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Tiger Woods, who won last year at Royal Liverpool, will seek to extend his mastery of links golf at Carnoustie. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Tiger Woods, who won last year at Royal Liverpool, will seek to extend his mastery of links golf at Carnoustie. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Maginnes: Open Championship a major unlike any other

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For Americans, the true beauty of the Open Championship is that it reminds us that the game is not ours, says John Maginnes. And seeing a player like Tom Watson or Tiger Woods execute a unique links game plan is mesmerizing. 

By John Maginnes, Contributor

No tournament fills the heart of golf historians with more romantic images than the Open Championship. For nearly a century and a half, the Open has greeted the game's rising stars and ushered the aging ones into retirement. In introducing unlikely heroes and solidifying the dominance of others, the Open Championship shows no favorites.

The true beauty of the Open Championship for Americans is that it reminds us that the game is not ours. Internationally, the winner of the Open Championship is considered that year's golf champion. He is not just the winner of a tournament but is the champion golfer for all of golf.

For American golf fans, this is a concept easy to dismiss. After all, we have the other three majors; how dare they make such a claim?

The simple answer is because they can and they have since 1860. They make this claim because they realize what we may have forgotten. The game was never meant to be the game of kings. Golf's true nobility lies in the fact that from its origins the game was played by the common man. The winner of the Open Championship is everyone's champion.

For American players, the British Open, as it is known over here, long was terribly difficult to enter. When we call the U.S. Open "the Open," the rest of the world cringes. Until the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews began international qualifying less than a decade ago, any player who was not otherwise exempt would have to make the journey across the pond to attempt one of the qualifiers in the United Kingdom.

As a result, he would have to miss the tournament the week before the Open, as well as the PGA TOUR event that was played opposite the major championship. In recent years, though, the qualifying process has become much more convenient. In addition to an Open qualifier in the United States that grants 12 players entry, there is an Open Championship money list that grants invites to four players not otherwise qualified -- three at the end of the AT&T National and one after the John Deere Classic.

The attitude of American players toward the event varies. There are those who share the attitude of the rest of the world and hold the Open Championship with the esteem that it deserves. There are others who take a more practical stance. Golf in the kingdom is an acquired taste. The simple explanation is that golf in America tends to be played in the air while links golf tends to require more rolling creativity. For some American-born players, the decision to try to qualify or not qualify is a business decision.

However, many American players still hold the romantic notions that bore the dream to play the TOUR. For certain generations, watching Tom Watson, dressed in those thick sweaters, hitting laser iron shots through steely winds is a powerful image. For more recent generations, seeing Tiger create a game plan that is a complete departure from what we are used to -- and then pull it off -- is mesmerizing.

Like so many other things that Tiger has done for the game, he has, with his success in Scotland and England, ensured the Open Championship will remain among the game's greatest championship. Next week Tiger will try to become the first man to win this prestigious championship in three consecutive years since Peter Thomson in the 1950s. Whether or not he accomplishes this goal, he has already fed the lure and embraced the tradition that is the Open Championship.

The eyes of the golf world will be on Carnoustie July 19th for yet another edition of the Open Championship. We watch knowing that we are watching history. We watch because to love this game is to embrace its present, as well as its past.

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