Muirfield gives others a chance

EAST LOTHIAN, Scotland, July 17 (UPI) -- When Peter Baker, Des Smyth and James Kingston tee it up first Thursday at the British Open, they may even have a chance as the three relative unknowns get ready to attack the Muirfield Golf Links at the season's third major tournament.

A links course on the shores of eastern Scotland that plays at just over 7,000 yards, Muirfield won't necessarily be dominated by the game's big hitters, unlike the first two majors of the season.


While no more than a half-dozen players were given a chance heading into The Masters and U.S. Open, some say as many as 75 have a chance this week.

"There's nothing on the golf course that would necessarily intimidate anybody to think that they couldn't compete here," said Irishman Padraig Harrington, who will play with John Daly and Aussie Adam Scott at 5:12 a.m. EDT.


"This will bring a bigger field into the equation much moreso than the U.S. Open or The Masters," added Davis Love III, who is grouped with Scotland's Colin Montgomerie and K.J. Choi of Korea at 8:57 a.m. "And that's the way it ought to be."

Because of his length, Love was one of the few players given a chance when the tournaments began at Augusta National and Bethpage Black. But he said 50-75 golfers have a chance here.

"There were guys like Nick (Faldo) who played their hearts out but just couldn't get there," Love said. "And a course like this, he's one of the favorites."

Faldo has won the last two British Opens held at Muirfield, defeating Paul Azinger and Rodger Davis by a stroke in 1987 before edging John Cook by the same margin in 1992.

Some call Muirfield the best course in the British Open rotation. Others put it in the top three. Faldo said it's just special.

"It's still one of my favorite spots," said Faldo, a six-time major winner who will play with world No. 2 Phil Mickelson and Hal Sutton at 9:35 a.m.


Muirfield is typical in its links characteristics. The rough is thick, but the greens are quick, allowing players to be creative with their shots, often running them up to the greens.

Tournament favorite Tiger Woods said that's what makes playing Muirfield fun. "Because you get the chance to be creative, hit shots and run the ball on the ground," said Woods, who is seeking the third leg of the Grand Slam. "A lot of times, the yardages are just thrown out the door."

Muirfield is unique in its lack of bunkers that front the greens. That helps players' chances of being creative and reaching the undulated putting surfaces from the rough.

"That's one of the fantastic things about Muirfield, which isn't always the case in a lot of other links courses that we play," said Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, whose 8:35 threesome includes David Toms and Kevin Sutherland.

Still, the goals are the same as they have ever been at a British Open. No one knows that more than defending champion David Duval.

"The recipe to success in the Open Championship is very simple," said Duval, who will play with Thomas Bjorn of Denmark and Japan's Shingo Katayama at 4:28 a.m. "Don't hit it in the pot bunkers and don't hit in the high stuff. And from there, you can go."


Where they go will depend on the weather. The first part of the week has been damp but calm. Potentially heavy winds are possible for the weekend.

"I think links golf is all predicated on the weather," said Woods, who will tee off with Japan's Shigeki Maruyama and Englishman Justin Rose at 4:01 a.m. "If the weather is perfect, the guys will shoot great numbers. That's just the way it is."

While Muirfield brings dozens of players back in the fray, Woods remains the odds-on favorite as he seeks history. No player has ever won all four majors the same year, and he's halfway there. Woods has won all four in a row, but over a two-season period.

"Even though people might say there might be up to 50 players who could win," Bjorn said, "there is still one man to beat."

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