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Woods fails to buck winners' losing streak

The Claret Jug has had a new name for eight years. Peter Corrigan lifts the lid on a very strange brew

Of all the possibilities that were blown out of Tiger Woods' grasp on the howling links yesterday was a unique opportunity to end one of The Open's most remarkable sequences.

Compared to the Grand Slam dreams that were swept away, it would be the least of his torments to learn that he had been in a position to put right an anomaly in the history of The Open.

For the past eight years, the tournament has been won by a first-time winner. This is vividly at odds with the past. The records of the past 131 years of the championships are packed with multi-winners. Through every decade, the same names keep etching their way into the rim of the old Claret Jug.

But since 1993, when Greg Norman won his second title at Sandwich, each year has seen a different winner. The Open is not accustomed to such Openness. Having won it once, many past champions have said that it gave them the confidence to win it again.

Can the reason why this no longer seems the case be down to the more ferocious, competitive nature of modern golf? Or is it that the pressures nowadays pile too much burden upon past champions?

Some of those who have been busting a gut to win it for years may say that theirs is the bigger pressure. Better to have champed and lost than never to have champed at all. Nevertheless, it is a record that surely cannot last and few believed it would.

Obviously, Woods was the out-and-out favourite to bring it screaming to a halt. But there are other former winners still in a position to restore the tradition of repeat achievements.

When play started on Thursday, there were 13 previous holders of the title. We had already lost Seve Ballesteros – we hope not forever – and Gary Player's automatic entry ended on his 66th birthday last November.

Friday's cut took care of three: Tom Watson (winner in 1975, '77, '80, '82 and '83), John Daly (St Andrews, '95) and Tom Lehman (Lytham, '96) left the scene.

The 10 remaining offered some hope but none more than Woods. He was favourite to do it last year as well but finished nine shots behind the winner, David Duval.

By his own admission, Duval did not bring a high level of confidence to Muirfield. He has not "trained on", as they say, and he missed the cut in the US Open in June when he was 11 over par. But he did possess that seed of hope that all ex-champs have. "I've done it before and I know I have it in me," he said.

This belief that the magic may return drives them all on. It may still drive Duval on. His 70 yesterday places him at level par and although his residue of hope is shallow, the first three days of the tournament should encourage anyone to keep plugging on.

Some are past that. When Mark Calcavecchia birdied the first he would have found it hard to subdue a frisson of anticipation that a repeat of his win at Troon in 1989 was still alive. To reach halfway at level par would not have entirely destroyed that hope but he had a horrendous back nine of 45 to return an 81.

Paul Lawrie (Carnoustie, '99) has never received the recognition he deserved because of the bizarre nature of that particular championship. He is burning to prove a point by doing it again and at two under par before yesterday's round he was certainly not out of the hunt.

Yesterday's 78 could not be anything else but an extinguishing factor. He is on five over par and one of his neighbours on that mark is Nick Faldo ('87, '90, '92).

Faldo keeps offering evidence of a resurgence but his display yesterday was too full of doubts and nervous swing checks to keep him contention.

Sandy Lyle, another who has been dropping hints that the past may not yet be finished with, has not been able to build on his first day 68.

Mark O'Meara (Birkdale, '98) might have fared better had he not been paired with his friend Tiger yesterday. He did marginally better with a 77 to Woods' 81 but it was not better enough.

Justin Leonard (Troon, '97) is one of the best placed to buck the trend. He accompanied Justin Rose in an amazing partnership that began the day as joint 35th and finished as joint third.

Nick Price (Turnberry, '94) looked good enough to expect better than a 75 but he still has a faint chance to put to rest the run of the newcomers to Open success.