Spotlight on McIlroy

British bookmakers have listed Rory McIlroy as the third favourite at Turnberry, unusual for someone playing in his first British Open as a pro. Stranger still is that he doesn’t seem fazed, perhaps because his age (20) matches the odds (20-1).

Sergio Garcia of Spain tees off from the ninth during practice for the British Open on Wednesday.

TURNBERRY, Scotland — British bookmakers have listed Rory McIlroy as the third favourite at Turnberry, unusual for someone playing in his first British Open as a pro.

Stranger still is that he doesn’t seem fazed, perhaps because his age (20) matches the odds (20-1).

McIlroy already has shown in small doses that he is capable.

He comes from Holywood — a coastal town in Northern Ireland, not to be confused with the glitz of LA — and already is easily recognized by his freckles and curly brown hair that tumbles out of his cap and over his ears.

He made his British Open debut as a teenager two years ago at Carnoustie and opened with a 68 on the toughest links in golf.

And without knowing it, he can put on quite the exhibition.

On a surprisingly sun-splashed day along the Ayrshire Coast, McIlroy found a flat part of the putting green Wednesday, and his caddie marked off 8 feet with a chalk line. The kid rapped three balls at a time, stopping to chat, constantly smiling, not really paying attention. He made 105 putts in a row, seemed to lose interest, then moved on to another hole 30 feet away.

One reason he is getting so much attention, beyond the talent that allowed him to win the Dubai Desert Classic this year and rise to No. 22 in the world ranking, is constant search for someone to challenge Tiger Woods.

Even at golf’s oldest championship, the focus turns to youth.

McIlroy will be playing the first two rounds with 24-year-old Anthony Kim, who is No. 15 in the world and an explosive talent. Martin Kaymer, the 24-year-old German, is coming off consecutive victories on the European Tour and can became the first player since Seve Ballesteros in 1986 to make it three in a row.

Among the “older set” are 29-year-old Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott, who turns 29 on Thursday when the British Open begins.

So far, it has been a hopeless pursuit.

Woods set an obscure PGA Tour record two weeks ago when he won his AT&T National at Congressional for his 53rd victory this decade, topping the previous record of Ben Hogan, who won 52 times in the 1940s.

His 12 majors this decade is another record.

Woods is 0-for-2 in the majors this year since returning from knee surgery, both times giving himself a chance on Sunday, both times finishing in a tie for sixth, four shots behind Masters champion Angel Cabrera and U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover.

“He’s not just another player,” McIlroy said.

“I remember when I first came out and I talked to Tiger, and I was even nervous talking to him. He just has some sort of aura about him, you know? He’s just an incredible competitor. He hits shots that . . . I wouldn’t be able to hit sometimes. He’s not won 14 majors for nothing. And I’m sure he’ll win a few more before his career is over.”

Woods returns to the United Kingdom for the first time in two years, having missed the British Open last year at Royal Birkdale while recovering from knee surgery.

He showed up at Turnberry on Wednesday only to hit balls on the range and rap a few putts, sticking to a routine that has worked out fairly well for him in the majors.

One thing McIlroy has in his favour is having never faced Woods.

“It’s been more inspirational for me, rather than disheartening, that this guy is coming to win every major he plays,” McIlroy said.

Kim played with him for the first time at Congressional in the final group, tied for the lead, hit one bad stretch of bogeys and pars and wound up chasing him the rest of the day.

Garcia might have won a few majors by now except for Woods.

It was 10 years ago when he first challenged Woods in the PGA Championship at Medinah, finishing one shot behind. They played in the final group at the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black and the 2006 British Open at Hoylake, both won easily by Woods.

Garcia is still without a major, still answering questions about winning his first major and not enjoying the topic.

“The most important thing for me is obviously winning it,” said Garcia, listed at 15-to-1 odds. “But at least having the chance. The guy that is finishing 15th or 40th, he doesn’t have even one shot. I know they say that second is the first loser. I’d rather be the first loser than the 39th loser. When you’re out there, you have your chance. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t.”

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