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Warm, fuzzy feelings as Open returns to Muirfield

July 17, 2013

GULLANE, Scotland (AP) — Let’s see if we’ve got this straight about Muirfield.

It’s a fair test.

There are no surprises.

And it’s just plain “neat,” as Tiger Woods kept saying over and over on Tuesday.

If you’ve come looking for startling revelations at this British Open, time to move on.

Nothing to see here.

The cliches have been flowing freely as the golfers prepare for the third major of the year, no one daring to say anything that could be construed as the least bit controversial. Golfers, as a general rule, are a bit buttoned-down to begin with, but this week they seem especially reluctant to open up or express the least bit of discontent.

That should change on Wednesday, when the Royal & Ancient, the tournament organizer, will surely get grilled on Muirfield’s male-only membership policy — especially in light of Augusta National handing out green jackets to females for the first time at the home of the Masters.

But no one who’ll actually hit a shot this week has been willing to take sides on the issue.

“I don’t make the policies here,” Woods said. “I’m not a member, so I’m not going to speak for the club.”

But if you want to ask the players about the course itself, they’ll gladly dole out the accolades.

Again and again and again.

“Bad golf gets punished and good golf gets rewarded,” Graeme McDowell said. “I think it’s a very fair golf course. I like it a lot.”

Or this, from Phil Mickelson, “It’s very comfortable for me off some of the tees, getting the ball in play, as well as around the greens. I like it a lot.”

How about defending champion Ernie Els: “Each and every hole is a little bit different. There’s left to rights, right to lefts, and it all happens out there. Every links shot that you can imagine, you’re going to play it this week.”

Just don’t bother asking about what happens at the club the other 51 weeks of the year.

Nick Faldo, who has won two of his Open titles at Muirfield, seemed to sum up the feelings for everyone carrying a club when the question was posed to him about the male-only membership. He threw back his head and let out an audible sigh before delivering an answer that quickly brought an end to any thoughts of a meaningful discussion.

“That’s for the club to decide,” he said bluntly.

As always, Woods comes into a major championship as the overwhelming favorite, having reclaimed the world’s No. 1 ranking and already having won four times this year on the U.S. PGA Tour.

But the feeling of invincibility is no longer there, wiped out by the longest major drought of his career. Woods hasn’t won one of golf’s Big Four since his 14th career title at the 2008 U.S. Open. Since then, he’s gone through embarrassing revelations about his personal life, a divorce, a swing change, and nagging injuries — the latest of which is a strained left elbow that sidelined him for the past month.

Woods insists his elbow is fine, but it’s no longer expected by a lot of people that he’ll be hoisting the claret jug as the sun slowly sets on Sunday.

Eighteen golfers have divvied up the last 20 major titles.

Woods is not among them. He still has a good shot at breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors, but it no longer looks like a certainty at age 37.

“I feel very good about my game,” Woods insisted. “I feel very, very good going into major championships. I’ve had a pretty good year this year so far — won four times. Even though I haven’t won a major championship in five years, I’ve been there in a bunch of them where I’ve had chances. I just need to keep putting myself there and eventually I’ll get some.”

Yep, everything is hunky-dory at this British Open.

Let’s see if it stays this way.

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