GULLANE, Scotland, July 17 (UPI) -- The world's oldest golf tournament opens Thursday on the firm, fast fairways of Muirfield with Tiger Woods hoping to end a drought in major events.
A field of 156 players from around the world will compete in the British Open, first played in the year prior to the start of the American Civil War.
It is contested annually on one of a select group of links courses in Scotland and England, and this year's host is Muirfield -- otherwise known as The Honourable Company of Edinburg Golfers.
When the tournament was last played at Muirfield in 2002, cold, windy weather played a pivotal role in an event eventually won by Ernie Els in a four-man playoff.
Forecasters say there will be no repeat of such conditions this year. Expectations are that there will be a continuation of the mild, often blustery dry weather that has baked Muirfield during the spring and summer.
It all begins when Peter Senior, two weeks short of his 64th birthday, hits the tournament's first shot at 6:32 a.m. British Summer Time.
The best golfers on the planet will then follow in a steady stream until the first round is concluded sometime after 8 p.m.
Chief among the participants will be Woods, who when he won the 2008 U.S. Open was considered a virtual cinch to surpass the all-time major championship victory record of 18 held by Jack Nicklaus.
That win was the 14th in a major tournament for Woods, and he has not had another. His game has regained much of its former luster, with seven victories on the PGA Tour over the past two seasons, but still a major has eluded him.
"Even though I haven't won a major championship in five years, I've been there in a bunch of them where I've had chances," Woods said early this week. "I just need to keep putting myself there and eventually I'll get some."
There will be plenty of obstacles in Woods' path this week, including the two players who each captured his first major title during the 2013 season. Adam Scott won the Masters in a playoff over Angel Cabrera, and Justin Rose captured the U.S. Open while leaving Phil Mickelson as the runner-up in that event for a record sixth time.
Mickelson is among the favorites this week thanks to his win last week at the Scottish Open, and he is joined by potential winners Rory McIlroy, Matt Kuchar, Graeme McDowell, Brandt Snedeker, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.
Els will be the defending champion in two respects this week since he won the tournament last year in addition to claiming the title the last time the Open was played at Muirfield.
At the opposite end of the spectrum will be a pairing that includes Matthew Fitzpatrick, Russell Henley and Jordan Spieth.
Fitzpatrick, still an amateur, won the English Boys Championship last year, Henley won in his PGA Tour debut last January in Hawaii, and Spieth, at age 19, became the youngest tour champion in 82 years last Sunday when he captured the John Deere Classic.