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Open Championship Preview: All eyes on Tiger, again

By
Stephen Moskal
American Tiger Woods tees on the 7th hole on the second day of the 138th British Open Championship in Turnberry, England on July 17 2009. UPI/Hugo Philpott
American Tiger Woods tees on the 7th hole on the second day of the 138th British Open Championship in Turnberry, England on July 17 2009. UPI/Hugo Philpott | License Photo

"The champion golfer for the year 2012 is..."

I have always loved the Open Championship's phrase, "champion golfer." To proclaim that the winner of the Open is the champion golfer for the year is just so...British.

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But it also shows how much respect for tradition that is so key to golf.

Respect for the game is not found only in the Open--golfers around the world respect the traditions of golf. But these traditions began in Scotland, and it is found in the very fibers of the game there.

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The elements and the course

Respect, for the course and the elements, is the quality that keeps a golfer from making the careless mistakes that will cost him the championship.

In Scotland (this year's Open is in England, but make no mistake, Royal Lytham is very Scottish) if you don't have respect for the elements and the course, you won't do well.

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If you have ever played on links courses, you understand the importance of weather changeability. It's the real opponent of the British Open.

While some people accept the role of the weather in golf (as Bobby Jones said, "golf is not meant to be a fair game"), others complain.

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Many people don't like how "luck" seems to factor so much into play at the Open. Most people think that a "good shot" should end well, but they don't understand that a "good shot" is determined by where it ends up!

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What is luck in golf? To expect that a ball hit by a club over 250 yards through the air into an open field should end up in some predictable, precise spot is not only an overblown concept of a one's own power over the physical world (ah, to be human), is to show a lack of respect of the elements.

Royal Lytham & St. Anne's Golf Club

Unlike Royal St. George's Golf club (site of last year's Open) and other Open Championship venues, Royal Lytham & St. Anne's Golf Club is situated at the heart of a suburban residential are.

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Having the world's golf stage practically on top of people's homes reminds me of Wrigley Field. Watching a Cubs game from one of the apartment rooftops has always been a dream of mine. I am sure more than one person along Arundel Road saw Seve Ballesteros pass on the fairways en route to two Claret Jugs--from their upstairs bedroom!

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It is the "neighborhood course" feel to Lytham that adds heart and soul to the golf tradition of the Open Championship.

Lytham is not often considered a genuine links course because you can't see the ocean from the course. It is built on genuine "links-land," however, and with the Irish Sea being only a couple of hundred yards away, the course plays like a true links.

Lytham is far from being the longest Open venue, but with over 200 bunkers, it is often considered to be the hardest.

One of the reasons for this difficulty is that starting at hole 11, no two consecutive holes play in the same direction. This means that a player must be able to hold his shots in wind that seems to be coming from all directions.

In addition, these winds can increase or change with the tides--occurring around noon every day this week--making morning and afternoon rounds play like two entirely different courses.

This year's Open will not be a long drive competition. A player must respect the lay of the land and avoid the bunkers if he wants to be champion.

Eyes on Tiger

Everyone is asking whether Tiger Woods' three previous wins at the Open are actually flukes.

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Unfortunately for Tiger, Royal Lytham & St. Anne's is not the ideal place for him to have to prove himself.

It is not that he has not fared well in the game's oldest championship.

His three victories show that indeed he can win on links courses. His understanding and sense of respect for the links-style game has never been more evident than in his ability to avoid all bunkers over 72 holes at St. Andrews in 2005.

But Tiger does not usually play well in poor weather--those three wins were achieved in near perfect conditions.

In addition, Tiger has never played particularly well at Royal Lytham. His best finish there was in 1996 when he tied for 22nd as low amateur.

It's not simply the poor weather that will knock Tiger out of it, Open Championship weather tends to bring a lot of players into contention.

A relative unknown can get a few "lucky" bounces and find himself in the mix.

Tiger is also hit or miss right now. When he is on, he is definitely on. When he is a little off, he disappears from view.

In this respect, he is definitely not the Tiger of old. The Tiger of old was always there, hit or miss.

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I am certain of one thing. If Tiger's name is up near the top of the leader board on Sunday, he deserves renewed respect from his fellow players.

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Stephen Moskal is currently the Director of Instruction for Golf Swing Exchange, an innovative on-line coaching platform whose goal is to revolutionize the ability for people to learn golf. A former professional golfer in Europe, Moskal turned pro in 1993 as a member of the French National Circuit and also spent time on the United Kingdom Mastercard Tour and the European Challenge Tour. Following a seven-year professional career, Moskal turned to teaching full-time in 1999. A 1990 graduate of Furman University with a degree in philosophy, Moskal was a four year letter winner with the Paladins and was a member of the academic honor roll. Most recently, Stephen studied under Top 100 instructor Mitchell Spearman, best known for working with major champions Nick Faldo and Ian Baker Finch. Stephen is also the Head Golf Coach at Marymount University in Arlington, VA.

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(United Press International's Commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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