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British Open: Wind the biggest challenge

Associated Press
SOUTHPORT, England ó Adam Scott and Justin Rose, friends since they were teenagers and top contenders in this British Open without Tiger Woods, passed each other on the putting green Wednesday and stopped to discuss their final day of preparation.
“Did you play?” Rose said.
“Nine holes,” Scott said with a smile, his hand on the bill of his cap to keep it from blowing off. “Not much point today.”
That was more than Rose had on his agenda ó four closing holes at Royal Birkdale that was all he would need to experience the relentless, 25 mph wind off the Irish Sea. The loop includes the 439-yard 16th, where some players struggled to reach the fairway that is only about 210 yards from the tee. It concludes with the 473-yard 18th, where Geoff Ogilvy hit sand wedge for his second shot.
Throw in the other holes, and a links course known as being the most fair has become a real beast.
“It’s just survival, anyway,” Rose said. “There’s not a whole bunch you can learn out there. It is just brutally tough, and you’ve just got to go out there and deal with it on the day.”
For all the bluster about this British Open being easier without Woods around, the difficulty has nothing to do with the absence of any one player. The real threat arrived in the strongest wind of the week, with no evidence it is leaving anytime soon.
“The wind is affecting the ball 20, 30, 40 yards at times,” Scott said. “It’s hard at the best of times.”
Steve Stricker played his first practice round Sunday in a gentle breeze and hit 8-iron into the 421-yard second hole. In his final nine holes of practice Wednesday, he hit a 3-wood.
Then came the sixth hole, a severe dogleg to the right at 499 yards that turns toward the sea. Stricker studied his yardage book, felt the wind blasting into his face, and felt his only chance was to hit driver off the deck. And he still couldn’t reach the green.
“That’s what I mean by challenging,” Stricker said. “The way it’s blowing, there’s not a lot of opportunities to make birdies.”
Hunter Mahan, longer off the tee than Stricker, had to rip a 3-wood to reach the sixth green.
“I told Hunter that it’s a good thing he transferred to Oklahoma State from USC,” said fellow Cowboy alum Scott Verplank. “Because you learn to keep the ball down in the wind. And that’s going to help you this week.”
The British Open gets under way Thursday at Royal Birkdale and rarely has it been this wide open.
Woods is out for the rest of the year after reconstructive surgery on his left knee, and Padraig Harrington might have withdrawn with his ailing right wrist if this weren’t the British Open and he wasn’t the defending champion.
“I’ll be apprehensive hitting any shot,” Harrington said.
The betting favorites are Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els, who have been threats at golf’s oldest championship most of the decade, with Rose the sentimental favorite as he tries to become the first English winner on an English links since Tony Jacklin in 1969.
The Royal & Ancient sounded delighted by the forecast.
“I think all is set for tomorrow for perhaps a windier championship than we’ve had in recent years,” R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. “The forecast seems to be moving the wind speeds up slowly but surely, and I think we’re going to have a bit of breeze for once, which is good to look forward to.”

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