The pros limp toward Birkdale

The pros limp toward Birkdale

Defending British Open champion, Padraig Harrington, is nursing a a sore neck that he tweaked working out before last week's European Open.
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It’s starting to feel like more than a coincidence that NFL training camps commence the week after the British Open. As the world of men’s professional golf hobbles into Royal Birkdale, the PGA Tour may want to begin issuing NFL-style injury reports.

Ignoring the most obvious hole in the lineup — that’s Tiger Woods — defending Open champion Padraig Harrington is nursing a sore neck that he tweaked working out before last week’s European Open, where he played through the pain to finish 14th (two under, 286). At the same time the field was a little thin at the Mr. Gimpy Open (a.k.a. the AT&T National) in Bethesda, Md., where Adam Scott begged off to let his broken right hand heal, Vijay Singh tore himself away to rest his aching ribs, and Zach Johnson took some time to deal with a wrist injury. Jose Maria Olazabal, burdened with fatigue and a sore back, didn’t even make it through Open qualifying, and neither did Thomas Bjorn, who pulled out with a shoulder injury.

What about Phil Mickelson? He hasn’t gone public with any injuries, but it’s possible that he skipped Tiger’s hoedown because he was suffering from homesickness. He spent the Fourth in San Diego with the family.

• Looks as if we’re in for a classic at Royal Birkdale. True, 16 of the 18 holes have been altered since it last hosted, but the course has a history of producing great winners.

Of the seven players who’ve claimed the claret jug at Birkdale, five of them are in the World Golf Hall of Fame. And two of those past champs will be in the field: Tom Watson (1983) and Mark O’Meara (’98). O’Meara, actually, is one of the more interesting dark horses. He’s only 51, has played well in spurts on the Champions tour and, in addition to his win at Birkdale a decade ago, he tied for third there in ’91.

Even if there’s no throwback winner, there will be traditional British Open weather. The long-range forecast calls for rain and wind on Thursday, followed by gusty conditions on Friday and Saturday. Sunday will be prime for the finish with cool temperatures, partly cloudy skies and softer breezes.