St Andrews (United Kingdom) (AFP) -
St Andrews provides an iconic setting for a historic British Open this week as in-form Rory McIlroy and world number one Scottie Scheffler lead the contenders to win the Claret Jug and maybe divert attention away from the continuing fallout over the breakaway LIV Series.
The home of golf welcomes the final major of 2022 after a turbulent few weeks dominated by the controversial launch of the Saudi-backed tour.
The sight of the world's top golfers teeing it up in the Fife town for the 150th Open will be a stark contrast to the brash eruption onto the scene of the LIV Series, which has torn up tradition with its shotgun starts, 54-hole tournaments and no cuts.
But while the PGA Tour and DP World Tour moved to ban the rebels who left to join the new series, British Open organisers followed the US Open in allowing them to compete in St Andrews.
'The Open is golf's original championship and since it was first played in 1860, openness has been fundamental to its ethos and unique appeal,' said Martin Slumbers, the chief executive of the R&A.
Therefore, while LIV Golf chief Greg Norman has not been invited to attend events for former Open champions in St Andrews this week, the rebel players will be there.
That means the likes of four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and former Open champion Phil Mickelson can tee off on Thursday.
All will hope to make an impact as record crowds totalling 290,000 get set to descend on the legendary links on Scotland's east coast.
However it is Scheffler, the world's top-ranked player and Masters champion who also came second at last month's US Open, who leads the field of contenders.
Meanwhile McIlroy is hoping to end an eight-year wait to add to his four Major victories after finishing as the runner-up to Scheffler in Augusta and sharing fifth at the US Open.
- Benign conditions? -
The Northern Irishman was 25 when he won the British Open at Hoylake in 2014 but, cruelly, he missed the chance to defend his title in St Andrews the following year after badly injuring an ankle playing football.
'I can't go into The Open approaching it like I've got unfinished business at this golf course,' McIlroy told TheOpen.com.
'I feel like there's enough pressure on me anyway without putting more on myself,' he admitted.
Seven years ago the weather was so foul that play in the last Open at St Andrews was not completed until the Monday, when Zach Johnson prevailed in a play-off.
Conditions are always such a big part of the Open experience, but the weather this time is forecast to remain benign at least until the weekend.
That might not be a good thing in the eyes of 2017 Open champion Jordan Spieth, who told reporters at last week's Scottish Open it could make St Andrews too easy, turning it into a 'wedge contest'.
Some believe that the lowest score in a men's Major, Branden Grace's 62 in the Open at Birkdale five years ago, could even come under threat.
Reigning champion Collin Morikawa is hoping to pull off the rare feat of successfully defending the title, but the 25-year-old Californian is unfamiliar with the surroundings.
'I don't know the golf course. I don't know how I am going to play it,' he told the BBC.
'Hopefully the wind is up. That is one thing that I've heard, that the weather needs to be there. But I am going to embrace it.'
- 'One more run' for Tiger -
In contrast, one man who does know all about what it takes to win an Open at St Andrews is Tiger Woods.
Two of his three Open triumphs have come here, in 2000 and 2005, well before injuries began to wreak havoc with his body.
Now 46, he did not play at last month's US Open as he continues his recovery from severe leg injuries sustained in a car crash last year.
However, Woods is in St Andrews and impressed partner Justin Thomas during a practice round on Sunday.
'This has been the one circled for him,' Thomas said. 'He's excited to be here.'
'I feel about Tiger being here like I always do -- he's going to find a way to be just fine.'