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British Open

Tournament Peview

It's hard to get much more legendary than the British Open, which pre-dates the American Civil War, and which was first played during the 23rd year of Queen Victoria's 64-year  reign.

The 142nd edition of the tournament kicks off Thursday in Gullane,Scotland and the Muirfield Golf Links, a course full of bunkers that is expecting picture perfect weather (highs around 72°F each day).

South Africa's Ernie Els is not only the defending champion of "The Open", he's also the winner of the last Open played at Muirfield, taking the title in thrilling fashion by winning a four-way playoff.

Els will kick off the defense of his crown at 4:11 a.m US Eastern Daylight Savings Time in playing along side fellow South African Justin Rose, presently ranked No. 3 in the world, and American Brandt Snedeker, ranked No. 8.

While Els and two Top 8 players might seem like the trio to follow, either on TV, the Internet or, how dare you be so lucky, in person, there are three other threesomes that could certainly give them a run for their money.

At 4:00 a.m. EDT, Nick Faldo, Tom Watson and Fred Couples will tee off. The 55-year-old Faldo and 63-year-old Watson are flat out golf royalty, with 14 Majors between them, including eight here, although none since 1992 for Faldo and 1983 for Watson. The 54-year-old Couples is no slouch either, with the 1992 Masters and the 2012 British Senior Open titles under his belt.

The pairing at 4:44 a.m. consists of former No.1 Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama and the most popular player on earth whose name doesn't rhyme with "Shiger Moods", Phil Mickelson. Matsuyama might seem like the odd name out here, but considering he is 21 years old and already has a Top 10 finish at a major (the 2013 US Open), he's nothing to be trifled with. The Japanese native won the Asian Amateur Championship at age 18 in 2010 and was the top amateur at the 2011 Masters.

Mickelson hardly needs an introduction, but would definitely like a Claret Jug in his collection after yet another disappointing runner-up finish at the US Open. His best efort here was finishing second in 2011.

And then there's McIlroy, who remains No. 2 in the world despite a wildly erratic season to date. McIlroy has four Top 10 finishes on the PGA tour in 2013, but has been a ghost in the two Majors to date, finishing tied for 25th at the Masters and tied for 41st at the US Open thanks in large part to a final round 76 that include a double and a quadruple bogey.

Of course, no golf preview would be complete without a target on Tiger Woods, who tees off at 9:45 a.m. EDT, along with Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen. All three of these men have won at least one Major before, the only pairing besides Faldo, Couples and Watson to boast that claim.

The South African Oosthuizen is ranked 11th, but has played just thrice in the last three months, including missing the cut at The Masters. Regardless of his struggles this year, a former Open champion is always a threat and a point of curiosity, and his rip-roaring seven-stroke victory in 2010 is still one of the biggest shockers in recent memory.

McDowell, like McIlroy a Northern Irishman is ranked No. 7 in the world, but hasn't played since his disastrous 13-over performance through the first two rounds of the US Open that saw him miss the cut. He missed the cut at his prior outing - The Players Championship as well, and the Masters, making this more of a personal challenge.

That of course, leaves Mr. Woods, who also is trying to shake off a disastrous US Open (tied for 32nd, +13) that came after his victory at the Players and Top five finish at the Masters.

Which Tiger will show up this weekend - the sodder from the US Open or the man who won this tournament in 2000, 2005 and 2006 is anyone's guess. For those trivia buffs among us, Muirfield is the site of Woods' worst round as a professional, a rain-driven 10-over 81 at the championship here in 2002.

That round was as odd in 2002 as his misery at the US Open a month ago. In 2002, Woods entered the Open with four titles on the season under his belt, including both the Masters and the US Open. He was 3-under after two rounds before the miserable 81, firing back with a 6-under final round to finish tied for 28th.
07/18/13, Thursday

It didn't take Zach Johnson long to get over losing the John Deere Classic in a playoff last Friday.

Johnson fired a 5-under 66 to take a one stroke lead after the first round of 18 at Muirfield Golf Links in Gullane, Scotland.

Johnson did all his damage on the front nine, particularly between holes 5 and 7 where he was 4-under thanks to an eagle 3 on No. 5.

"If anything from last week, what I've embraced is the fact that I'm playing great and I can put that into play," Johnson said in the press conference after his opening round. I"m certainly somewhat confident in what I'm doing."

