There are two ways for a Briton to react when drawn with Tiger Woods for the first two rounds of the Open Championship. Either look like a startled rabbit, while squeaking about what an "incredible honour" you are about to suffer. Or shrug your shoulders and say, "Yep, been there, done that, quite enjoyed it as it happens."
Fortunately, Lee Westwood is one of the few players from these shores who can convincingly utter the latter. As the 36-year-old said: "I've grown up in tournament golf with Tiger." This has included many rounds played together and, indeed, in the Ryder Cup "against" each other. Only at last year's US Open at Torrey Pines, Westwood partnered the eventual champion in the last round. He matched Woods' 73 that day but missed the play-off by a shot. No matter, it is just one brush with the world No 1 from which he is taking confidence.
"I've always enjoyed playing with Tiger and I've always done well," he said. "You know Tiger is going to be there or thereabouts, so what better place to keep an eye on him? It should be a great atmosphere and I think I'm experienced enough after 16 years as a professional to focus on my own game."
However, even Westwood admits this particular experience will be unique. Making up the threesome will be Ryo Ishikawa, the youngest professional in the field. The Japanese is just 17, but has already won four professional tournaments. The player nicknamed "The Bashful Prince" commands massive media interest in his country – this "draw" had nothing to do with the wishes of Japanese TV did it? – and the number of lenses trained on him in the first two rounds may even rival those on Woods.
"There'll probably be more on Ryo," said Westwood. "I was at the World Match Play in Tucson and he wasn't even playing but he was surrounded by about 100 cameramen and photographers. But the Japanese as a race are very respectful and everyone inside the ropes will know the rules. I don't think there's a danger of it getting silly out there."
Not everyone here is as positive as Westwood and it would be no surprise if Woods, himself, is aghast that the circus that regularly follows him is about to erect another big top. This is no place for added distraction as Woods hinted at with his traditional one-line comment at the end of his practice round. "It's a lot more difficult than people are letting on," he said. Once again, Woods largely kept the driver in the bag, employing it on the seventh and the 17th, and is preparing to ditch his five-wood to accommodate a two-iron – just like he did when prevailing at Hoylake three years ago.
Padraig Harrington is just one of those planning to copy Woods' caution-pays approach. The Irishman will kickstart his mission to become the first player in 53 years to win three Opens in succession in the company of Jim Furyk and Geoff Ogilvy, while the other hope of Irish golf, the young Ulsterman Rory McIlroy begins his third major as a pro alongside Anthony Kim and Retief Goosen.
The 40-year-old South African will doubtless feel the old man in that trio, although his grey whiskers may not twitch as much as Tom Watson. At 59, the five-time champion is the oldest player in the field and at 16, Matteo Manassero, the Italian who won the Amateur Championship, is the youngest. Watson has already tasted a victory for the ages here in the "Duel in the Sun". Is he about to do so again in the "Duel with the Grandson"?Reuse content