DEBORAH AMOS, host:
Golf's oldest championship, the British Open, is under way this morning at Royal Birkdale in England. Podraig Harrington is defending champion. He's playing with a wrist injury that forced him to cut short a practice session yesterday. And after a rocky start this morning, many are wondering how he'll hold out.
There's also a lot of talk about a man who's not even competing, and that's Tiger Woods. Commentator John Feinstein joins me now to discuss what most people simply call the Open Championship. Good morning, John.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning.
AMOS: So with no Tiger Woods, can you really call this the Open Open, and does that change the mindset for these other players?
FEINSTEIN: It is the wide-open Open, that's for sure. And yes, I think it does change the mindset. I still remember Phil Mickelson at the Masters in 2004, the first time he won a major title, when Tiger Woods was not into contention, going into the last round being asked about it. And usually players say oh, you just play the golf course. You don't worry about other players. And he said yeah, that's great that I don't have to worry about Tiger. And I'm sure they all feel that way going into this event.
AMOS: But he's not the only one who isn't there. We have Kenny Perry. He won three tournaments in less than, what, two months ago. He was number two behind Tiger Woods. So where's he?
FEINSTEIN: Home, with his feet up. As you said, he's number two in the U.S. ranking right now. He's won three times in less than two months. He should be playing in this major championship. He doesn't like it over there. A lot of Americans don't like the showers. They don't like the food. They don't like the long trip. So they make excuses and don't go. But for a player ranked this high in the world who's going to be a part of the U.S. Ryder Cup team in September to just say, eh, I'll take the week off, is inexcusable in my mind. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this interview, we explained Kenny Perry's absence from the British Open by saying he was "home, with his feet up." In fact, Perry was playing at the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee.]
AMOS: Let's talk a little bit about this golf course. It has a lot of history, doesn't it?
FEINSTEIN: It certainly does. Tom Watson is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his victory at Royal Birkdale. He's over there playing. Ten years ago, Mark O'Meara won his only British Open there, and, you know, all these British Open courses go back hundreds of years. And Birkdale's a little different than some of the others, and you don't get as many bad bounces. The fairways are a lot flatter than most links courses, which is probably why Americans tend to have success over there.
AMOS: But there's some tough holes. So tell me who this course might favor.
FEINSTEIN: It may favor the Americans. Podraig Harrington has not been playing particularly well this year. Then he hurts his wrist, and I wonder if Harrington would even be playing if he were not the defending champion, given the injury.
Sergio Garcia, who almost won last year, has been playing well. He won the Player's championship. I looked at a guy like Justin Leonard, who won the British Open in 1997 and is having a great year, and maybe a dark horse in Davis Love who, unlike Kenny Perry, even though he had to play 36 holes of qualifying to get into the event, is over there playing.
AMOS: Let's talk about one other player that you sports writers call the everyman hero, and that's Rocko Mediate. Does he have any change of a good performance?
FEINSTEIN: I think he does. He's a hot player. Obviously, his great performance in the U.S. Open, ranked 158th in the world and taking Tiger Woods 19 holes in that epic playoff back in June, played well in his last tournament two weeks ago. And with the confidence he has, he might be a factor. I talked to him last week, and he said I like the way that felt. I'd like to do it again.
AMOS: There are some parts of this course that have been redesigned. Does it make it a tougher course?
FEINSTEIN: It makes it a longer course. But I think like with all links golf courses, the toughness is going to depend on the wind. If the wind blows, the golf course is difficult. If the wind doesn't blow, the golf course is not that difficult because even with the new holes and the extra length, it's still not nearly as long as most of the U.S. courses that they play majors on nowadays.
AMOS: Thank you very much, the comments of John Feinstein, whose book, "Tales from Q School," is now out in paperback.