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Excitement by the sea

My goodness, has it really been 12 months since Ernie Els inadvertently clinched the Open at Lytham?

Few golf fans - not least of all those hailing from Australia - could remember those closing holes in Blackpool anything other than vividly.

Adam Scott's meltdown was eerily reminiscent of Jean van de Velde's at Carnoustie in 1999, although Scott's was a more slow-motion version of the seemingly nonchalant Frenchman's.

Scott has since, of course, more than atoned for that disappointing day with a memorable triumph at Augusta, but his "decision" to delay claiming a maiden major title gifted Els his second Claret Jug.

As a result, the media attention in the build-up has focused heavily on the 43-year old, as he returns to Muirfield not only as the defending champion, but also the last man to win the event at the East Lothian course.

That victory came in 2002, although on that occasion it was Els who nearly threw it away. A birdie at the 17th hole on the final day was just enough to scrape into a four-man playoff after a calamitous double bogey at the 16th, and he managed to hold off France's Thomas Levet on the first hole of sudden death.

Els has a fine record in the event as it is, and a victory in Germany last month means he now leads a strong South African charge, with no fewer than 10 men from the Republic making the trip to East Scotland.

Branden Grace's near miss in last week's Scottish Open, although disappointing, was a fantastic display, and his ability to match eventual-winner Phil Mickelson shot-for-shot on the final day was indicative of the fact that he has recaptured the form he enjoyed in 2012.

And with a win at last year's Alfred Dunhill Links Championship under his belt, success by the seaside appears well within his reach.

Mickelson, clearly, is not to be written off either, and despite a poor record at the Open, he goes into the tournament as one of the bookies' favourites to add to his major tally.

But incredibly, it is the battered and bruised Tiger Woods who retains a steady value of around 8-1 to lead the way among bookmakers, and despite having barely struck a ball in earnest since Merion due to an elbow injury, is reportedly attracting plenty of interest among punters.

Perhaps Woods will finally end his major drought - which now extends beyond the five-year mark - this week, but it is wide open. The world's number one will have to look no further than his two playing partners for Thursday and Friday to realise as much.

Louis Oosthuizen, who smashed numerous records en route to his win at the home of golf in 2010, is one of them. The other is Graeme McDowell, who has been in fine form during 2013, and a second major for the Northern Irishman appears well within in the realms of possibility.

Whoever is privileged enough to hold the Claret Jug aloft on Sunday will know they've achieved something truly special.

The R&A showpiece is synonymous with many traditions; some of which are outdated and archaic. I mean, one can only cringe as chief executive Peter Dawson pompously announces "the champion golfer of the year" during the annual winner's presentation, which really takes far too long anyway after all the (no doubt largely superfluous) dignitaries are introduced.

What's more, Muirfield is a course that still refuses to allow female members. Enough to get a few backs up I'm sure!

But, in many ways, it is these old-fashioned traditions that contribute to its charm, and make it arguably the most prestigious major of all. It is the oldest trophy in the sport of golf, and is so coveted by players all around the world.

It is the one you practice those three footers for on the putting green as a child.

So sit back. Enjoy. The one major in a time zone that doesn't lead to sleep deprivation. And one that seldom fails to deliver excitement. It's Open time!

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