Dangerous Tiger in mood to scatter field to the winds
Odds of an upset are long but Britain's challengers and Scottish weather offer hope
Perhaps it should be no surprise that it took a wily Scot to articulate the majority view here yesterday. Sam Torrance, the former Ryder Cup captain, was asked for three tips to win the 138th Open Championship. "Well, it all depends on the weather," he said. "If it's sunny it has to be Tiger Woods. If it's windy it has to be Tiger Woods. And if it's wet it has to be Tiger Woods."
Torrance neglected to mention who he fancies if it snows, but it is possible to get his drift. As it is that of the historians and the bookmakers. While the former will point out that in the previous Opens to be held at Turnberry the world's best player of the time has prevailed on each occasion (Tom Watson, 1977; Greg Norman, 1986; Nick Price, 1994), one of the latter has shown their utter disregard for Tiger's contemporaries by making it 33-1 bar the favourite.
This happens to be the biggest discrepancy in Open history between the market leader and the rest. Just consider, for a moment, that at 14-1 Manchester City are rated more than twice as likely to break the stranglehold of the "Big Four" next season by winning the Premier League than Sergio Garcia or Lee Westwood are to deny the world No 1 his 15th major.
Is that a fair representation? Probably not, it rarely is when the might of Tiger has seduced everyone in the run-up. Saying that, take out Woods and this does have the feel of one of the more open Opens. Garcia has long had the look of an Open champion – if not, in his eyes, the luck of an Open champion – while Padraig Harrington does not have the worst form line in this event, having triumphed in the last two stagings (a double which, of course, affords the Dubliner the opportunity to become the first man to win three Opens in succession since Peter Thomson in 1956). But neither has been operating anywhere near his peak of late and nor has that master links craftsman Ernie Els. Without Phil Mickelson, there really is no obvious headline challenger to Woods.
Certainly, it is hard to imagine two players pulling away from the rest like Watson and Jack Nicklaus so famously did in 1977. While Woods is eminently capable of separating himself from the pack by 11 shots, would anybody be capable of going with him? Is anybody up to being their Nicklaus to his Watson? If ever there was a place to prove they are, then surely this is it.
What is it about the Ailsa Course that inspires the best to produce their best? Greg Norman was asked this yesterday. "The players really have to manoeuvre their ball," said the 54-year-old who made such a staggering trip down memory fairway with his third-place finish at Birkdale last year.
"It's a course for players who can visualise a shot and execute it every time. There's not really an easy shot out here. Right from the very first tee-shot you've got landmines out there waiting to grab you. Right from the get-go you have to put your thinking cap on, and the experienced players know that and have worked towards that."
Therefore, the younger pros do not have a prayer, or at least that is what Norman seems to be saying. So no Rory McIlroy, then, or indeed no Ryo Ishikawa. Indeed, if the 17-year-old Japanese sensation simply manages to survive the experience that will begin at 9.09am today he will have achieved a personal victory.
In the interests of Japanese television, that first tee will resemble the red carpet at the Oscars as the bulbs flash all around Ishikawa and Woods. The other member of the trio does not expect too many of the lenses to be trained on him. Yet Lee Westwood clearly does fancy the focus to fall on him sooner rather than later.
The 36-year-old is the overwhelming choice among the British contingent to end the barren major run which would stretch to a full decade come Sunday evening. Ian Poulter is usually minded to stress his own chances – which incidentally are anything but forlorn, having finished runner-up last year and kicked on thereafter – but with his friend he is too enthused not to make an exception.
"I played with Lee in Scotland last week," crooned Poulter. "He was feeling under the weather on Thursday and then came out on the following day and seriously could have shot 58, 59. If Lee's in that kind of form and is feeling good, then he will have a big week."
Big enough to threaten Woods? All things being equal – including the weather and then the lottery effect of the draw – Westwood would likely have to go four rounds with the three-time champion. He claims to have the gumption and indisputably possesses the talent to do so. He might even peer at Woods and see some cracks in his Open armoury. Woods has yet to win a major on a par-70 layout and all of his three Claret Jugs have been earned on burnt-out courses with no significant rough. With respect to St Andrews in 2000 and 2005 and Hoylake in 2006, they did not begin to pose the severest links tests. Turnberry just might, particularly if the wind blows and the rough becomes unavoidable.
The forecasters have warned of gusts of up to 30mph whipping up on Friday afternoon (Woods' side of the draw) and it would not be a classic Open without a little bit of carnage and self-pity thrown into the mix. If Woods is among the fortunate then it is genuinely difficult to see past him. Since returning from his knee surgery in February, he has made steady improvement and there is a very clear and present sense of the irrepressible 33-year-old being due.
All the talk of a repeat of Hoylake and the cautious strategy has only served to make his case appear ever more irresistible. Too much can be, and always is, read into his practice rounds – in truth, they are always meticulous even in the two out of three majors he, on average, loses – but Woods has exuded the air of a professional ominously in control here this week.
If none of this convinces you that Roger Federer will have a "Fifteen-all" text on Sunday, then how about the following? Bob Bubka, the well-known American radio commentator, tipped Angel Cabrera (100-1) for the Masters and then Lucas Glover (175-1) for the US Open. So who for the Open, Bob? "Erm, Tiger Woods," he says. Bubka knows a 5-2 winner makes more sense than a 33-1 loser. Always.
Who can win? James Corrigan's four to follow
Kenny perry (US)
World ranking: 4
At 48, he is enjoying the best spell of his career having won five times on the PGA Tour in little over a year – the most recent being the Travelers Championship in Connecticut last month. Perry is a straight driver who should have prevailed at the Masters in April. Not an Open regular but did finish in the top 10 in 2003.
