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British Open winner will have name among golf's greats

Tiger Woods plays from the rough, in the

Tiger Woods plays from the rough, in the rain, on the first hole during the third round of the British Open Golf Championship at Muirfield golf course in Scotland. (July 20, 2002) Credit: AP

GULLANE, Scotland - So it is back to Muirfield, eerie, haunting, wonderful Muirfield, where Jack Nicklaus' dream of a Grand Slam was nipped and Tiger Woods' was pummeled.

A course, two loops in opposite directions, called by most the fairest of the links layouts; a club, called by many the rudest of all.

The 142nd Open Championship, the British Open, will be played starting Thursday at Muirfield, on the Firth of Forth, 20 miles east of Edinburgh.

The only prediction which makes sense, noting those who succeed here in the past -- Hall of Famers Gary Player, Walter Hagen, Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo, Tom Watson, Ernie Els and yes, Nicklaus -- is the eventual winner will be among the greats. Dating to World War II, the seven players who won a British Open at Muirfield are all in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

When Els won at Muirfield in 2002, he said, "I had been after this one 10 years. If I didn't get it, I don't think I would ever have made it."

Yet, in 2012 Els, then 42, won another Open at Royal Lytham in England.

Over the last 20 majors, 18 different players have won, none of them named Tiger Woods.

There is a bit of mystery surrounding Woods' appearance here this year. The world's No. 1 player already has won four times this year, and during a two-month stretch in the spring, he won three out of four tournaments, the exception a tie for fourth in the Masters.

But he offered limited details at the U.S. Open about an injury to his left elbow that had been bothering him for a month. Woods has not played since he tied for 32nd at the Open, and he can't guarantee he'll be at full strength when he arrives at Muirfield.

The Open is always played on linksland courses, those from which the sea receded thousands of years ago, courses of huge bunkers and strange bounces where the weather can change from hour to hour and patience is every bit as important as putting. Muirfield challenges every aspect of a player's game.

"What you see is what you get," said Nicklaus of Muirfield. He saw victory in 1966 and then borrowed the name for his then new course outside Columbus, Ohio.

But in 1972, after winning the Masters and at Pebble Beach the U.S. Open he was edged by Trevino, ending his quest for the Grand Slam.

The last Open at Muirfield, 2002, the same fate befell Woods, if more forcibly. Having won the Masters and the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, Tiger fell victim to a brutal storm on Saturday and shot his single worst round as pro, an 81.

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which established the first rules of the game, was formed in 1744 -- 32 years before the United States became a country and 10 prior to the group which came to run the game on this side of the Atlantic, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club.

There are no women members, and even though Augusta National now has two, Muirfield will not alter its policy although women are allowed in the half-timbered, Elizabethan clubhouse and on the course.

Unlike Augusta, a golfer with a handicap or 18 or less can book a round. But if more players than originally noted show up -- say, four, not three -- the fourth cannot play.

Famous pros also are mistreated. The early evening after the 1980 Open, which he won, Watson and Ben Crenshaw went out with historic wooden-shafted clubs to play a few holes. The then club secretary, Paddy Hammer, hurried out to the course and told them, "The Open has ended. You are trespassing."

They departed.

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