course at St. Andrews. The first occurred in 1873, when Tom Kidd shot 91-88 to win. John Daly won the last time it was played here in 1995.
  • The British Open didn't become an official PGA TOUR event until 1995.
  • The last player to successfully defend was Tom Watson in 1983.
  • David Gossett, Philip Rowe, Luke Donald and Mikko Ilonen are the only amateurs in the 156-man field.