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America's Open love affair

The 138th Open, Turnberry
Date: 16-19 July
Coverage: Live TV coverage on BBC Two, Online and the Red Button, live on Radio 5 Live and text commentary online on all four days

Kenny Perry, Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk
Perry, Woods and Furyk are all strong contenders from across the pond

By Mark Orlovac
BBC Sport at Turnberry

When discussion turns to who will win this year's Open, a certain American player with the initials TW will feature as many people's pick for the title.

As world number one and a three-time Open champion, it is hardly a surprise that Tiger Woods gets top billing on his return to the event after missing out because of injury last year.

But if history is anything to go by, it would be a major surprise if the 33-year-old is the only player from across the Atlantic challenging for the Claret Jug on Sunday.

The common perception is that American players, who are used to playing on sheltered courses, soft fairways and receptive greens, are not comfortable with the unique challenges of links golf - with its bump-and-run style, brutal elements, deep bunkers and unforgiving rough.

However, the stats - if you will excuse the expression - kick that idea into the long grass.

606: DEBATE
CougarForest

An American has won the Open 10 times over the last 14 years and since 2000 there have only been two years when there were not at least three players from the United States in the top 10.

In 2000, six of the top 10 were American, while in 2004 at Troon, the last time the Open was held on the west coast of Scotland, winner Todd Hamilton headed a list of five in the top 10.

All of those stats are just since 1995. Throw in the likes of Tom Watson (five wins), Walter Hagen (four), Jack Nicklaus (three), Arnold Palmer (two) and Lee Trevino (two), and you can sense the love affair that American players have with the Open.

Leading the American challenge since 2000 has been Woods, who has shown the attention to detail and course management required to master links golf.

"I fell in love with links right away," Woods said this week. "I just fell in love with being able to use the ground as a friend, as an ally.

Woods takes inspiration from Federer

"We don't get to do that in the States, everything is up in the air. But here it is different. You hit a shot that's from 150 yards and you have so many options of how you could play it."

When he claimed victory at a sun-drenched Hoylake in 2006, Woods famously kept his driver in the bag - preferring placement to power on the parched fairways as he plotted his way to a two-stroke win over Chris DiMarco.

And if the fairways at Turnberry continue to dry out, do not bet against him doing the same here.

"You get to a point where you really can't control how far the ball is going to go," said Woods, who comes into the Open with three wins on the PGA Tour since returning from injury, the last one coming at the PGA National earlier this month.

"As far as hitting driver, it all depends on the wind, and a lot of it, even though we've had the same general direction (at the start of the week), it's been at three different angles. I've adjusted what I've hit off the tee."

Jim Furyk, the 2003 US Open champion, is another American who enjoys the variety that links golf offers.

"I like the creativity," he told BBC Sport. "You have to hit a lot of shots that we do not see in the States.

"Standing out on the practice tee all day probably does not help you that much in links golf. You have to create and invent and do some interesting stuff."

And the 39-year-old puts America's Open dominance down to the simple fact that good players can vary their game for any type of course.

"Guys that grew up playing links golf, the likes of Darren Clarke or Rory McIlroy when they go to other styles of golf courses, they are such good players that they adapt and can play well anywhere," he added.

I didn't fall in love with links golf until 1979. You've got to roll with the punches

Tom Watson

"As far as the Americans having a good run over here, those things happen. I don't think there is any reason for it other than good fortune of late and some good play by those guys."

Furyk is regarded by many as one of the challengers this week after a fine run of Open results - finishing fourth, tied for 12th and tied for fifth over the last three years.

His form this year is not too bad either, with seven top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, the best coming at the Memorial at the start of June when he finished second.

"I've always liked the golf course, I've been here before, just never seen it in an Open Championship," added Furyk, who has also played Royal Troon this week as part of his preparations.

"It's a good golf course, the obvious thing that's so difficult is the rough. It's really high. It's very thick and it's right off the fairways. So right now it's going to be a matter of trying to keep the ball on the fairways and in play."

Woods and Furyk are the top Americans in the betting stakes, but there are plenty of other contenders from across the pond.

Kenny Perry, who just missed out on his first major victory at the Masters in April, is back at the Open after skipping last year's championship to concentrate on making the winning American Ryder Cup team.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson back on the course where he won the Claret Jug 32 years ago

The 48-year-old, currently fourth in the world with two wins this year, says that advancements in technology have helped him cope with links golf.

"With the ball flying the way it does, high launch, no spin, that has helped me more than anything," he said.

"Ever since we went to the new ball in the early 2000s I've performed pretty good over here. I really don't have to adjust my game anymore. I just play my normal shot."

Hunter Mahan, 27, is another American who could have a say, coming into the Open on the back of three straight top-10 finishes - including a tie for sixth at the rain-hit US Open.

And as well as that you can throw into the mix the likes of world number six Steve Stricker, who has tied for seventh and eighth at the last two Opens, and rising star Anthony Kim, who finished tied for seventh in his championship debut last year.

The American contingent are set to dominate the leaderboard again this year and maybe they have decided to follow the example of Watson, who won the second of his five championship victories when Turnberry hosted its first Open in 1977.

"I didn't fall in love with links golf until 1979," he said. "The luck of the bounce and the sideways bounces - I didn't like that at all.

"But I told myself 'you can't fight this, if you're going to fight then you're never going to truly be a great success out here'. You've got to roll with the punches."



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see also
Woods targeting 15th major title
15 Jul 09 |  Golf
Woods fired up for Open success
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Monty unhappy with Lyle apology
15 Jul 09 |  Golf
Behind the scenes at the Open
14 Jul 09 |  Golf
Golf on the BBC
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Open round four tee-off times
18 Jul 09 |  Golf
Turnberry gallery
14 Jul 09 |  Golf
Memories of Turnberry
13 Jul 09 |  Golf


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