Swing changes, but no change in the Open favorite
TIM DAHLBERG,
AP Sports Columnist

TURNBERRY, Scotland (AP) — Padraig Harrington was conjuring up images of Howard Hughes, for reasons he was finding hard to explain. Something about tearing things down and putting them back together, like a golf swing he didn’t think was good enough even though it helped him win the last two British Opens.

Tiger Woods could relate. The two dry periods in his otherwise remarkably consistent career came when he, too, was trying to change a swing that was plenty good to beat his fellow competitors at the time, but one he knew wouldn’t last over the years.

“Sometimes it can be a little difficult because you get questioned quite a bit,” Woods said. “But you have to understand the big picture for yourself.”

Woods seems to have mastered that part of the equation, even if he still is putting the finishing touches on a swing that was rebuilt even before it could be tested on his rebuilt left knee. Understanding where he stands in golf history and what it will take for him to eventually be recognized as the greatest golfer ever has always been a part of his overall game plan.

That’s a big reason why Woods, who never saw the seaside links of Turnberry before playing his first practice round on Sunday, is such a prohibitive favorite to win his fourth Open title this week. Though there’s the usual assortment of challengers and wannabes from both sides of the pond, walk into a Scottish betting parlor and you won’t find many people other than immediate family members throwing away their hard-earned pounds on them.

Woods being favored, of course, is hardly new. It happens every time he tees it up and it’s been happening for nearly a decade now at the British Open, ever since he came over in 2000 and blew the field away in a nearly flawless performance at St. Andrews.

What is relatively new is that Woods is healthy again after the knee surgery that forced him to miss last year’s Open. While Harrington successfully defended his title at Royal Birkdale, Woods was working hard just to make it from his bed to the couch.

Listen to the questions from the British press about his knee and attitude at his Tuesday press conference, though, and you might think this was Woods’ first tournament back. In fact, Woods has already won three times and done better than even he imagined, though his failure to win at both the Masters and U.S. Open clearly left him frustrated.

Not nearly as frustrated as Harrington. The Irishman is a two-time defending champion and has won three of the last six majors, but he’s spent most of the year trying to change his swing so he doesn’t get stuck at the top and hit the golf ball in places he doesn’t want it to go.

It’s been a struggle, as evidenced by his missed cut at the U.S. Open and the three straight 73s he shot on Augusta National this year. But Harrington said the changes will eventually help him compete for a long time at a top level, and cited Hughes and the eccentric billionaire’s obsessive desire to understand how things work, as an example of his thinking.

Asked by a reporter if he knew that Hughes was “a drooling lunatic,” Harrington replied: “That’s questionable.”

It was that kind of day at Turnberry, where the Open returns for the first time since Nick Price won here in 1994. Heavy rain fell at times, sending spectators and players scurrying for cover. The obligatory pre-tournament controversy erupted with hurricane force to give the British tabloids plenty to write about.

This one, fittingly enough, was an all-Scottish affair, touched off by comments in the morning papers by former Open champion Sandy Lyle basically accusing Colin Montgomerie of cheating when he took a favorable drop in the Indonesian Open four years ago. Lyle, upset at being criticized for quitting after nine holes in the driving rain of last year’s first round, lashed out by saying he thought Montgomerie’s actions were worse than his.

Lyle drew a crowd of reporters as large as the one surrounding Woods when he came to the interview room to read a statement of regret, saying he wasn’t “at war” with the man who got the European Ryder Cup captain’s job he also coveted. When questions came, though, it seemed as though Lyle wasn’t regretting much.

“It was all there to be seen,” Lyle said, referring to the drop. “I didn’t prefabricate it.”

Lyle wasn’t alone in having to answer the tough questions. Woods got some, too, as he often does.

Woods flew here on his private jet, and his personal chef will make sure he doesn’t have to eat any haggis this week. He makes $100 million or so a year, a picture-perfect family, and is celebrated around the world.

So, Tiger, a reporter desperately in search of a fresh angle asked, are there ever times you wish you were someone else?

“Wish I was someone else?” Woods said, pausing ever so slightly.

“No.”

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org


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