Mayhem surely to ensue with Woods-Ishikawa pairing

Updated: July 15, 2009

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- Anyone who has been to a golf tournament in which Tiger Woods was participating understands the chaos that surrounds the No. 1 golfer in the world.

In addition to the multitude of fans who follow him to get a glimpse of him, maybe even an autograph afterward, there is a mini-mob following him inside the ropes.

Ryo Ishikawa

Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images

Ryo Ishikawa will tee off with Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood at 4:09 a.m. ET Thursday. The Japanese phenom is making his first British Open appearance.

Credentialed media, photographers, officials, scorers, etc., cram inside the playing field, often numbering in the dozens, if not more than 100.

Now add in Ryo Ishikawa, and you've got an interesting scenario for the first two rounds of the Open Championship.

In terms of popularity, Ishikawa is Woods on steroids in Japan. He is every bit as popular, and it can be argued that he has a bigger media contingent that follows his every step. At PGA Tour events this spring in Florida, dozens of Japanese media shadowed the teenager from the time he exited his car through every practice shot and every competitive stroke until he left the premises.

Imagine what it will be like at Turnberry.

"Ever since I got into the British Open, it's like a total dream," Ishikawa said Wednesday on the eve of the 138th Open Championship. "I'm surprised to see Tiger in the same group, and also fans are surprised."

And no doubt, a bit apprehensive.

This is a far bigger stage than even Ishikawa, who won last month on the Japan Tour to get into the field, has imagined. And it might be unfair to put him in such a situation. Sure, he's a big boy now, and there is no coddling of players at the Open.

But is this really a good idea? And how fair is it to Lee Westwood, the third man in the group?

"I was obviously cognizant of the amount of media interest there is in that group," said Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A that runs the British Open. "I have since spoken -- I didn't speak prior, but I have since spoken to Tiger and to Lee Westwood. They're entirely happy about the grouping. And we're happy that we have good controls in place on the media following that group. There will be a lot of interest in it, that's for sure."

Woods joked when asked what he thought about the grouping.

"Very quiet," he said. "I don't think you guys [the media] will be out there, will you? It will be interesting. There will be a lot of people inside the ropes. It is what it is.

"I've been there before. Ryo hasn't -- I don't think. He's been there, but he hasn't done a major championship yet, but he certainly has had to deal with a lot of it at a very young age, and he's handled it well. So there's no reason why he can't play well the first two days and into the weekend. And hopefully I can do the same."

Still, why the theatrics? Woods and Ishikawa bring enough fanfare individually without adding to the madness by putting them together on purpose.

It is similar to the situation at the 2008 U.S. Open, where the USGA decided to group opening threesomes in world ranking blocks. That put Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott in the same group for the first two rounds. While the problems were minimal, it still made for a difficult situation for spectators who had no hope of seeing two of the most popular golfers.

One thing about Turnberry, it likely will be among the least-attended major championships, simply because of its remote location in Scotland.

Still, it won't look any less crowded inside the ropes.

Stirring it up

The Sandy Lyle-Colin Montgomerie tiff might not mean much to Americans, but it is an interesting study in the way things work over here.

First, the Ryder Cup is everything, even in a non-Ryder Cup year, even during the week of the Open Championship. That's understood.

But the "cheating" allegation that surfaced again this week was staged to coincide with the Open for maximum effect.

As it turns out, Lyle's comments were made a week ago at the Scottish Open and held until Tuesday.

Two reporters asked Lyle about his withdrawal from the 2008 British Open and whether he thought it had any effect on his being bypassed again for the European Ryder Cup captaincy. Lyle had walked off the course at Royal Birkdale after just 10 holes and was vilified for it. As it turned out, he had an injury, and he felt it was unfair that he was criticized for it. That's when he brought up the incident at the 2005 Indonesian Open, where after a round was suspended, Montgomerie improperly replaced his ball, a subject that still has legs.

Although it was four years ago and didn't affect Montgomerie's bid for the captaincy in 2010, Lyle mentioned it as being a far more egregious offense than withdrawing from a tournament.

And then the headlines commenced -- six days later.

Two newspapers sat on the information until after the Scottish Open and shared the information with a third, producing glaring, tabloid headlines on Tuesday, with Lyle basically calling Montgomerie a cheater.

The whole thing caused Lyle to call a news conference to apologize -- and then he reconfirmed his comments about Montgomerie, making for an awkward situation for the fellow Scots.

Lyle said what he said, so don't shoot the messenger. But you might question the timing.

A look at this week's venue

Turnberry is the most picturesque of the nine venues now in use for the Open Championship, but it hasn't been the host since 1994, when Nick Price won the second of his three major championships. Coincidence or not, the course hard by the Firth of Clyde on Scotland's west coast has produced terrific champions -- Tom Watson (1977), Greg Norman (1986) and Price.

Also the youngest of the nine venues, Turnberry has been lengthened to more than 7,200 yards with bunkers added and repositioned to better challenge players of the current era.

The course has yielded some low numbers in nice conditions -- 63 has been shot twice during Opens at Turnberry -- but as usual, weather will have a lot to say about the outcome. The wind typically comes from different directions, and players will be especially challenged by several holes that hug the coastline.

