Monday, 15 July 2002
The cream of European Tour talent will assemble in East Lothian this week aiming to capture the 131st Open Golf Championship at Muirfield and prevent Tiger Woods completing the third leg of the Grand Slam.

The 26 year old is already halfway to golf's Holy Grail having captured the Masters Tournament at Augusta National in April and the US Open Championship at Bethpage State Park in New York last month and will start a short-priced favourite to lift the Claret Jug at the home of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.

Woods already knows what it takes to win an Open Championship in Scotland, having triumphed on the Old Course, St Andrews in 2000, but he could do no better than a tie for 12th last year at Royal Lytham & St Annes when his fellow countryman David Duval took the honours, finishing three shots ahead of Sweden's Niclas Fasth.

The last European Tour Member to capture the Open was Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in 1999 and, as always, the desire to follow in the Scots' footsteps and claim the greatest prize in the game is strong.

Nick Faldo, whose resurgent form saw him tie for fifth in the US Open Championship, won the last two Opens at Muirfield in 1987 and 1992 and he returned to the course last week for a practice round to familiarise himself with the layout.

"The course is exactly the way I remember it, just a lot greener," he said. "I just had to do it, to come here and remind myself of the subtleties of links golf. Links courses in general have a lack of definition and it takes time to know where to aim for and where to hit the ball.

"I think it is essential to play a links course before tackling the Open and to get back into the way of playing links golf. I am looking forward to the challenge."

The Englishman was not alone in relishing the prospect. Fellow European Tour Members Ernie Els and José Maria Olazábal agreed that the Championship in East Lothian could be one of the most open and entertaining of recent years.

Olazábal, who was tied 11th in 1987 and third in 1992, said: "They have lengthened two holes but they are par threes so the rest of the course is the same, which means you will see a number of players in contention to win the tournament, without question.

"The long hitters are going to have their advantage, sure, but there are a lot of holes where you will be hitting irons off the tee. You are going to use the driver maybe six or seven times. It's more a shot maker's course than pure length and you don't neccesarily have to be long off the tee to attack the flag.”

Els, whose first Open as a professional was at Muirfield in 1992 and who finished tied second at St Andrews in 2000 and tied third at Royal Lytham & St Annes twelve months ago, agreed with his Spanish counterpart.

"I think Olly is right because it is not an overly long golf course and it is not too narrow," said the South African. "It will be good, it has given a lot of the field a chance, and I think there might be a tight, close finish come Sunday.

"I am looking forward to going back to Muirfield though because I remember the 1992 Open well and I must say that everything is exactly the same, the same set-up, the same width of fairways, everything. It is going to be a wonderful test."

Not surprisingly though, the majority of the attention in East Lothian will focus on Woods as he attempts to write another chapter in golf's record books.

Last year the World Number One became the first golfer to hold all four Major Championships simultaneously when he won the Masters Tournament, but few players in history have ever come close to winning all four in same calendar year.

Jack Nicklaus narrowly missed out on the Grand Slam 30 years ago when, ironically, he arrived at Muirfield in exactly the same position as Woods but he lost out to Lee Trevino by one shot. In 1953, Ben Hogan won the first three Majors but was unable to get back to the United States to play in the US PGA Championship.

"To win all four majors is doable because I've done it before but to win all four in a calendar year would be different," said Woods. "Hopefully I can do it again and we'll see what happens. It is going to be a lot of fun going out there and competing at Muirfield to win another one."

All competitors will face in Muirfield one of the oldest golf clubs in world, dating back to 1744, and one which is widely regarded as one of the fairest but sternest tests of links golf there is. Few changes have been made since 1992 with only two holes lengthened.

The par three fourth hole has been increased by 33 yards to 213 yards while the 13th, described by Jack Nicklaus as "one of the game's truly great par three holes" has been stretched by 32 yards to 191 yards. Overall the par 71 course now measures 7,034 yards.

Whoever holds aloft the Claret Jug on Sunday night will receive the biggest first prize in Open Championship history, a cheque for £700,000, up £100,000 on 2001 and a 100 per cent increase on the £350,000 Paul Lawrie took home from Carnoustie. In total the purse is £3.8 million, an increase of £567,000 on last year and, in addition to increases in prize money down to 70th place, where any playing completing 72 holes will receive £8,500, prize money for non-qualifiers has more than doubled so that the player in last place (156th) will now win £2000.

"We believe that the Royal and Ancient Golf Club should continue to review the Open Championship prize money not only at the top but throughout the field," said David Hill, Championship Secretary of the R&A.

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