| Woods says he has a good chance of winning
Sandwich : The mouth-watering prospect of world No. 1 Tiger Woods and world No. 2 Ernie Els going head-to-head come Sunday has brought record crowds to the 132nd Open this week.
Both stars arrived here having won their last tournaments — Woods the Western Open and Els the Scottish Open — and a confident Els does not dismiss that this could be the week for a Sunday showdown.
“I think so,” says defending champion Els. “Tiger is playing really well. I have been playing well, so hopefully it happens.”
Woods, without a major title to his name for the first time since the 1999 USPGA, is also relishing the thought of he and Els fighting it out at the weekend.
“Hopefully we can both play well, where we both have a chance on Sunday afternoon,” said the 27-year-old.
What is sure come Sunday is that the winner will be one of the world’s best.
The Royal St George’s links are the most demanding on the whole Open rota. When Greg Norman won here in ’93 the final leaderboard read like a who’s who of golf of the era — Corey Pavin, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo, Els, Nick Price and Freddie Couples — all shotmakers supreme.
And Faldo says that favours the European players, Els being considered a member as he plied his trade in Europe before moving to the States and still retains a home at Wentworth.
“This year’s a good year, the way the course is set up. This is true links. European players have a really good chance this year,” said Faldo. The Englishman, with six majors to his name, includes himself in the list of potential winners. Faldo insists that if he did not think he could not win he would not be here.
“Obviously the odds are slimmer now but a links like this is going to give me a better chance,” he said.
The make-up of Royal St George’s has surprised some of the pre-tournament favourites, looking at it for the first time. The baking sun that has beaten down on the Kent coastline this week has turned the fairways bone hard but it is their undulations that will sort out the men from the boys this week.
Newly-crowned US Open champion Jim Furyk warns that this Open is going to be more gruelling than before because of the condition of the course.
“It’s very tight,” said Furyk. “It’s going to test our patience. I think more than any course I have played. I know when you play links golf there’s a chance of hitting the ball down the middle and getting a kick left or right and possibly going into the rough or deep rough, and I think that’s more evident this week at this golf course.”
Two players strongly tipped to return the Claret Jug to Europe are Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke. Both were brought up on links courses and feel at home on them.
Harrington, the only European in the world top ten, knows the frustrations the players will face here.
“There will definitely be times out there you’ll only be half hoping to hit the fairway. Some familiarity with links golf is needed,” said the Dubliner.
Clarke admits he enjoys links golf the best and cannot wait for Thursday’s first round.
Colin Montgomerie, Europe’s answer to Phil Mickelson as the best player never to have won a Major, is having a miserable season but the burly Scot can never be written off.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia , paired in the first two rounds with Woods, finished eighth at Muirfield last year and ninth the year before. He says his swing changes are now falling into place .
“I played with Sergio in practice and he was driving great,” said the ‘leftie’. But for the crowds, a Woods-Els shootout will be the perfect final act.