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Greg Owen has been through a decade's worth of tumult in the last year. (Photo: Getty Images)
Greg Owen has been through a decade's worth of tumult in the last year. (Photo: Getty Images)

Owens is anticipating the Open after missing out last year

After a dramatic and painful 12 months, Greg Owen is eagerly looking forward to giving Royal Liverpool his best shot next week.

LOCH LOMOND, Scotland (PA) -- Justice will be served, Greg Owen believes, when he makes his return to the Open Championship next week.

The 34-year-old Englishman will make his first appearance in Europe in the last 12 months when he tees off in the Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond on Thursday. But since he was kept out of the Open Championship in hugely controversial fashion last summer and missed out on the first two majors of this season as well, Owen's mind is already turning to Royal Liverpool.

He took his first look at Royal Liverpool on Monday, playing the front nine on his own and then linking up with European Tour No. 1 David Howell for the inward half. And afterward, the Florida-based Owen reflected on what has been an eventful, dramatic and at times painful last 12 months.

"It was lucky how I got back into the Open, but it's justice I believe," said the former British Masters champion, who earned a place off the world rankings when the American qualifying tournament two weeks ago was cancelled because of rain.

"I was really struggling with my back at the time and wasn't sure I'd be able to play," he explained. "But after what happened last year, I would have hit just one shot and then quit if that meant I was still eligible."

This time last year Owen could hardly have been more angry. When he withdrew from the same qualifying event, he had no idea that meant he was withdrawing from the Open itself.

But that was how Royal and Ancient Club officials interpreted it, and so when a place at St. Andrews became available off the rankings, he was overlooked for it.

"They sit there and discuss it over a glass of port and then make it law," Owen raged at the time. "We are professional golfers trying to make a living and we are relying on people making decisions who should not be making them."

He did later send a letter of apology for his choice of words, but it did not change how he felt.

"It was harsh and things were said that didn't put me in a good light with the R&A," he said. "But they changed the entry form so that everybody now knows what the situation is and that's why I hung around in Washington a fortnight ago even though I was in a bad way with my back.

"If I'd just told them I wasn't fit to play, which I probably wasn't, then I wouldn't be in the Open next week."

His back remains a worry because he has played only two rounds since the Memorial Tournament at the start of last month and could still feel a twinge as he practiced at Hoylake.

Two years ago, Owen underwent spinal surgery and feared for his career. But amazingly the year ended with him sailing through the PGA Tour qualifying school and he has earned more than $2 million there since.

He hit the headlines in March at the Bay Hill Invitational. Leading Australian Rod Pampling by two as he stood over a three-footer for par on the 17th green, he three-putted to the shock of everybody and then lost by one when he bogeyed the last.

As well as costing him a first victory in America, he missed out on a place in the Masters -- and on a bunch of Ryder Cup points. The crushing disappointment did not prevent him fighting his way back on to the leader board at the following week's Players Championship, but once again he did not quite get the finish he needed for Augusta.

And then his back began to give him trouble again.

"It's been frustrating because Bay Hill and the Players gave me a lot of confidence and my body's just not being able to do what I wanted it to do since," he stated. "I've had scans and X-rays and they assure me everything with the spine is pretty solid. It feels like tendonitis and I think it may be caused by me being out of balance a bit and pure posture may be causing things to jar.

"I've had lots of different opinions, but physiotherapists don't seem to like chiropractors, chiropractors don't seem to like physiotherapists and osteopaths don't seem to like either.

"I'll get the European Tour guys to have a look this week, but it's been getting better lately," he said. "At the Byron Nelson I had to withdraw, at the Memorial it was really hurting and there was no way I could try to qualify for the U.S. Open."

Owen is keeping his fingers crossed that things go well at Loch Lomond and he can then head back to Royal Liverpool with his adrenaline flowing.

"I really want to give it my best shot," he said. "I haven't played in the Open since 2003."

Two years before that, Owen led for a while at Royal Lytham and had a double-eagle 2 in the third round.

He was not that well-known then, but he is now -- on both sides of the Atlantic and because of what's gone on off the course as well as on it.

Copyright 2006 PA Sport. All rights reserved.

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