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Tale of the Tiger: More genius than power

TURNBERRY, Scotland – “A long iron wi' a head on top” is how the locals describe the style of player most likely to win this year's British Open.

The implication, that it is by thought and craft rather than brute force that the victor will emerge, should make for a compelling championship on the links of west Scotland.

To the untrained eye, Tiger Woods, a man whose ferocious power and driving length helped change the face of golf, might be expected to have his usual favoritism curtailed by such circumstance.

But that would disregard the full extent of Woods' genius, his ability to think his way around a course, and his love for the intricacies of this game.

If the thought that not all of Woods' physical force can be used at Turnberry is of some solace to his rivals, then a more sobering concept immediately emerges. This is an arena that will force the world No.1 to tap every resource of his willpower and creativity – to think his way towards a 15th major.

For the field that is surely an idea far more chilling then even the brisk breeze whisking in from the Firth of Clyde and sweeping across this treacherous stretch of golfing history. And to suggest that Woods might be

hungry would be akin to asking if Scots like haggis.

Padraig Harrington enters as the two-time defending champion, having ended Europe's long major drought in 2007 and backing it up with a magical Sunday back nine at Birkdale last year. But it is Woods who is the subject of all the pre-tournament chatter.

The Brits missed him last year while he was hobbling from his bed to his armchair with a knee that crackled odiously with every movement.

There is a fascination to see how he will fare here and more pointedly, how he will play.

“Tiger has that ability to get to grips with any course he plays on and sometimes makes it look ridiculously easy,” said Harrington.

“There is no way this course can be described as easy and there are heavy punishments if you don't drive the ball well. It will be fun to see what Tiger does with it.”

But who says Woods will even pull the driver out of the bag? He barely did at Hoylake three years ago, coasting to victory behind the weight of his precise long irons.

One savvy local surveying the scene at Wednesday practice said: “That man plays a different course to everyone else. If he keeps it straight, he could win playing with nothing heavier than a five-iron.”

What it is worth remembering is that Woods, quite simply, is the smartest golfer on the planet, to go along with the multitude of other tags like wealthiest, most famous, most marketable, strongest, toughest et al.

The sheer bunkers of Turnberry are well worth avoiding and it would be no surprise to see him play cautiously off the tee in order to put a premium on steering clear of sand trouble.

Obviously, there are more hazards than the sand, as a recent members tournament which recorded 480 lost balls testifies. Somewhere out in the thicket lies a swathe of balls that became nothing more than memories of folly, never to be found.

Yet if Turnberry's defenses are punitive, it is also a venue that rewards the worthy rather than the fortunate.

The three previous British Open winners here are Tom Watson, Greg Norman and Nick Price – a trio of superstars who were operating at the peak of their powers at the time of their triumphs.

It could all go wrong of course, and the champion could emerge from the unlikeliest of sources, such is the prerogative of the unpredictable old claret jug.

Yet there is an unshakeable sense that Woods will be in the frame here, the occasion and location seeming all too perfect for him to get back to major championship-winning ways.

If so, we will get to see an artist at work, negotiating his way around a complex canvas.