The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tiger early on to the greens

No one is about to tell Tiger Woods that he cannot continue with his early-morning practice rounds on the days leading up to the British Open at Royal St George’s, Sandwich. Though the gates will not open to spectators until 8.30am on Monday and 7.00 on Tuesday and Wednesday, the chances are that the world No. 1 will do as he has always done in stealing out to play at 6am.

Spectators took a dim view of it at last year’s Ryder Cup when they timed their arrival at the Belfry to coincide with the American team’s final practice rounds, only to discover that Woods and Mark Calcavecchia had played all the golf they intended to between 6.45 and 9.00.

Speaking after the Open briefing Tuesday, Peter Dawson, the secretary of the Royal and Ancient, said that he did not have a problem with Woods’ practice habits. “In the ordinary course of events, Tiger gets so mobbed that you can understand why he feels the need to be out there on his own,” he said. “It might be different if other players were complaining but, so far, there have been no objections. They understand how it is for him.”

The practising concession apart, Woods does not expect anything in the way of special treatment at the Open. Dawson admires him for this as much as anything else, though his favourite illustration of Woods, the man, concerns his acceptance of that third-round 81 at Muirfield last year. “He wasn’t remotely moody,” Dawson said.

Play in the Open itself, which takes place from July 17-20, will start half an hour earlier — at 6.30 rather than 7.00. This is to permit the same playing time as in Scotland, where the evenings are lighter for longer.

With the more stringent play policy first adopted last year, David Pepper, the chairman of the championship committee, predicts rounds of no more than 4-1/2 hours — and that though one or two of the deeper bunkers smack of a life sentence. Reflecting well on the course’s defences, the R&A have lengthened it by no more than 246 yards since 1993.

This year’s winner will pick up £700,000, the same figure that Ernie Els received at Muirfield.

However, an additional £100,000 to be distributed through the field from the second man down will bring the overall purse to £3.9 million.

In 2004, international final qualifying competitions for Troon will be played in Africa, Asia, Australasia, America and Europe. Regional qualifying will be retained at 16 venues and local final qualifying will still take place at Glasgow Gailes, Irvine, Turnberry Kintyre and Western Gailes. That only 12 players can make it through the so-called ‘romantic route’ may come as a disappointment to some, but Dawson feels they have the balance right.

No women are about to be introduced to the Open or, for that matter, to the R&A or Royal St George’s. Yet officialdom handled what has become a delicate matter with infinitely more tact than did Hootie Johnson, the chairman of Augusta, at this year’s Masters.

David Bonsall, the captain of Royal St George’s, said that there had as yet been ‘no push’ for women to join but that the situation was always under review.Not too long ago, the club did an informal poll of around 150 members, members’ wives and ‘unattached ladies’ — local women who pay green fees. Heaven knows whether Royal St George’s were mildly affronted, but the women all gave the impression that joining the club was not something they would ever want to do.

Linda Bayman, a former British champion, a Curtis Cup golfer and the wife of a member, was one who voted to retain the status quo. Which is maybe not surprising when you consider that she can play virtually whenever she likes, with her home so close to the course that a ball struck from the fourth fairway once finished up in her bath.

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