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Tiger Woods stars in the main event, but Royal Aberdeen was an excellent warm-up

Whoever said staging the Scottish Open immediately before the Open was a good idea obviously never spent much time with the increasingly crabbit golf writers.

Tiger Woods was the centre of attention as he prepared at Hoylake on Sunday.  Picture: Matthew Lewis/Getty Sport
Tiger Woods was the centre of attention as he prepared at Hoylake on Sunday. Picture: Matthew Lewis/Getty Sport

Yes, it's all right for the pampered pros who float serenely from one event to the next, with their managers and minions all pandering to each idle whim and nodding their heads to every barked order like the Churchill dog in the insurance advert. For the hard-pressed hacks, meanwhile, we just about have time to swab our necks and oxsters with a sock doused in dishwater before shoving it back into the suitcase for another week at the coalface.

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At least there has been plenty to get our yellowing teeth into. Justin Rose's victory in the Scottish Open at the weekend was an extremely tasty appetiser ahead of the main event down at Hoylake. It may be viewed as a warm-up to the Open but, in terms of momentum and morale, Rose did a bit more than simply limber up. "Yes you do look at it as a run in to the Open but the more the tournament went on, the more I wanted to win it," he said in the aftermath of his triumph at Royal Aberdeen.

Now seeking a third successive victory on the global stage, many may suggest that the Englishman has peaked too soon. Only time will tell, of course, but there is no hint of that in the Rose camp. "I don't feel these wins have taken a lot out of me and I've taken them in my stride," he said ominously.

Royal Aberdeen certainly provided a rigorous examination of links golf. On a wider front, the championship, according to released figures, was attended by some 65,833 over the course of the week. Officials were quick to highlight the fact that this was a record number but that was up by just 300 odd on last year's crowds at Castle Stuart.

The attendance for Saturday's third round, played out in windy yet dry and sunny conditions, was actually down on the corresponding day in 2013. No disrespect to the good golfing folk of the Granite City, but there was definitely a sense that Inverness as a whole embraced the championship with more gusto during the three years the Scottish Open was held in the Highlands.

That was understandable, given a bandwagon of that scale had never before rumbled into that neck of the woods. Aberdeen has staged a Senior British Open and a Walker Cup but this, too, was the biggest golfing tournament to hit town. Given the bigger population, there must be disappointment that attendances were not as sizeable as hoped.

The crowd size was certainly not an issue the last time the Open visited Hoylake in 2006 as 230,000 shoehorned themselves inside the gates to watch Tiger Woods' imperious march to victory. Woods is already in town, having dropped in at the weekend for a thorough reconnaissance mission of a links he conquered with that masterclass of course management eight years ago during which he plotted the kind of meticulous path once the reserve of celestial navigators.

A lot has changed since then, of course. The various cranks and pulleys that keep this golfing machine ticking over have been straining and creaking over the years and Woods has arrived on the Wirral having played only two competitive rounds since back surgery in March. Nobody is running scared of Woods these days, not even the bookies. Once the perennial favourite at every major he pitched up at, Woods is being quoted as high as 20-1 for this week's showpiece.

As ever with Woods, the scrutiny remains remorseless. Everybody, it seems, has an opinion and players, past players and commentators have all flung their tuppence worth in.

Some, assuming the role of medical geniuses, have declared that it is physically impossible for a 38-year-old man to come back into the cut-and-thrust just three months after surgery when it has taken younger men over a year to re-emerge from similar ailments.

Others have criticised his preparation and have roared that he should have squeezed another event into his Open build-up having missed the cut on his comeback at Congressional a fortnight ago.

His former coach, Hank Haney, has gone as far as suggesting that Woods is simply not as committed to the cause as he once was.

"That he isn't going to play competitively in the two weeks running up to the Open speaks to the fact that he doesn't care as much as he used to," said Haney.

The increasingly rabid chitter-chatter simply speaks volumes for the unwavering fascination in Woods. Whenever the 14-time major winner tees up, the interest and the intrigue knows no bounds. "There are other appealing storylines at Hoylake, but none as appealing as Tiger," suggested Paul Azinger, the former US Ryder Cup captain.

Rose, McIlroy, Mickelson, Scott, Stenson and others may have a few things to say about that, mind you.

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