Olazabal calls for Open warm-up

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Being the equivalent of a golfing Charles Atlas must be pretty frustrating if the next on stage always happens to be golf's version of the Incredible Hulk. So it is for the Scottish Open which finds itself being made to feel puny on an annual basis by the real "Open" that traditionally follows it.

For no matter how strong their field, how rich their purse or how resplendent their course, all the talk on the Loch this week has inevitably been monopolised by the events that will unfold on that other patch of water known as the South Coast in seven days' time. Indeed, a warm-up act has rarely had such a tough turn to precede.

If this glare of publicity is not bright enough for the organisers to try to shine their torch through, then some of this £2.2m tournament's leading lights have gone as far as to suggest that the Scottish Open turns its back on its current home and move to a course that would only serve to make it even more of a precursor to the real thing.

Jose-Maria Olazabal led the way here, saying it would be far better if it was played on a dry, hard links course rather than a wet, soft parkland course. "I have always said we are lacking links courses on the European Tour," he said. "It would be ideal if this was played on one. You would see more Americans coming over and I have no doubt that Tiger would think about playing."

The Woods factor - which is rapidly becoming the only factor in golf - is probably the main reason why the Loch Lomond Club have acquired Dundonald, a spectacular links development in Ayrshire due to be unveiled next year. Yesterday, Ernie Els, the reigning Open champion, threw his considerable weight behind such a switch. "It's not the perfect preparation for the Open Championship, Loch Lomond being quite soft. It's in beautiful condition, but it's not quite links," Els said. "Obviously, the players would prefer to play links golf before the Open."

He was backed by Darren Clarke, perhaps Europe's finest current-day performer on the dunes, and although both were at pains to emphasise how highly they rated Loch Lomond - Els saying it ranked in "my top five on worldwide golf venues" - it was left to Colin Montgomerie, the "great pretender" of the majors, to rise to the role of great defender of his "home" open.

"This is not just the best inland course in Scotland but the whole of Britain, so let's not think about next week," he said. "This tournament is big enough to stand on its own now, and it shouldn't be regarded as a mere practice for the Open. Why not keep the Scottish Open as it is and if people don't want to play here because it's not a test of links golf... well, come off it."

It should all make for an interesting exchange of views, therefore, when Montgomerie lines up alongside Olazabal for today's first round of an event he won in 1999. Making up that trio, strategically positioned for a lunch-time tee-off to catch the BBC cameras, will be Phil Mickelson, the American left-hander who has had a torrid time of late but who remains a huge draw for the record-breaking crowds expected here. Fred Couples was supposed to join the transatlantic troop to Dumbartonshire which also includes John Daly, but a bad back has ruled him out of this and probably next week's Open.

Nevertheless, there is still plenty of talent on view, not least Els, the 2000 winner here, Retief Goosen, the 2001 winner, and, apart from Padraig Harrington, the pick of the European Tour. All will be praying that the sunny weather that graced yesterday's pro-am sees them through a weekend that in the past has been ruined by the downpours that blight this corner of Scotland and can render these boggy banks unplayable. Conditions, in fact, as far removed as you can get from next week's sand-dance.

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