Woods Favorite to Triumph at Troon

TROON, Scotland -- Tiger Woods grabbed a wedge, plopped a ball on the practice tee at Royal Troon and took a hard swing with a short follow-through, sending a low shot boring through the wind.

He followed that wind-beater with another and another, hitting shots less likely to get blown astray by the almost constant wind off the Firth of Clyde on western Scotland's Ayrshire coast.

Woods arrived at Troon on Monday, landing at nearby Prestwick Airport an hour before noon, and before the jet engine had time to cool he was practicing the shots needed to win the British Open.

Just moments earlier, Steve Elkington -- a top contender in the 126th Open that starts Thursday -- was talking about the effect of the wind on Woods.

"He's a high-ball hitter,'' Elkington said, implying Woods could have trouble if the weather turned nasty. Then a slight grin crept over Elkington's face.

"He's probably been working on a punch shot all week, and he probably has it down pat,'' Elkington said, not knowing that barely before the words were out of his mouth Woods would be practicing exactly that shot.

Woods was drawn Tuesday to play with Elkington and German Bernhard Langer in the first two rounds of the Open.

Woods, who played in Spain on Sunday with several other possible members of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, teed off for his first practice round at Troon with Mark O'Meara, John Cook and Dudley Hart.

It was Woods' first chance since last year's British Open at Royal Lytham -- when he set the amateur scoring record -- to put the low knock-down shots into practice on a true links course.

"He hit a lot of them out there today,'' his coach, Butch Harmon, said after Woods finished his practice round.

"He's very comfortable with them,'' Harmon said. "He's got great touch, and that's what you need to hit it,'' he said about the low shots played with an abbreviated swing.

If the weather is calm this week -- as it was at Lytham -- Woods will be able to swing freely with the driver as he did in winning the Masters by 12 strokes.

"He just has to be the favorite this week because he hits the ball so far,'' Elkington said, adding that some hazards at Troon aren't hazards for Woods.

"Some of those bunkers, I mean they are out there 250 yards,'' Elkington said. "He wouldn't even notice those bunkers if there was a guy lying dead in there.''

In addition to Woods, Elkington rated Colin Montgomerie, Ernie Els, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Nick Price and Tom Lehman as the top contenders this week -- "The best ball-strikers,'' he called them.

"All the top players are playing well,'' Elkington said. "That's the way Ernie and all those guys feel. They don't feel anyone can beat them.''

Tiger Woods just might have the shots to beat them all.