Tiger hoping practice will make perfect

TIGER WOODS has been out on the Turnberry links for the last two mornings while the vast majority of us were still fast asleep.

He was sticking to his policy of playing his practice rounds at the crack of dawn when he knows he will have the place to himself. With another 18 holes behind him yesterday, he was hard at work on the practice putting green before 10.30am. It is Woods’s first visit to Turnberry so he will almost certainly play at least one more full round before going into action at 9.09am on Thursday morning alongside Lee Westwood, the English golfer who got to within a shot of Woods in last year’s US Open at Torrey Pines, and the Japanese teenager Ryo Ishikawa.

Few players like to find themselves in the same group as Woods or even in the match immediately ahead of or behind the runaway world number one. It will be nothing new for Westwood, however, as he partnered Tiger in the final round of the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines and only gave best at the very final hole where Woods holed an 18-foot birdie putt to force a play-off against Rocco Mediate.

However, Westwood insists that he is not fazed. “I always enjoy playing with Tiger and always play pretty well. I played with him at Troon with Greg Norman and it was a great atmosphere.

“I’m experienced enough to deal with all the distraction after 16 years in the game. I concentrate on my own game and just enjoy the experience. You know at the start of the week Tiger’s going to be there or thereabouts come Sunday so what better place than to keep an eye him than actually playing with him. A lot of people might feel intimidated but sometimes he’s quite nice to watch, you can feed off how good he is.”

Careful not to omit the 17-year-old Ishikawa from the conversation, Westwood went on: “At the Matchplay in Tucson, he wasn’t even in the tournament and he had 50-60 reporters walking round with him. That’s the kind of entourage he carries around so it should be pretty busy. Everyone out there is accredited and knows the rules. Whenever I play in Japan, I always get a very special welcome and that won’t change. I can’t remember being 17. He obviously has a big future but this is a big step up the ladder.”

The chat ended, inevitably with Tiger, as Westwood reiterated: “I enjoyed that last day at Torrey Pines. That’s exactly where you want to be. It will be a great atmosphere out there. We’ll have a chat and talk about the weather.”

Woods described Turnberry as “a lot more difficult than people are letting on”. The world No1 may not know much as yet about Turnberry but he had not visited Hoylake before the 2006 Open either and won there by two shots from his fellow American Chris DiMarco.

“You’ve just got to do your homework,” added Woods after a round that began around 6.30am.

The victory three years ago was notable for the fact that he used his driver only once in the entire championship and his playing partner Nick Faldo reckoned that there was no need for it even then.

After recent rain – there were more showers yesterday morning – Turnberry is not as fast-running as Royal Liverpool and he has still to decide his strategy.

“I’ve got the driver in the bag but I don’t know when it’s going to be used,” he said.

Meanwhile Darren Clarke believes Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland deserves to be considered as a venue again for the British Open.

“As good a links course on the planet,” says Clarke, back in the Open this year after failing to qualify for Royal Birkdale.

“With the new tees it’s magnificent and the players would relish it. I can’t see a reason why it shouldn’t go back there.”

In 2007 Royal and Ancient Club championship secretary David Hill, himself from Portrush, said: “I looked at it in great detail about five or six years ago.

“It would be a fantastic venue, but only for about 15,000 people a day.

“There would have to be an amazing investment to consider taking it back to Ireland. The Seniors Open was at Portrush and with 6,000 people we were struggling. It’s jammed with normal holiday-makers as it is.”

Britain’s Max Faulkner was the winner there in 1951 by two strokes from Argentina’s Antonio Cerda.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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