The Open: Royal Liverpool and Tiger Woods are ready
The favourite for the Open may be a Brit for the first time since Nick Faldo’s heyday but the dominating presence, until the weekend at least, is Tiger Woods.
Say what you like about the 14-time Major champion but he remains the game’s biggest draw by a million miles.
On Tuesday when he spoke to the media there was standing room only in the interview room.
An hour later, in came Justin Rose. There were as many empty seats as occupied ones.
The hacks had got their story and most were too busy filing copy to listen to the thoughts of the man who, along with Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson, is around a 14-1 shot to lift the Claret Jug on Sunday evening.
The presence of Woods unquestionably lifts the profile of the championship and there is no doubt that his group, who tee off at 9.04, will command the biggest galleries. A tidal wave will make its way across the storied links of Royal Liverpool with Woods at the centre of it.
What state his game is really in remains a matter of conjecture. Considering how much interest there is in the 38-year-old’s every move, it is remarkable how he manages to conceal this most crucial piece of information.
Woods remains enigmatic, secretive, intimidating and box office.
The bookies have priced him up at 25-1, which could turn out to be outstandingly generous or stingy. Come Sunday he could be strolling to a fourth Open title or already be back home in Florida.
Meanwhile Rose is aiming to win his third successive tournament following victories in the USA and Scotland.
His Open record is surprisingly sketchy since that fourth-place finish as a teenager at Birkdale in 1998. It remains his only top-10 finish and he has missed the cut in two of the last three years. Given it normally takes even a top pro like Rose over a year to win three times, it is asking a lot for him to prevail this week.
Stenson and Scott, by contrast, have strong recent records in this championship and look to be peaking at the right time.
The Swede was second last year at Muirfield, just ahead of Scott, who could and perhaps should have won in each of the last two years. At Lytham he held a six-shot advantage over Ernie Els with nine holes to play only to bogey the last four holes.
Less well documented was last year when he led with six holes to play and then made another quartet of bogeys, at the exact moment Phil Mickelson was moving in the opposite direction.
In fact, it is not inconceivable that we could see the first 62 in a Major championship this week. Neverthless, his form over the last year or so is sensational, as his No 1 world ranking testifies. The Australian is in his prime and all about Majors these days and it is only a matter of time before he adds to the Green Jacket he collected last April.
As for the course, Hoylake is green and and freshly watered by some heavy downpours on Wednesday. The rough is not insignificant but escape is possible. The same cannot always be said for the bunkers but they are effectively made much smaller when the ball is not running out.
The course was described by Padraig Harrington as “almost in too good condition” and you knew what he meant: this is far from a lumpy, bumpy, lunar-surfaced, sun-baked links that really tends to bring the seaside specialists to the fore.
What is more, conditions for much of the week are excellent, which means that there will be many scores in the mid 60s. In fact, it is not inconceivable that we could see the first 62 in a Major championship this week.
Right now, Friday looks set to be the only day when we see Hoylake’s “mighty winds” blowing. It will be warm – very warm – for at least the first couple of days.
David Howell has the honour of hitting the first shot at 6.25.
Let the 143rd Open Championship begin.