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Woods has never gone this far into the calendar without winning. He has never gone more than seven tournaments to start a season without a victory, and the Open marks his seventh event. His preparations included playing Sunday in gusts that approached 50 mph, and the next two days in wind out of different directions.

He also endured a press conference in which about half of the questions were about his personal life. Among his chief critics has been Watson, who has said that Woods needs to “clean up his act.”

Given a chance to elaborate Wednesday, the five-time Open champion declined.

“I said what I needed to say about Tiger Woods,” Watson said. “The one thing that you should be writing about Tiger Woods right now is that he’s won the championship the last two times he’s played here, and that he’s probably the odds-on favorite to win it again.”

The challenge figures to be much greater, a result of Woods‘ unpredictable form, the growing number of contenders _ especially a European resurgence led by U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood _ and the weather.

Defending champion Stewart Cink played eight holes Wednesday on what felt like two courses.

“The opening nine, you’re headed straight downwind with a little off to the right, and it’s like a dream,” he said. Every shot you hit, no matter how bad you hit it, it’s a nice draw. We played four holes and decided to turn around, and as soon as we hit 14 tee box, it was the exact opposite. You couldn’t do anything except his a huge slice. It’s hard to describe how difficult it is.”

The only disappointment Wednesday was the hard rain and cold wind leading the R&A to cancel its “Champions Challenge,” a four-hole exhibition with past Open champions like Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Ben Curtis.

“I was on the range this morning and it’s just brutal out there,” Nick Faldo said. “It wouldn’t have been entertaining for anybody.”

It wasn’t much fun for the marshals or the fans, wrapped in rain gear, walking back from the loop on the far end of the links toward the clubhouse as they searched for players, realizing most of them were doubling back after a couple of holes.

There wasn’t much to gain on a day like this.

“Obviously, we’ve had beautiful weather for two days,” Cink said. “And today, we have a wreck out there. And there’s not many golfers at all. But it’s a fair test.”

The forecast? There could be rain, there might be spells of sunshine, there likely will be wind _ that could be last four days or four hours around these parts.

Rose is the freshest face of the English revival, having won two of his last three tournaments in America. He knows these links well, even though he didn’t qualify for the Open in 2000 or 2005. Rose already had in his mind the ideal day, which featured wind.

“It would be nice and sunny, 20 mph breeze across the golf course. I think that would have tested everybody but made it very, very enjoyable,” Rose said. “If we get a little bit of that, it would be nice. And if we get a little bit of the extreme stuff, then so be it. That’s definitely part of the Open Championship.”