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Page last updated at 15:23 GMT, Wednesday, 14 July 2010 16:23 UK

Open 2010: Tiger Woods bids for St Andrews hat-trick

The Open Championship, St Andrews, 15-18 July
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Tiger Woods

Woods faces up to media glare

By Rob Hodgetts
BBC Sport at St Andrews

The world's golfing elite are aiming to prevent Tiger Woods becoming the first man to win three straight Open titles at St Andrews when the 150th anniversary of the championship tees off over the Old Course on Thursday.

Woods is chasing a 15th major title but has been rocked by scandal in his private life and his rivals sense a chance of a precious victory at the fabled home of golf.

Masters champion Phil Mickelson could usurp Woods as world number one if he were to win his first Open title and fifth major in all, while Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell is looking for back-to-back major victories after his triumph at the US Open last month.

World number three Lee Westwood has finished in the top three in three of the last four majors and is desperate to avenge last year's near miss at Turnberry, but has been struggling with a recent calf injury.

Graeme McDowell

McDowell reflects on 'whirlwind' few weeks

"If I don't play well I won't put it down to the injury. It's frustrating, but I'm still hoping for a good week," said Westwood.

His countryman Justin Rose is the form player coming into the tournament after two wins in three events in America recently.

And Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, 21, is tipped to have a strong week on a course where he has never scored worse than 70.

England's Luke Donald, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter are all ranked in the world top 10 and could be among those with a chance of becoming the first Briton to triumph at the Open since Scotland's Paul Lawrie won at Carnoustie in 1999.

The weather is set to play a major part in deciding this year's championship, the 28th to be held at the Old Course since 1873, with wind and rain forecast for at least some of the next four days.

Such was the severity of the conditions that the pre-Championship Champions Challenge scheduled for Wednesday had to be abandoned.

Woods, who tees off with Rose and Colombian Camilo Villegas at 0909 BST on Thursday, won the last of his 14 major titles in 2008 but then spent nine months out for knee surgery before a further five-month lay-off at the beginning of this year after his extra-marital revelations.

The American, who parted company with coach Hank Haney earlier this year, finished fourth in the two majors he has played since returning, and after winning by eight strokes in 2000 and five in 2005 is still considered the bookmakers' favourite.

Phil Mickelson

Mickelson excited to be back

The 34-year-old's popularity has slumped since his scandal broke but he insists he is not trying to seek redemption as he chases Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major titles.

"I would like to win no matter what," said Woods. "To win here is certainly one of the bigger highlights of my career, because it is the home of golf.

"It's amazing how many great champions have won here and to be a part of that history is a pretty neat feeling."

Mickelson's recent Open record is relatively poor, with tied 19th his best result in the last five years, but the 40-year-old says he expects to be a serious contender at what he calls a "spiritual" venue.

"This is a golf course that every player would love to win on and I just love playing it. I expect to play well here and I expect to be in contention," said the 40-year-old left-hander, whose best Open finish is third in 2004.

Mickelson would also take the number one spot in the rankings if he finishes in the first four and Woods misses the cut for the second year running.

Rose admits that he will be numbered among the favourites but says his recent success in the US will count for nothing.

"Thursday is about a new challenge, a new week, a new golf course," said the 29-year-old, who finished fourth as an amateur in 1998. "But should the week progress nicely and I find myself in contention then that's when I might be able to draw upon the last few weeks."

Rose does though think that there could be another European Open champion to add to Padraig Harrington's wins in 2007 and 2008.

606: DEBATE
Jimbohammers

And the Irishman is many people's idea of the winner after coming through some atrocious weather at Royal Birkdale two years ago, particularly as Woods's wins at St Andrews have been in good conditions.

"I fully expect, whether you take it a little bit wider into European, one of us to be in contention on Sunday - just pure numbers," said Rose.

But no player has won their first major title at St Andrews since American Tony Lema edged out Nicklaus in 1964.

The Americans have an impressive record at the Open and the US has clinched seven of the last 10, although three of those were won by Woods.

Defending champion Stewart Cink could be coming in "under the radar" according to the man he beat in a play-off at Turnberry last year - fellow American Tom Watson.

Lee Westwood

Westwood feeling confident

The five-time Open champion's runner-up spot earned him a special exemption to return at the age of 60, but Watson warns his form is not up to that of 12 months ago.

"I'm putting well but my ball-striking is off, which I'm a little worried about in the wind," said Watson, who was second at St Andrews behind Seve Ballesteros in 1984.

Lawrie tees off in the first group along with Frenchman Thomas Levet and American Steve Marino at 0630 BST on Thursday.



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see also
Open Championship R4 tee times
17 Jul 10 |  Golf
Rose partners Woods at St Andrews
12 Jul 10 |  Golf
Caddie criticises Woods's putting
14 Jul 10 |  Golf
Poor weather hits Champions event
14 Jul 10 |  Golf
Woods selects new putter for Open
13 Jul 10 |  Golf
Mickelson banks on Faldo wisdom
13 Jul 10 |  Golf
Wednesday Open practice pictures
14 Jul 10 |  Golf
Open practice pictures
12 Jul 10 |  Golf
Golf on the BBC
01 Jul 11 |  Golf


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