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Issue Date:- 16 July 2008

Open Golf - Last Practise Day Wednesday 16 July 2008
Photographs and report by Patrick Trollope.

SPECTATORS attending the last day of practice at the 137th Open Championship, on 16 July, at Royal Birkdale experienced a very interesting day. With 156 men chasing the Claret Jug, and the absence of Tiger Woods, who is recovering from knee surgery, this year's event is promising to become one of the most open of Opens in recent years. Because of this very openness, it was surprising not to see more players out practising on the course. The play on the course, just like the weather, was unpredictable, and intermittent. The wind played all types of tricks on the trajectory of the golf balls, many going astray. On 14th hole, balls flew straight off the fairway and, at one point, narrowly missing the photographers and marshals who were standing well off the green. Even on the fairway, on 14th hole, it was not safe, as one player narrowly missed being hit out of a bunker. This made fantastic viewing, despite the intermittent play. On the 18th hole even the BBC camera team were having fun, as their background plants kept blowing down. Despite this, all the players leaving the course at the 18th had smiles on their faces. If the wind keeps up or gets stronger, it will be very interesting to see what will happen tomorrow (Thursday, 17 July 2008) as the competition starts. It might be the short distance players and not the target players and hard hitters who will be the most effective. Also causing concern to players is the new layout of the 17th hole, as Adam Scott put it:- "It is not the best of designs, but we will all have to play it, so I am not worried about it."

Open organisers are expecting about 200,000 people through the gates this week - and possibly up to 30,000 more if the sun comes out, but sunshine looks more and more unlikely. Commenting to the media championship, director David Hill said, that the fact of Woods's absence will not dent the attendance. "People are coming to see the Open more than ever. It's disappointing Tiger's not here, but the fans think this is a special week and they've made up their minds to come."

Adding more interest to the unfolding drama, is that Padraig Harrington aborted his practice round after just two shots, complaining of pain in his wrist. He later returned to work on his putting and short game. In a press interview he told the media that he is "75% hopeful" of lining up at the 1st tee to start the defence of his Open title at Royal Birkdale on Thursday. Also suffering from injuries is John Daly, a former Open champion, who is defying doctors' orders not to play at Birkdale. John Daly told the media:- "My doctor told me I shouldn't play. I've got tendonitis in my left elbow and I had a cyst on my right hand that was a calcium build-up that we thought was arthritis, and they got that out. So it's just been one thing after another."

On the eve of the tournament with the so many variables you could not have asked for a better build-up for the 2008 Open. It is now well and truly anyone's guess as to who will get the title this year! One thing is for sure, who ever wins this year, will have earned his cheque for £750,000 and a place in history; not forgetting the possession of the coveted Claret Jug for a year...

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