RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Golf's oldest championship, the British Open, is underway in Turnberry, Scotland this morning. Padraig Harrington is the two-time defending champion, but as always, the favorite is Tiger Woods, who didn't get to play in this event a year ago because of knee surgery. Commentator John Feinstein joins us now to talk about it.
Good morning, John.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: In theory at least, a lot of eyes should be on Harrington. What kind of shape is his game in now?
FEINSTEIN: Well, not very good, to be honest, Renee. He's been like a lot of golfers who have success and decide to get better they have to change their swing. This is a guy who won three major championships - the two British Opens you mentioned and last year's PGA - in a period of a little more than a year and then said I have to change my swing.
And the result so far this year has been he hasn't come close to winning, although last week he went and played in his home country Ireland in an unofficial event and did win. So maybe he's got a little bit of confidence coming off of that into this event, but thus far this year in the major championships he's been a complete nonfactor.
MONTAGNE: And then Tiger Woods, of course, always part of the story. How would you assess his comeback since his knee surgery?
FEINSTEIN: Well, for a normal human being it's been extraordinary. He's won three tournaments in nine tries. He's number one on the money list in the United States, and yet people are saying, well, he must be disappointed because in the Masters and the U.S. Open he only finished tied for sixth in both.
And Tiger Woods being Tiger Woods he was disappointed with those finishes. And you can bet he's coming into the Open Championships - as they like to call it over in Great Britain - wanting desperately to make sure he doesn't go through an entire year without winning a major. He's got the chance this weekend and at the PGA in a few weeks, next month.
MONTAGNE: And noticeably absent from this championship is the number two player in the world rankings, Phil Mickelson.
FEINSTEIN: Yeah, Phil Mickelson's wife Amy had surgery for breast cancer on July 1. She's home recovering. Phil Mickelson made it clear at the U.S. Open when he played prior to her surgery that he wasn't going to be back out on tour until his wife was completely healthy. So it's no surprise at all that he's not playing this week. And I would be very surprised if he plays at the PGA next month.
MONTAGNE: Hmm. Well, let's turn for a moment to the golf course itself and how different this sort of challenge is for players as opposed to when they're playing in the U.S.
FEINSTEIN: It's a completely different game, Renee. And it's so much fun to watch. This is where golf was invented in Scotland. You don't have lush green fairways and greens where the ball stops on a dime. You have to know the bounces. The ball can go left. It can go right. There are pot bunkers that are very deep all over the course. And, of course, the wind and the weather are such key factors. As the Scots say, if it's nay wind and it's nay rain, it's nay golf.
MONTAGNE: And the fans there, John, who are they pulling for?
FEINSTEIN: You know, it's very interesting to watch them go back and forth. Because, of course, they root for their hometown guys, like Padraig Harrington, who is from Ireland, a new young player like Roy McElroy, who's from there, too. But they love the Americans who love their game. That's why Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods are so popular over there. So frequently if you get a top American dueling it out at the end with a top European there's nothing but cheers. There are no boos. Everybody just wants to see great golf. And over there, Renee, it's like baseball. Even if you don't play golf, you know golf.
MONTAGNE: John, thanks.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: A man who knows golf, John Feinstein's new book is �Are You Kidding Me?: The Story of Rocco Mediate's Extraordinary Battle with Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open.�
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