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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 July, 2005, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
When practice is perfect
By Matthew Slater
BBC Sport at St Andrews

Michael Campbell
Michael Campbell takes it easy before the serious work starts
Attending one of the practice days before an Open Championship is a bit like entering a parallel universe.

The sights and sounds, fittings and fixtures are all in place, but there is something not quite right.

They're trying, they're just not trying that hard.

There's money at stake, it's just that it's more likely to be a 20 skin than a 10-foot putt for 720,000.

Sometimes they race round like they've promised the wife they will be able to get 18 holes in AND cut the grass before the in-laws arrive.

Sometimes they amble about as if they don't want to go home or the wife will make them cut the grass.

There are those who take a back-to-basics approach to things - just a handful of clubs thrown in a knapsack and a devil-may-care attitude - and there are those that want to attempt every shot with every club from every blade of grass.

There is also the unalloyed pleasure of watching excellent golfers give each other a "mulligan".

Attempt to cut too much off the corner at the 17th, no matter - reload and have another go (just ask Nick Price, who nearly bounced one off the roof of the Jigger Inn).

Jack Nicklaus
Even in practice, Jack Nicklaus pulls a crowd

And the four days of practice that run from Sunday are probably the only days you will get to see Tiger Woods display his sand prowess - take my word for it, the world number one has visited lots of St Andrews' bunkers, it's just that he threw his ball in.

But perhaps the most serendipitous part about Open practice is the groupings.

You want to watch a craftsman go about his business?

Follow Vijay Singh or Retief Goosen - as well as their psychologist, agent, swing doctor, putting coach, nutritionist, celebrity friend, fashion director and caddie - around and you will get a masterclass in course management.

Legends of the game more your thing? No problem, Tuesday's replay of the classic Jack Nicklaus-Tom Watson clash of 1977 (with Kenny Perry and Mike Weir thrown in) was the week's biggest draw so far.

It might not have had the intensity of the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry, but at a rumoured $500 a hole, don't let anybody tell you it didn't matter.

Keen watchers of the game might like to witness a passing of the baton - Nick Faldo's outings with the likes of Paul Casey, Nick Dougherty and Ian Poulter serve this purpose for English fans, while Australians will be hoping that is what Greg Norman and Adam Scott were doing.

Maybe you're more of a Caddyshack fan - well Tuesday's Stuart Appleby, Nick Flanagan, Mark Hensby, Craig Parry four-ball was like an episode of Kath and Kim meets Soccer Saturday. The golf was so-so but it sounded a riot.

You want to catch Tiger before the big crowds arrive on Thursday? Too bad, you've missed him.

There is an unwritten rule that Tiger goes first, when he wants to, from where he wants to.

While you were wiping up the eggy remains of your breakfast with a last piece of toast, Woods and Mark O'Meara were striding up the 18th fairway contemplating a well-earned brunch.

In fact, if there was one constant to Open practice it's that Tiger will have finished his round hours ago.

The slots are supposed to be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. It's pretty informal, but a list goes up in the clubhouse and a player (or his practice round booker guru) scribbles his name next to a time slot.

There is, however, an unwritten rule that Tiger goes first. He also goes when he wants to - the earliest official slot of 0700 isn't early enough for him - and from where he wants to.

You or I would not be allowed to sneak on at the second, but then you or I haven't won nine majors before turning 30.

The guardians of the clubhouse assure me it has never happened, but I am intrigued to know what would happen if Mardan Mammat or Tino Schuster wanted an early start and got there first .. would Tiger have to settle for second?

Which brings us neatly to the final benefit of attending practice rounds - a good steer on where to invest your 2 each way.

Well, the evidence of the last few days would suggest that the parallel universe we are inhabiting this week is a mirror image of the last time the Open visited St Andrews.

That year Tiger won by eight shots.

If practice really does make perfect, perfect practice must add up to a second Claret Jug and 10th major title.

Interview: Tiger Woods

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