Wednesday, July 16, 2008

SOUTHPORT, England (AP) — Heath Slocum debated whether to come to the British Open as an alternate.

Now he doesn't want to leave.

Slocum had planned to be in Milwaukee this week for the U.S. Bank Championship, but that was before Kenny Perry stood by his decision not to play in golf's oldest championship and David Toms withdrew.

That moved Slocum up to No. 1 on the alternate list, and it left him with a difficult choice - fly to England with no guarantee of playing, or go to Milwaukee with the chance of passing up a spot in the British Open.

"It was 50-50 to come here and sit," Slocum said Wednesday. "You hate to miss out, especially in a Ryder Cup year. It's an opportunity to earn some points, get another win or help with the FedEx Cup. It's effectively a week off if I'm not in here."

Slocum is at No. 22 in the Ryder Cup standings, and with the exchange rate, no other tournament offers more points than the British Open. He is No. 41 in the FedEx Cup standings with only five tournaments left before players are ranked for the playoffs.

So why not just go to Milwaukee?

"Because if I got in here, I'd be sick to my stomach," Slocum said.

On the eve of the tournament, his best hope for a withdrawal was defending champion Padraig Harrington, who injured his right wrist. Harrington said after 18 holes of chipping and putting that it was 75 percent he would play, 50 percent he would finish.

"I don't want to see anyone get hurt," Slocum said. "But if they withdraw, I'm here."

And unlike the U.S. Open, it hasn't been a total waste of his time. The U.S. Open policy is that alternates are not allowed to play the golf course until they officially are part of the 156-man field.

The top four alternates at the British Open are allowed to play. In fact, they are extended full privileges, which surprised Slocum when he arrived on the charter from the John Deere Classic.

"They give you credentials, your allotment of tickets, everything," he said. "And I do have privileges on the course. It would be tough if I didn't. I couldn't imagine playing this course blind."

The toughest part might be the waiting on Thursday. Among the three majors with at least 150 players, the British Open is the only one that sends everyone off the first tee. The first tee time is 6:30 a.m., and the last group goes off at 4:21 p.m.

Slocum can't stray too far from the first tee if his name is called.

"It could be a long day," he said.

And it could be a very short week, which could leave him with one big regret.

"This is my first links experience, which almost makes it worse," he said. "Because now I really want to play."

TIGER'S IMPACT: Tiger Woods isn't at the British Open. Thousands of fans are.

There already has been noticeable declines in attendance at two tournaments Woods typically plays on the PGA Tour, but that apparently isn't the case at golf's oldest championship.

David Hill of the Royal & Ancient said advance ticket sales are up 28 percent from 1998, the last time the Open was held at Royal Birkdale, and he was confident that more than 200,000 fans will attend this week.

"Even today, they're pouring in through the pay gates more than we anticipated," Hill said Wednesday. "I think people are coming to see the Open more than ever. It's disappointing Tiger is not here, but the fans think this is a special week. And they've made their minds up to come."

Hill said about 230,000 fans came to the Open at nearly Royal Liverpool in 2006, which Woods won for his second straight claret jug, although that was a product of warm sunshine for the week.

SILVER AND GREEN: Trevor Immelman came to Royal Birkdale searching for some silver to go with his green.

Only eight players have won the Masters and the British Open in the same season, and Mark O'Meara is the only player on that short list to have added the silver claret jug at Royal Birkdale.

"It's definitely inspiration," said Immelman, who won the Masters by three shots. "But that's going to be a pretty tall order. I think Mark was a seriously accomplished player by that point, had spent many years on tour, and he had also had a pretty good record around this golf course. So it was obviously a course he liked and was looking forward to coming to.

"But I'll be giving it my best shot, there's no doubt about that."

Masters champions are allowed to keep their green jacket at home during their reign, although Immelman said he hasn't worn it often.

"It sits in my closet and I see it every morning," he said. "At times it's still hard to believe. It comes out whenever friends and family come around to the house who haven't seen it, and they kind of have a look at it. So I haven't traveled with it or anything like that. Wouldn't want to lose it. I'd get in trouble."

RYDER CUP BONANZA: The winner of the British Open gets roughly $1.5 million, the richest payoff among the majors. And because majors count double in this Ryder Cup year, an American could earn 3,000 points by winning.

How big of a boost would that be?

Tom Gillis, who has no status on any tour in the world, could win this week and move up to No. 8 in the standings.

STRICKER'S LAMENT: As much as Steve Stricker loves competing in the British Open, it hurts to miss the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee, close to where he grew up and still lives.

For cheeseheads like Stricker and Jerry Kelly, the PGA Tour stop in Milwaukee is close to a fifth major.

"I do wish Milwaukee could have another date," Stricker said. "I'm kind of a proponent of having no tournaments opposite these majors. I would love to be able to take advantage of some of the tournaments that are opposite the majors, especially Milwaukee. I miss being there. I haven't been there the last couple years. But obviously, you've got to come here when you're exempt and able to play."

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