Wins this year: two
Odds: 80-1 (Ladbrokes)
Sergio Garcia (Spain)
World ranking: 5
The 29-year-old was born to win an Open Championship and once again goes in with the ball-striking ability and the creativity to mount a challenge. He likes Turnberry and – if his putter obliges – he could emerge as the main threat to Woods.
Wins this year: 0
Odds: 33-1 (William Hill)
Lee Westwood (England)
World ranking: 17
The Worksop-born Englishman has no peer in the game when it comes to long and straight driving and the word among the home guard is that he is the best hope. He has not won since 2007 – when he won the British Masters and the Open de Andalucia – but has proved a fearless closer in the past.
Wins this year: 0
Odds: 33-1 (Betfred)
Ernie Els (South Africa)
World ranking: 24
Even Tiger Woods cannot boast as many Open top 10 finishes as the South African. He has suffered this year with a few "mental issues" but links golf brings out the best in this wonderfully natural athlete. Ernie still has a major left in him.
Wins this year: 0
Odds: 50-1 (Coral)
Open tee times: First and second rounds
(Turnberry, Today and Tomorrow starting times; GB & Irl unless stated)
06.30 & 11.41 M Campbell (NZ), P Broadhurst, M Calcavecchia (US)
06.41 & 11.52 J Overton (US), P Larrazabal (Sp), G Orr
06.52 & 12.03 A Wall, R Sabbatini (SA), J Senden (Aus)
07.03 & 12.14 N Watney (US), G Storm, C Schwartzel (SA)
07.14 & 12.25 R Echenique (Arg), R Finch, M O'Meara (US)
07.25 & 12.36 N Dougherty, D Duval (US), A Scott (Aus)
07.36 & 12.47 K Perry (US), G Norman (Aus), O Wilson
07.47 & 12.58 H Stenson (Swe), S Stricker (US), W-C Liang (China)
07.58 & 13.09 T Watson (US), S Garcia (Sp), M Manassero* (It)
08.09 & 13.20 P Hanson (Swe), D Johnson (US), L Oosthuizen (SA)
08.20 & 13.31 V Singh (Fiji), B Watson (US), G McDowell
08.31 & 13.42 C Villegas (Col), Y Ikeda (Japan), S O'Hair (US)
08.42 & 13.53 A Yano (Japan), L Donald, D Clarke
08.58 & 14.09 J Leonard (US), R Allenby (Aus), A Hansen (Den)
09.09 & 14.20 T Woods (US), L Westwood, R Ishikawa (Japan)
09.20 & 14.31 R Green (Aus), C Campbell (US), G Fernandez-Castaño (Sp)
09.31 & 14.42 D Howell, S Cink (US), T Jaidee (Thai)
09.42 & 14.53 R Jacquelin (Fr), K Duke (US), M Goggin (Aus)
09.53 & 15.04 B Baird (US), M Brown (NZ), J Edfors (Swe)
10.04 & 15.15 D J Trahan (US), P Marksaeng (Thai), M Brier (Aut)
10.15 & 15.26 C Wood, B Weekley (US), R Pampling (Aus)
10.26 & 15.37 J Ahlers (SA), B Molder (US), R Ramsay
10.37 & 15.48 B Mayfair (US), M Cayeux (Zim), L Saltman
10.48 & 15.59 R Rock, M Laird, B Crane (US)
10.59 & 16.10 B Grace (SA), T Haylock, B Snedeker (US)
11.10 & 16.21 M Wright (Aus), D Wardrop, P Ellebye (Den)
11.41 & 06.30 T Stewart (Aus), D McGrane, M Kuchar (US)
11.52 & 06.41 D Higgins, J Kavanagh, D Gaunt (Aus)
12.03 & 06.52 G Bhullar (India), R Davies, J Driscoll (US)
12.14 & 07.03 A Quiros (Sp), S Lyle, S Marino (US)
12.25 & 07.14 N Faldo, S Kjeldsen (Den), B Gay (US)
12.36 & 07.25 B Curtis (US), M Weir (Can), R Fisher
12.47 & 07.36 S Ames (Can), T Clark (SA), C Howell III (US)
12.58 & 07.47 E Els (SA), L Glover (US), M Kaymer (Ger)
13.09 & 07.58 J Rose, H Mahan (US), A Romero (Arg)
13.20 & 08.09 C Montgomerie, Z Johnson (US), KJ Choi (Kor)
13.31 & 08.20 R McIlroy, A Kim (US), R Goosen (SA)
13.42 & 08.31 T Hamilton (US), S Hansen (Den), T Kondo (Japan)
13.53 & 08.42 I Poulter, J B Holmes (US), M A Jimenez (Sp)
14.09 & 08.58 P Casey, R Imada (Japan), A Cabrera (Arg)
14.20 & 09.09 P Harrington, J Furyk (US), G Ogilvy (Aus)
14.31 & 09.20 P Lawrie, D Love III (US), S Appleby (Aus)
14.42 & 09.31 P McGinley, C Pettersson (Swe), J Daly (US)
14.53 & 09.42 S Gross* (Ger), D Toms (US), T Lehman (US)
15.04 & 09.53 J Kingston (SA), C Hoffman (US), F Jacobson (Swe)
15.15 & 10.04 P Goydos (US), F Molinari (It), R Sterne (SA)
15.26 & 10.15 T Levet (Fr), RS Johnson (Swe), K Sutherland (US)
15.37 & 10.26 T Aiken (SA), P Hedblom (Swe), P Baker
15.48 & 10.37 F A Hed (Swe), J Geary (NZ), D Drysdale
15.59 & 10.48 K Kuboya (Japan), B Vaughan (US), E Saltman
16.10 & 10.59 T Wood (Aus), D Smail (NZ), O Fisher
16.21 & 11.10 T Pilkadaris (Aus), S Surry, K Oda (Japan)
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