Continued from page 1

Maybe if the wind picks up, or some freakish storm sweeps over the course _ as it did in 2002, the last time the Open was here _ those opinions will take a turn.

But, at the moment, it’s nothing but a lovefest.

“Each and every hole is a little bit different,” defending champion Ernie Els said. “There’s left to rights, right to lefts, and it all happens out there. Every links shot that you can imagine, you’re going to play it this week.”

Just don’t bother asking about what happens at the club the other 51 weeks of the year.

Nick Faldo, who has won two of his Open titles at Muirfield, seemed to sum up the feelings for everyone carrying a club when the question was posed to him about the male-only membership. He threw back his head and let out an audible sigh before delivering an answer that quickly brought an end to any thoughts of a meaningful discussion.

“That’s for the club to decide,” he said bluntly.

The weather hasn’t been an issue at all _ warm and sunny through the practice rounds, with nary a hint of rain. The course is more yellow than green, a product of the largely dry conditions, certainly nothing like it was the last time the Open came to Muirfield.

Back in 2002, during the third round, the weather suddenly took a dramatic turn for the worse. The temperature plummeted. The winds howled. The rains pounded those unfortunate enough to be out on the course, a group that included Woods.

His hopes of a Grand Slam were washed away by an 81, which remains his highest score as a professional.

That’s a part of the Muirfield history he would prefer to forget.

“That was the worst I’ve ever played in,” Woods said. “No one was prepared for it. There was a slight chance of maybe a shower. Obviously the forecast was very wrong on that. So none of us were prepared clothing-wise. A lot of guys just had golf shirts and a rain jacket, and that was it. That was all they had. I think that’s one of the biggest things. The wind chill was in the 30s. The umbrella became useless, because the wind was blowing so hard, you couldn’t control the umbrella. It was just a cold, cold day.”

As always, Woods comes into a major championship as the overwhelming favorite, having reclaimed the world’s No. 1 ranking and already having won four times this year on the PGA Tour.

But the feeling of invincibility is no longer there, wiped out by the longest major drought of his career. Woods hasn’t won one of golf’s Big Four since his 14th career title at the 2008 U.S. Open. Since then, he’s gone through embarrassing revelations about his personal life, a divorce, a swing change, and a series of nagging injuries _ the latest of which is a strained left elbow that sidelined him for the past month.

Woods insists his elbow is fine, but it’s no longer a given _ or even necessarily expected by a lot of people _ that he’ll be hoisting the claret jug as the sun slowly sets Sunday evening.

Eighteen golfers have divvied up the last 20 major titles.

Story Continues →