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Els a long shot as he prepares to defend British Open crown
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Gullane, Scotland • Two dozen cameras were in position Monday morning to capture the first big moment of this British Open, only they weren't anywhere near the golf course. They waited in the driveway as a silver station wagon pulled through the gate and stopped in front of the clubhouse at Muirfield.

Ernie Els climbed out of the back seat holding the shiny claret jug he won last year at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and he promptly handed it over to Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson.

"Thank you," Dawson told him. "You've been a great champion."

Now it's up to the 43-year-old South African to reclaim the silver prize, and that doesn't figure to be easy. Els won last month in Germany. He won the last time the Open was played at Muirfield in 2002. He has more top 10s in the British Open than any other major. But he has this piece of history working against him — the last major champion in his 40s to successfully defend his title was Old Tom Morris, and that was 151 years ago.

The Big Easy is not a betting man, but he was asked to pick someone to wager a pound on at Muirfield.

"I'd have to look at the odds, wouldn't I?" he said. "Maybe a long shot. I like to go for the long shots."

That's what he might have been considered last year at Royal Lytham. He was winless on a major tour in two years, failed to qualify for the Masters for the first time in nearly two decades and was No. 40 in the world. But he was close to flawless on the back nine and was the recipient of a shocking collapse by Adam Scott, who made bogey on his last four holes to finish one shot behind.

A long shot?

Maybe someone like Jordan Spieth, the 19-year-old Texan who holed a bunker shot for birdie on the last hole at the John Deere Classic, got into a playoff when Zach Johnson made bogey on the 18th, and won on the fifth extra hole. Next thing he knew, Spieth was on a charter flight to Scotland for his first British Open.

For those who believe experience is required, Ben Curtis won in 2003 in his first major championship. Curtis reunited this week with Andy Sutton, the local caddie he hired at Royal St. George's.

Tiger Woods has the best odds this week, even though he hasn't won the claret jug since Hoylake in 2006. —

British Open

P Thursday, 2 a.m. to 1 p.m.

TV • ESPN

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