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The unseasonably hot, dry conditions at Royal Liverpool prompted some unusual messages for the patrons. (Photo: Getty Images)
The unseasonably hot, dry conditions at Royal Liverpool prompted some unusual messages for the patrons. (Photo: Getty Images)

Holy Hoylake! Sunbathers, players revel in the heat

No, this is not the Phoenix Open. The weather only makes it seem that way. Whipping winds and sideways rains will always define the Open Championship, but with the country in the midst of a heat wave and the forecast calling for more of the same throughout the week, players were licking their chops on Tuesday.

HOYLAKE, England (AP) -- Tim Herron sauntered around the putting green in front of the Royal Liverpool clubhouse, soaking up a glorious day and marveling at what he had seen out on the course.

"They were sunbathing over there," he said, motioning off into the distance with his club.

Sunbathing? At the British Open?

Indeed.

During Tuesday's practice round at this historic course along the Irish Sea, the temperature was climbing close to 30 C (80s F) beneath a brilliant blue sky, with nary a cloud to be had.

There were no fearsome gusts whipping in off the water, just a refreshing breeze. Instead of bundling up in sweaters and jackets, most fans milled around the links wearing shorts and T-shirts.

If conditions stay anything close to this through the weekend, Tiger Woods' record 19-under score while winning at St. Andrews six years ago could be in jeopardy.

"Obviously, it can be done," said Woods, who won again at St. Andrews last year while using five more strokes. "As we all know, it all depends on the weather. We played St. Andrews in 2000 with no wind. It can spring up at any time, you just never know. But if not, the guys are going to be making plenty of birdies."

The mound behind the 13th green was an especially popular spot for soaking up some rays. One young fan removed his shirt, used it to cover his face, sprawled out on the trampled-down grass and actually dozed off while getting a tan. He wasn't bothered in the least by Rich Beem and Peter Lonard as they came through the par-3 hole.

"I don't care whether it blows or not," Jim Furyk said. "As long as it's in the 70s (20s C), there won't be any complaining from me. I just hate it when it's 59 degrees (15 C) and raining."

For the practice rounds, at least, he didn't have any worries.

The country was in the grips of a heat wave, though it was expected to cool off a bit by the time the first real shot was struck on Thursday.

This being Britain, there's always the threat of showers rearing up at any time, though meteorologists said it didn't seem that likely before the weekend. But rest assured, everyone will be keeping an eye on the forecast.

More than any other major, this event is defined by its weather.

The ancient courses that make up the British Open rotation -- and Royal Liverpool, back in the mix after a 39-year absence, is certainly no exception -- rely on cold rain and blustery winds to ward off today's big hitters. When conditions are benign, the shorter, wider layouts are there for the taking.

"After the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, this is a pleasant sight," said Mark Calcavecchia, who won the British in 1989. "I think it's going to be a nice week of weather and unless it gets really windy, you're going to see some really good scores out there."

That certainly wasn't the case at the last major, when Geoff Ogilvy's 5-over-par score was good enough to give the Aussie his first major title.

While Winged Foot was defined by failure -- Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie both making double bogeys on the 72nd hole, Furyk missing a short putt that could have forced a playoff, Tiger Woods missing the cut -- this tournament could produce the sort of gaudy scores normally associated with less-glamorous events.

If conditions stay anything close to what they were on Monday, it's going to take an awfully good number to claim the claret jug. Maybe not as low as Woods' winning score at St. Andrews in 2000 (a 19-under 269), but certainly along the lines of his 14-under victory at the birthplace of golf a year ago.

"It's playing short and playing fast," Calcavecchia said after his practice round. "On a day like today, you would have seen a lot of low scores."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.


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