And if they are errant off the tee, forget it. The rough is extremely difficult, which has not always been the case at Turnberry.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.


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Birdies and bogeys

Birdies:

1. Steve Stricker. With a trip to the British Open looming, Stricker, 42, captured the John Deere Classic for his second victory this year and sixth of his PGA Tour career. He jumped to sixth in the world.

2. Martin Kaymer. Keep an eye on the German, who has won two straight in Europe at the French and Scottish opens. Kaymer, 24, now has four European titles and is up to 11th in the world.

3. John Deerre Classic/RBC Canadian Open. PGA Tour players have it pretty good, but those who wanted to play in the John Deere and the British Open really have it good and should be thankful. The John Deere provided a charter to Scotland -- for far less than it would have cost to fly first class -- and the Canadian Open is using it to get players to Canada after the British.

Bogeys:

1. Carolyn Bivens. The embattled LPGA Tour commissioner is out after a controversy-filled era -- which still doesn't solve the numerous problems faced by the tour.

2. Cristie Kerr. The LPGA Tour veteran and former U.S. Women's Open champion let a second title slip from her grasp with two late bogeys and a final-round 75.

3. Brett Quigley. A tie for second at the John Deere Classic earned Quigley one of the last spots in the British Open field. But Quigley declined, opting to play in Milwaukee instead. Spots in majors are too coveted to pass up when they come your way, although Quigley has another, more solid reason for heading to Milwaukee -- he will attend a memorial service for Chris Smith's wife, Beth, who was killed in a car crash last month.

Brew Town

Six time zones removed from the Open Championship, the PGA Tour is conducting its third opposite event of the year. The U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee offers an opportunity for those members not exempt for the Open -- although a victory does not mean a Masters invitation and comes with half the FedEx Cup points.

This year's tournament takes on some added significance because it could be the last. U.S. Bank is not renewing its title sponsorship, and given the current economic climate, that could cause difficulties.

The Milwaukee event has been hampered by going up against a major and is hoping to secure a new date in hopes of attracting a sponsor. The tournament dates to 1968.

Notables

• There are several omens that suggest Tiger Woods will win at Turnberry this week. In each of the previous three Opens at Turnberry, the winner turned out to be either the No. 1 player in the world or the one who was headed toward that honor. Woods is the obvious No. 1 now. Then there is this: Woods (2005-06) and Padraig Harrington ('07-08) became the first players to win consecutive Open Championships back to back since Bobby Jones (1926-27) and Walter Hagen ('28-29). Then Jones came back to win again in 1930.

• Gotta love the forecast: mostly dry with sunny spells and a 40 percent chance of rain. So if it rains, will it still be dry at Turnberry?

• There are 20 players in the field who also played in the last Open at Turnberry in 1994, but a more elite foursome is Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Sandy Lyle. Each is competing for the fourth time at Turnberry, the only players to be here for all four Opens.

• How great was the 1977 Open here? Seven of the top eight finishers are in the World Golf Hall of Fame: Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Hubert Green, Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Arnold Palmer and Raymond Floyd. The lone interloper was George Burns, who finished fifth.

• Steve Stricker's second victory of the year at the John Deere Classic was accomplished in part due to an impeccable short game. He got up and down all 17 times. The last time someone had a better week was in 2002, when Shigeki Maruyama was 21-for-21 at the Shell Houston Open.

• There have been just three first-time winners on the PGA Tour this year, while there were 12 last year. In the past 40 years, the smallest total was four, in 1992.

Quotable

"As far as driving, no, I don't drive. Stevie [Williams] drives. He's used to this side of the road. Unfortunately, he drives a little bit quick. … As far as the cuisine, I have a cook, and I'm trying to eat as healthy and trying to have the energy that I need to compete for the week."
-- Tiger Woods, when asked whether he drives on the left side of the road and whether he has sampled any Scottish food.

Catching up with last year's champ

Padraig Harrington is bidding to become just the fifth player -- the first three all did it in the 1800s -- to win the Open Championship in three consecutive years. His play this season, however, does not appear to be anywhere near the level necessary.

Aside from the Irish club pro event he won over the weekend, Harrington has missed five straight cuts and six of his past seven this year. He has missed half the cuts in 16 tournaments and has a single top-10.

The Irishman has been reworking his swing and says he is fine with the process of taking steps backward to move forward. We'll see whether any of the work pays off this week.

British Open picks

Horse for the Course. Tom Watson. We can dream, but it's no reach to say the 59-year-old five-time Open Champion still hits the ball like a much younger man.

Birdie Buster. Hunter Mahan. You have to like his form heading into the Open. Mahan tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, tied for fourth at the Travelers Championship and finished second to Tiger Woods at the AT&T National.

Super Sleeper. Thomas Levet. One of the last guys into the field (he got a spot when Brett Quigley declined his exemption), the Frenchman won the Spanish Open earlier this year and lost in a playoff at the British Open in 2002.

Winner. Tiger Woods. We're not going to pick against history. Turnberry has yielded three previous winners who were at the top of the game. Hard to not pick Tiger.