The two men trailing Johnson by a single stroke couldn't be an odder pair. The first is 29-year-old Rafael Cabrera-Bello, who has five professional wins since turning pro in 2005, but none of them on the PGA tour. He has only played in two Majors before, tying for 81st here a year ago.

Bello strung together three birdies in the first five holes to get off to a hot start and hit three more in the back nine to sit 4-under. He's tied for second with 56-year-old Mark Mullane who claimed he felt like "he was 32."

O'Meara was 5-under at the turn, with a birdie on No. 9 that drew a thumb's up from Tiger Woods. He came back to earth with three bogeys between holes 10 and 15, then wowed the buzzing crowd by sinking a 35-foot eagle on No. 17.

There's a five-way logjam of players tied for fourth at 3-under, including world No. 3 Brandt Snedeker, No. 20 Dustin Johnson and unheralded Indian Shiv Kapur, playing in his second Major ever, his first since missing the cut here in 2006. The graduate of America's Purdue University was the talk of the tournament for a time as he started his round with three straight birdies, and added three more in a row between No. 5-7 to hit the turn 6-under. He gave three strokes back with a double bogey on No. 10&nb sp;and a bogey on No. 14.

Tie for ninth at 2-under is a quintet that includes Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Angel Cabrera and teenage John Deere Classic champion Jordan Spieth.

Woods was 1-over at the turn, but made three clutch birdies on the back nine to turn his day around. Mickelson could have been a lot closer to the lead, or perhaps in it, were it not for a pair of double bogeys, one on No. 8, the other on 18.

While there were plenty of familiar faces in the mix at the top of the heap, others were victimized by the course's fast greens and unseasonably warm temperatures - the forecast had called for highs in the low 70s, but the mercury ended up touching 80.

World No. 2 Matt Kuchar fired a 3-over 74, staggering through a stretch on the front nine where he hit three bogeys and a double. Defending champion Ernie Els was also at 74. Reigning US Open champion Justin Rose, ranked sixth in the world, produced a 4-over 75, failing to produce a single birdie until No. 17.

But few were as disappointed as fans of Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy at the close of play on Thursday. The former No. 1 was 1-over through the front nine, then went into a meltdown, with one birdie, two pars, four bogeys and two double bogeys downt he stretch to finish with an 8-over 79.

07//19/13, Friday

Tiger Woods might be the biggest name on the leaderboard after two days of the British Open, but he's not the biggest personality.

That title belongs to Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez, who in his 31st season as a professional is the Major's surprising leader after two rounds.

The 49-year-old Jimenez, who makes sure to smoke a cigar before bed and before each round, shot an even-par 71 that was good enough to put him in sole possession of the lead at 3-under.

Jimenez, with his pony tail and big sunglasses, had two birdies, two bogeys and 14 pars to take over the lead on a day that saw the course winning most of the matchups - thanks to little wind and hot conditions.

Woods also shot an even par and that allowed him to be one of four players tied for second at 2-under through two rounds. A long birdie putt on 18 got Woods and the crowd fired up for the weekend.

Joining him at 2-under are familiar faces Lee Westwood and Dustin Johnson, along with Sweden's Henrik Stenson.

Westwood had one of the best round of the day, firing a 3-under 68. He was in command of the course, hitting six birdies in the first 12 holes, then cooled off with three bogeys down the stretch.

Day One leader Zach Johnson shot a 4-over 75 to fall back to a tie for sixth, along with Martin Laird, Rafael Cabrera Bello and Angel Cabrera. American teenager Jordan Spieth, fresh off his John Deere Classic victory, was 3-over for the day, but is still in the hunt, 1-over for the tournament and tied for 11th.

American Phil Mickelson was also 3-over on the day, with a double bogey on No. 2 and another on No. 16 to drop to 1-over. After his red-hot 67 on Thursday, 56-year-old Mark O'Meara struggled to a 7-over 78 to fall to 3-over and tied for 24th.

Only 11 players shot under par on the day, and only one - Stenson - has been below par both days (a pair of 70s).

Former No. 1 Rory Mcilroy shot a 4-over 75, but easily missed the cut, finishing 12-over for the first two days. The cut-off was 8-over, meaning early vacations for McIlroy as well as notables including Jim Furyk, Justin Rose, Vijay Singh and Rickie Fowler.

Notable tee times (all times are Eastern Daily Times) for Saturday include Mickelson at 8:45 a.m.; Woods and Westwood at 10:10 a.m. and Stenson and Jimenez at 10:20 a.m.

