Muirfield set to test challengers

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The Open returns to Muirfield for the 16th time starting on Thursday, with two straight weeks of sunshine having turned the famed Scottish links into a firm, fast and furious test for the best.
Drivers will seldom be seen and irons will be the weapon of choice off many tees as an elite field looks to stay out of the punishing rough and create the best angles to attack the pins at the par-71 East Lothian layout.
Graeme McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion who grew up playing on links in Northern Ireland and who will start among the favourites, compared golfing at Muirfield to playing a game of chess.
“This is certainly a game of chess this week, where you have to position your pieces and keep them in play,” he said.
“This golf course is all right there in front of you, there’s no hidden tricks to it. Good quality golf gets rewarded.
“Nine out of 10 times this golf course will reward good golf, and punish you off the tee, but give yourself opportunities up and around the greens.”
A quick check down the list of past winners at Muirfield certainly confirms what McDowell says as they include Ernie Els, the last time it was played there in 2002, Nick Faldo in 1992 and 1987, Tom Watson (1980), Lee Trevino (1972), Jack Nicklaus (1966) and Gary Player (1959).
Tournament favourite Tiger Woods is eager to join that list and finally win his 15th major title, over five years after his last, which came at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines.
The 37-year-old American knows Muirfield well and not all his memories are fond ones.
The last time it was held there in 2002, he went out in his third round just as a storm system came out of the North Sea, whipping up havoc on the course and condemning the American to a 10-over 81, to date the worst score of his professional career.
That left him with no chance of making it three majors in a row, having already won the Masters and the US Open that year, and Woods has failed to get that far along the road to the Grand Slam since then.
Still, he insists he harbours no hard feelings.
“Look at the list of past champions. The number of Hall of Famers that there are who have won here,” said Woods, who said that the elbow injury that sidelined him after last month’s US Open is no longer a problem.
Other strong story lines this week concern whether Justin Rose can become the first player since Woods in 2000 to win back-to-back US and British Opens and whether Ernie Els can defend the Open title he won at Royal Lytham last year on a course where he also won the last time it was played there (2002).
Phil Mickelson is sounding as confident as he ever has been at Open time following his win in the Scottish Open on Sunday, while Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter will join Rose in the bid to become the first English winner of The Open since Faldo did so at Muirfield in 1992.
Rory McIlroy meanwhile will continue in his efforts to finally get to grips with his new golf clubs and balls, having switched providers during the winter.
Accoring to close friend McDowell, his fellow Ulsterman’s winless year could soon be about to change.

Kapur up for challenge
Shiv Kapur, making his second appearance at the British Open, will look to improve on the best-ever performance by an Indian — tied 27th by Jyoti Randhawa in 2004. He will play the first round alongside Frenchman Gregory Bourdy and Scotsman Scott Jamieson.

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