LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Lee Westwood might have won that elusive first major had he not hit a tee shot into a tree on the fifth hole in the final round of the U.S. Open at Olympic Club last month.
The ball disappeared, and with it so did Westwood's chances of getting off the list of best players never to win a major.
"You make your own luck a lot of times, but that was an unfortunate time for that to happen," Westwood said. "It's happened only three times in my career; once there when I was only one shot off the lead going into the last two holes in Dubai, and once in a playoff in the Malaysian Open. It's picked its times to happen.
Westwood shouldn't have to worry about the trees at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. There aren't any of significance on the links course.
What he and other players will have to worry about is sand — and lots of it. There are 206 bunkers scattered around the course, or an average of more than 11 a hole. Many of them are in the fairways, making precision driving a necessity to contend in this British Open.
Not only do the fairways have lots of bunkers, they are spread out in the driving area. That should make players hit their drivers more often because the early bunkers on holes don't let them layup with much confidence.
Westwood said the bunkers and the rough deepened by a wet summer should more than make up for lack of trees.
"I think that's part of the game of golf," he said. "There should be penalties for hitting it off line."
MEETING MANDELA: Tiger Woods strayed some Tuesday from golf, talking about meeting Nelson Mandela in South Africa not long after Woods burst on the golf scene in a big way.
Woods was asked by a South African journalist about the meeting on the eve of Mandela's 94th birthday on Wednesday.
"It was incredible meeting him for the first time in '98. I got invited to his home," Woods said. "As we walk in there and I look at my dad and I said, 'Hey, pops, do you feel that? It feels different in here.' He said, 'Yeah, I feel the same way.'"
Woods said he and his late father, Earl, were looking at pictures on the wall and Mandela was over in a corner. At the time Mandela was president of South Africa.
"He was over there just meditating in the corner, and it was just a different feeling in the room," Woods said. "He has such a presence and aura about him unlike anyone I've ever met. He's meant so much to so many people around the world, not just in South Africa."
STEWART WHO? Stewart Cink had a memorable British Open three years ago, when he beat Tom Watson in a playoff to win his first major championship.
Apparently it was not that memorable to a guard Tuesday manning one of the gates near the player's parking lot.
The guard stopped Cink from entering, asking him for his badge. Cink told him he left it in the locker room, but that didn't work, either. Finally, after several minutes of explaining just who he is, the guard finally let Cink and his caddie through.
It could have been worse.
The great Bobby Jones was making his second appearance in the Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1926, and was two shots off the lead going to the final day. It was the first year the Open charged admission, and when Jones left his player's badge in his hotel room, the man at the gate refused to let him in.
Jones ended up digging in his pocket for seven shillings to get on the course. He went on to stage a late rally and win the tournament by two shots.
WEATHERWISE: The talk around most of England in recent months has been about the weather and the rain that never seems to stop.
It's been no different at the British Open on the northwest coast of England, where conditions have been miserable the last few days. There's been so much rain that some puddles have formed on the course and have had to be roped off, and rain was heavy again on Tuesday.
The good news — echoed by worried organizers at the Olympics in London — is that things are supposed to get better. Weather forecasters, in fact, call for the rain to go away by the first round on Thursday and for the Open to be mostly dry, if not sunny.
For those who like their Open to be contested in some inclement conditions, don't fret too much. The forecast is still for the wind to blow 20 to 30 mph for most of the tournament.
PHIL'S PADRES: Phil Mickelson has his mind on two sports as he attempts to win his first British Open.
Mickelson is part of a group that includes former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley that is negotiating to buy the San Diego Padres. Mickelson would be a minority owner in the company, should the deal go forward.
Mickelson, who attempted in 2003 to earn a one-day contract with the Detroit Tigers by pitching batting practice to the minor league Toledo Mud Hens, said he would not be involved in day-to-day operations should the deal go through.
"I'm just kind of a silent partner," Mickelson said.
Mickelson, a San Diego area native, said the idea of getting involved with the team intrigued him.
"I really like the people I'm involved with," he said. "And I think they're just as competitive as I am, and I'm excited about bringing something to the community."
SPIRIT LEVEL: Padraig Harrington has been known to do a lot of experimenting to find ways to improve his golf game.
Fans watching practice rounds at the British Open had to wonder what he was doing laying down a carpenter's level (known here as a spirit level), though, on the greens of Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Turns out he was just trying to read the greens.
"I did go out and pick a number of pin positions on each green and took a spirit level out and measured the straight putt on basically all those positions trying to find their low point," Harrington said.
Strange, perhaps, but Harrington seems to be finding his form heading into the British Open. He played well in the U.S. Open and is hoping to regain the form that won him this Open in 2007 and 2008.
"If I get one of two pins right the whole week it will be worthwhile," Harrington said. "But it was really more an exercise in what I see and this is what the spirit level says I see, and just calibrating my eyesight more than anything else."