07/20/13, Saturday

It's hard to imagine a more exciting top four going into the final round than what's in store Sunday at the British Open. The quartet at the top of the leaderboard includes the greatest active player, arguably the best active player to never win a Major, one of the top young Americans in the game today, and an Aussie who already has one Major title under his belt this year.

That's the size of things, with England's Lee Westwood, 40 years old and ranked No. 36 in the world, owning a two-stroke lead at 3-under after firing a 1-under 70 on Saturday.

Westwood had an erratic round, three bogeys, an eagle and a birdie on the front nine, but a birdie on No. 17 got him back under for the day.

He sits two strokes ahead of his playing partner for Sunday, the 31-year-old Hunter Mahan, who tied for the top round on the day with a 3-under 68 to get to 1-under on the tournament.

Mahan opened and closed strong, with birdies on No. 1 and 2, and No. 15 and 17. He's tied for second with Tiger Woods, who was 1-over for the day but is still 1-under for the tournament. A bogey on No. 17 kept the 14-time Major winner from being a stroke closer to the lead.

And then there's Adam Scott, the 33-year-old who won the Masters three months ago.

Scott was 1-under for the day and is at even par for the tournament. Scott is seeking to become the first man to win two Majors in the same year since Padraig Harrington in 2008. If he were to take the title, he would join one of the rarest circles in professional sports. Only seven men previous have won the Masters and the British Open in the same year  - Arnold Palmer, Jack Nickalus, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Ni ck Faldo, Mark O'Meara and Woods.

Behind Scott is a four-way tie for fifth at one over that includes Angel Cabrear, Day One leader Zach Johnson and Sweden's Henrik Stenson, who shot a 3-over 74.

At 2-over are Francesco Molinari and Phil Mickelson.

Day 2 leader Miguel Angel Jimenez disappeared just as quickly as he had arrived, part of a seven-way tied for 11th at 3-over. Jimenez's lead disappeared quickly as he hit four bogeys in the first eight holes and added a double on 16 for a 6-over 77.

07/21/13, Sunday

There were healthy servings of crow all around served at the final round of the British Open on Sunday. Those who blasted Phil Mickelson a month ago for being able to close out another Major were offered first taste.

Playing arguably the greatest closing round of his 21-year career, Mickelson shot a closing round 66, tying the lowest round for the entire tournament, and rocketing to a three-stroke victory, finishing at 69-74-72-66 - 281.

It's the fifth Major of Mickelson's career, his first across the pond, and a sweet comeback from his failings at the US Open in June.

At 2-over to start the day, Mickelson reached even par at the turn. He bogeye No. 10, then came alive down the stretch, birdying 13, 14, 17 and 18 to put the rest of the field in his rear-view mirror.

Sweden's Henrik Stenon, the only man to shoot under par in three of the four rounds, finished second with a 70-70-74-70 - 284. Stenson fired his third round of 70 for the tournament on Sunday, but fell out of true contention when he bogeyed 12 and 13 back-to-back.

England's Lee Westwood started the day 3-under, but shot a 4-over 75 to finish tied for third with Ian Poulter and Adam Scott at 1-over. Westwood seemed like a bunker magnet at times, struggling to just one birdie against five bogeys.

Scott, seeking to become just the eighth man to win The Masters and the Brisih Open in the same season, hit four birdies between 7 and 11 to take a three-stroke lead, but gave it all back in disastrous stretch that saw him hit four straight bogeys between 13 and 17.

Tiger Woods, who started the day just one stroke behind Westwood, suffered almost the same fate, with three bogeys on his first six holes. With the lead up for grabs just before Mickelson's charge, Woods made a play for it by birdying 12 and 14, but his bogey on 15 sealed his fate as he finished at 69-71-72-74 - 286.

Starting the day at 5-over, Ian Poulter wasn't much of a consideration in the field, especially after he bogeyed No. 3 to fall to 6-over. But things got interesting for the 37-year-old when he birdied No. 5 and notched an eagle on No. 9 to drop to 3-over.

The cameras started following Poulter in earnest when he opened the back nine with three straight birdies to get to even par, but he cooled off with a bogey on No. 16. He was the leader in the clubhouse for a bit thanks to his early tee&n bsp;time, but when Mickelson caught fire, Poulter could only watch.

Day One leader Zach Johnson finished tied for sixth at 2-over with Woods and Hideki Matsuyama. Hunter Mahan, who started the day one stroke out of the lead, shot a 4-over 75 to finish tied for ninth.

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