A very 'open Open'
When the field of 156 players line up for the 137th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale they will not be haunted by the presence of Tiger Woods. The world number one underwent surgery on his knee after heroically winning the US Open, despite being in severe pain, and is ruled out of The Open and probably for the rest of the year.
Various people keep asking me how this will affect the viewing figures and the honest truth is 'not massively'! Whilst there is talk of audiences dropping by up to 30% in America we do have evidence that when Tiger is not in contention, say at the Masters or the Open (both BBC events), then interest is not diminished. Tiger's record in majors speaks for itself and having won three out of the eight Opens this century would have been the overwhelming favourite, but his absence throws the field wide open!
There will be great interest to see if there might be a home winner. Royal Birkdale is the only course on the Open rota that has never had a European Champion, previous winners include Peter Thomson, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino and Mark O'Meara.
Having come third at the US Open, Lee Westwood is amongst the favourites as is last year's winner Padraig Harrington although news on Tuesday that he is suffering from a wrist injury could hamper his defence. But for those who have spent the last month or so enjoying our coverage of the European football championship and Wimbledon, how about last year's runner up Sergio Garcia adding to the success of the Spanish football team and Rafael Nadal?
Live coverage starts on Thursday and, as with all our big events, there will be no shortage of ways for you to catch up with the action. More than 38 hours will be broadcast live on BBC One and BBC Two, all teed up with an Open preview on Wednesday night at 11.20 on BBC Two.
Gary Lineker and Hazel Irvine will be fronting our TV output with expert commentary and analysis from Peter Alliss, Ken Brown, Andrew Cotter, Wayne Grady, Sam Torrance and Mark James. Our regular on-course team of Paul Eales, Maureen Madill and Phil Parkin will be treading the fairways, with Shane O'Donoghue reporting from the driving range. The action gets underway at 0900 on Thursday morning on BBC Two and big names out early include Lee Westwood, Ernie Els, Justin Rose, Harrington, Ian Poulter, Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie.
There will also be comprehensive coverage provided on BBC interactive, via the red button, where viewers will be able to access a live leaderboard, keep up to date with all the latest Open news with interviews and comment, as well as the option to watch holes 16, 17 and 18 as players reach the climax of their rounds. Following live coverage, a highlights loop will run throughout the night and golf fans can also follow all the action online at bbc.co.uk/golf.
In anticipation for the 2008 Open all but two of Royal Birkdale's holes have been altered. The course is only 155 yards longer than it was when the course last hosted the event ten years ago, but the focus has been on tightening up the holes. This has been achieved by the addition of 20 new bunkers and significant mounding on seven greens. But the most significant change is undoubtedly the introduction of a severely undulating green on the 572-yard par 5 17th.
Our technical spec has also been 'tweaked' since 1998. This year we will be using 62 cameras to provide the host coverage including a tethered blimp, a 72m hoist, six radio cameras, two jibs and a Segway. With over 100 miles of cable being used our riggers have been at work for several weeks. The main TV compound is the size of two football pitches, accommodating broadcasters from around the world, using 1.2 megawatts of power, enough to run an entire village.
John Inverdale and Mark Pougatch will present Radio 5 Live listeners with more coverage of the Open than ever before. Iain Carter heads up the commentary team along with Andrew Coltart, Bernard Gallagher, Jay Townsend and Mark Roe. 5 Live Breakfast will come from the course on Thursday and Friday and listen out for a special preview show this Wednesday when Russell Fuller will host a panel of big names from the world of golf.
We are always grateful to receive your feedback and I will be particularly keen to hear your thoughts on some of our new graphics and technology which will give us unique shot data, ball flight information as well as the ability to locate ball positions over real aerial footage.
I hope you enjoy the coverage.