RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Golf's oldest championship, the British Open, is under way this morning at the game's most historic site, the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland. Commentator John Feinstein joins me now.
Good morning, John.
Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: There is nothing in golf quite like the British Open, is there?
FEINSTEIN: It's unique because it is the oldest championship, dating back to 1860, years before anybody thought about a US Open or a PGA Championship or the Masters, which didn't even start till the 1930s. And they play it on these old links courses where golf began in Scotland. The fans over there appreciate golf much the way we appreciate baseball. The players tell you that they love to go over and play in front of those fans, where you have to play hit-and-run golf. In other words, the ball doesn't fly to your target, you have to bounce it up most of the time, and there's just no championship in the world like it.
MONTAGNE: And the last time the British Open was played at St. Andrews, Tiger Woods won. I mean, he walked away with it. Is he a favorite again this year?
FEINSTEIN: I think he has to be the favorite, Renee, for a couple of reasons. One, he's playing really well. He won the Masters, he was second at the US Open. St. Andrews sets up very well for him because he can almost overpower the course, depending on the weather. He did an amazing thing in 2000. There are 112 bunkers on this golf course, and in four rounds, he never hit a ball in a bunker. That's almost impossible. And one other little note that's worth thinking about. Jack Nicklaus is playing his final major championship at the British. When he retired from the Masters, the US Open and the PGA, Tiger Woods won all three of those tournaments, so he's got that going for him, too.
MONTAGNE: The last two years, the championship has been won by really unknowns, Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton. We talk about this. How unusual is this?
FEINSTEIN: It's unusual, but it can happen in golf more than perhaps any other sport because there are so many guys who can play well who we've never heard of. When Ben Curtis won in 2003, he was at a dinner with Mike Weir, the Masters champion, the day before the championship started, and Mike Weir said, `Oh, what are you doing over here?' He didn't even know Ben Curtis was a golfer, and they played on the Tour together. That's how unknown he was. Todd Hamilton had experience. He'd played in Japan on Tour for many years, but because golf is a game where no one stops you, the only person who can beat you is you, if an unknown like a Hamilton or a Curtis gets on the right roll, they can, in fact, win the British Open.
MONTAGNE: Talk to us, John, about golf's current big four. I mean, who among them has a shot here?
FEINSTEIN: Well, besides Tiger, I mean, Ernie Els has won the British Open, won it in 2002 at Muirfield. He's very comfortable playing on the links courses. Vijay Singh's record is mixed. The guy who would shock me among the big four if he won would be Phil Mickelson. He doesn't like it over there. He doesn't like the food. He doesn't like the showers, and he's never really performed well in the British Open. He was tied for third last year, so maybe that's the start of a turnaround, but history says he won't be a contender.
MONTAGNE: Let's just turn, as sort of a last thing here, to Michelle Wie. Fifteen-year-old phenom from Hawaii, spent the last two weeks competing in tournaments against men.
FEINSTEIN: She could be the Tiger Woods of women's golf; she's that talented. She came close to making the cut last week in a PGA Tour event but didn't make it. She's playing this week in the Public Links Championship, which, by the way, if she somehow wins it, she would be in next year's Masters, and what a story that would be, a teen-age girl competing in the Masters. But my concern is that she's being pushed too hard too fast by her parents and managers. Let her be a girl for a while. Let her beat girls. Let her then beat women and then compete with men, not the other way around.
MONTAGNE: John, thanks very much.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Commentator John Feinstein is the author of "Caddy for Life: The Bruce Edwards Story."
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