The third major tournament of the golf calendar, The Open Championship, begins Thursday (18 July) in Gullane, Scotland at Muirfield Golf Club. The British Open, as it is also called, showcases golf's top players all vying for the Claret Jug. The course is notorious for its difficult roughs, making it essential for the winner to not stray off the tee-box. Previous winners at Muirfield include Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson and Sir Nick Faldo.
The last time the tournament was held in Muirfield was in 2002, with Ernie Els emerging as the winner after a play-off. Els also won last year's tournament, beating Adam Scott by one solitary stroke to take home the coveted championship. The South African has only been able to achieve one tournament victory since (the BMW international Open) with inconsistency plaguing his form. His victory last year and previous successes, however, make it difficult to rule out the 43 year-old.
The odds-on favourite is world number one Tiger Woods. Although the American has been unable to win a major championship this year, he has won four tournaments and reclaimed his number one ranking. In 2002, Woods infamously shot 81 in the third round, effectively killing his chances to win. He will be keen to make amends and possibly even win his first major in five years.
Coming in to the tournament, Woods has been nursing an elbow injury which threatens to derail his tournament. The player, however, was keen to dismiss any reservations over his fitness.
"I'm very confident that my left elbow strain won't be a problem and I will be able to hit all the shots I need to hit," Woods told the Guardian, adding, "I'm still taking anti-inflammatory medication for my elbow and getting treatment, but the big thing at Muirfield golf club will be to avoid the rough."
If Woods has any chance of winning this week, he will have to defeat countryman Phil Mickleson who has been in sensation form recently, especially around the greens. Mickleson won last week's Scottish Open in a playoff as perfect preparation in conditions similar to which he will face at The Open. The American hopes his putting can propel him to the title but refused to reveal his secrets.
"I am really optimistic about this week and going forward because I'm starting to putt as well as I ever have," Mickelson is quoted in USA Today. "I putted great last week, and more than that, I've been putting well now for months."
"I feel that I've kind of keyed in on something, and I don't really want to share," he added.
Mickleson also finished second in the US Open last month, two strokes behind Englishman Justin Rose who is also in contention to claim victory this week.
Where to Watch
The first round begins at 11 am IST. Live coverage begins at 1 pm and can be viewed on ESPN and ESPN HD.
The only Indian playing in the tournament, Shiv Kapur, begins his round at 8:10 pm IST alongside Scott Jamieson and Gregory Bourdy. The most enticing group of the round start at 2:14 pm IST and contains Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama and Phil Mickleson. Tiger Woods plays with former major championship winners Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen who tee-off at 7:15 pm IST. Other notable groups include Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Carl Schwartzel (6:31 pm IST tee-off) and Justin Rose, Ernie Els and Brandt Snedeker (1:41 pm IST). Older golf fans will be able to watch the veterans group of Sir Nick Faldo, Tom Watson and Fred Couples who begin at 1:30 pm IST.