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Will Tiger Woods’ major drought end at Muirfield?

Tiger Woods plays shot during practice round ahead British Open Golf Championship Muirfield ScotlSunday July 14 2013. The British Open

Tiger Woods plays a shot during a practice round ahead of the British Open Golf Championship, Muirfield, Scotland, Sunday, July 14, 2013. The British Open begins on Thursday, July 18. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

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At a Glance

Event: 142nd British Open.

Site: Muirfield.

Length: 7,192 yards.

Par: 36-35—71.

Field: 156 (149 pros, seven amateurs).

Prize money: 5.25 million pounds ($7.82 million).

Winner’s share: 954,000 pounds ($1.4 million).

Defending champion: Ernie Els.

TV: Thursday and Friday:
3 a.m. to 2 p.m., ESPN; Saturday: 6 a.m. to 1:30  p.m., ESPN; Sunday: 5 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., ESPN.

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Updated: July 17, 2013 9:18PM

GULLANE, Scotland—At Muirfield, the front nine goes clockwise, the back nine goes counter-clockwise. And when it’s all done, Muirfield turns out Hall of Fame champions like clockwork.

In the last half-century, Ernie Els, Nick Faldo (twice), Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player have earned championships on the course that stands second only to St. Andrews in British Open lore.

Even though he hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, Tiger Woods again is being billed as the favorite to end his major drought. And Woods, proclaiming his elbow healthy, is not uncomfortable with that.

``I feel very good about my game,’’ Woods said. ``I’ve had a pretty good year this year so far—won four times. Even though I haven’t won a major championship in five years, I’ve been there in a bunch of them where I’ve had chances. I just need to keep putting myself there and eventually I’ll get some.’’

If not Woods, any number of golfers could emerge, based on what’s been happening lately. In the last 21 majors, there have been 20 different winners. Rory McIlroy, who won the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA, is the only multiple winner.

McIlroy certainly has the game to add a third title. But a bunch of contenders are in the hunt here. They include Phil Mickelson, who won the Scottish Open last week; Justin Rose, who won the U.S. Open last month; Lee Westwood, who’s long overdue; Brandt Snedeker, who was in position to win the British Open a year ago; and Matt Kuchar, who’s maturing into steady competitor due for a breakout tournament.

Based on Muirfield’s distinguished list of Open champions, though, an unknown seems less likely to emerge than another Hall of Fame champion.

``I think it’s the quality of the golf course,’’ Woods said. `` The number of Hall of Famers who have won here just goes to show you really have to hit the ball well. You have to be able to shape it both ways. You’re playing almost in kind of a circle, in a sense, because you’ve got so many different angles and so many different winds.’’

Beyond its circular layout, Muirfield also is less a luck-of-the-bounce course than many famous links. Here, the golfers feel, good shots are more likely to be rewarded.

``My favorite [Open course] would be St. Andrews because of the history that’s there,’’ Mickelson said. ``But from an opportunity-to-win standpoint, I’d say Muirfield or Troon offer the two best chances, because of the way the holes move, it’s very comfortable for me off some of the tees, getting the ball in play, as well as around the greens, I like it a lot. But I felt like Muirfield and Troon were the two courses that I felt most comfortable hitting the shots needed.

Els, who won last year at Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s and won his other Open here at Muirfield in 2002, certainly is a candidate to buck the trend of major champions not repeating.

Els isn’t interested in picking a favorite, though.

``To name one, I’m going to have to name 20,’’ he said. ``That’s how close it is. I don’t know who is the favorite. A guy that likes the bounces, who likes the layout, I’m not sure. If I’m just going to answer your question quickly, Phil Mickelson. Because he won last week.’’

With the rise of players like Rose, who’s from England, and McIlroy, who’s from Northern Ireland, it would see more likely that a European will prevail this week. But Els isn’t so sure about that, either.

``I don’t know if it’s going to favor Europeans or American players,’’ Els said. ``[It’s about] the guy that can adapt the quickest. A guy can come in from John Deere and never played links. It’s happened before. Guys come in and adapt and off you go.’’

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