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Ian Poulter's slacks did his talking on Tuesday. (Photo: Getty Images)
Ian Poulter's slacks did his talking on Tuesday. (Photo: Getty Images)

Burning question is on Poulter's mind, and his pants

Ian Poulter wore a pair of trousers with a giant red question mark on one leg Tuesday. His question: Is this the week a European wins a major for the first time since Carnoustie in 1999? Poulter, for one, believes the answer is yes.

HOYLAKE, England (PA) -- Ian Poulter wore a pair of trousers with a giant red question mark on one leg on Tuesday.

Now, like everybody else at the Open Championship, Poulter is keen to find out the answer to something that in the Hoylake heat is almost literally the burning question.

Will this be the week when Europe's seven-year barren spell in the majors -- all the way back to Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in 1999 -- will finally end?

The 30-year-old from England hopes and thinks it might be him. But he knows he is just one of a large band, perhaps the largest for many years, who could be contenders for the biggest title in the game.

Paul Casey, Luke Donald, David Howell, Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn were just five Poulter mentioned.

And, on the basis of the current world rankings, the names of Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal, Henrik Stenson and Padraig Harrington -- all top-20 players -- have to be added to the list.

"We'll see Sunday night whether I have the answer to the question," said Poulter, who after his Union Jack trousers of two years ago and claret jug ones last year is promising "some more beauties" later this week. "There are a lot of Europeans playing good golf, so why not? There is a nice buzz around the guys and I don't want to wait too much longer. I'd like it to be this week.

"Six years ago Tiger [Woods] was playing some exceptional stuff, but I think it's a very even playing field now and this course might show that," he added. "It's very, very, very fiery. Two-irons are going 300 yards."

Not only has the course become dry with the heat, but also the players need to keep their fluid levels up.

"Everybody's fitter and knows what to do," added Poulter. "A few years ago it might have tested a few -- the ones who had had a few beers the night before."

Nick Dougherty, the one Liverpool-born player in the 156-strong field, will be making his Open debut, and after sounding all doom and gloom last Friday when he missed his fifth successive halfway cut at Loch Lomond, his excitement levels are back up.

Linking up with coach David Leadbetter again has appeared to have done wonders for the 24-year-old, who has been so looking forward to this week ever since qualifying off the European Order of Merit last October.

"I played awesome today," said Dougherty. "I didn't miss a shot for 18 holes. David freed me up on the range and I feel like it's clicking now. It's very encouraging and nice to feel good about my game for the first time in a few months.

Casey led on the opening day at Royal Troon two years ago, but then fell away. Twelve months ago he was in an awful slump and missed the cut, but has come roaring back this season and won the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles last month. He has not been out of the top 30 in any tournament since February.

"I learnt a lot at Royal Troon and I'm a better player than I was then," he said. "I feel like I've raised it up just another notch -- but not as high as I feel I can eventually get."

Copyright 2006 PA Sport. All rights reserved.

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