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Big names were nonfactors in forgettable British Open

The 150th British Open began Thursday morning at St. Andrews with me on the family room couch watching at 4 in the morning, John Daly making seven birdies in the first 11 holes, Rory McIlroy tying a major championship record 63 and Tiger Woods looking like he was about to become Tiger Woods again.

Thanks to a little-known South African named Louis Oosthuizen, the opening round seems about 150 years ago right now.

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So does Woods' reign as the most dominant player in history.

Old Tom Morris and the other Scottish golfing gods must be laughing heartily at the expense of the game's big names, and hoisting a few pints to Oosthuizen's victory. Daly and his pants were done by the second round, Woods and Phil Mickelson were out of the hunt early in the third. Tom Watson, who nearly won the Open last year at Turnberry at age 59, didn't even make the cut.

We were left with Oosthuizen, ranked 54th in the world and not nearly as well known as other famous Louies like Armstrong, Carnesecca and Anderson, tearing up the Old Course like Woods did when he won by eight in 2000 and by five in 2005. Somehow Oosthuizen's seven-shot win didn't seem to resonate the same way.

Golf is about big names, and about history. That's what attracts television viewers, even those who don't play the game. That's what attracts fans to the birthplace of golf, and tweeters worldwide were busy getting their 140 characters in this weekend about the small crowds at St. Andrews with the big names either gone or going nowhere.

When Mickelson won this year's Masters, we talked about the possibility of him passing a distracted Woods for the No. 1 ranking and making a run at the Grand Slam. When Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland won the U.S. Open last month, we talked about the possibility of LeBron James leaving Cleveland.

As brilliant as he played, Oosthuizen's performance gave me this thought: the Ravens open training camp next week in Westminster.

Oosthuizen's win is a big story in South Africa -- though not as big as Nelson Mandela's 92nd birthday Sunday. Little Louie -- as ESPN's Scott Van Pelt called him -- will be hailed as the next great player from his country, following Gary Player, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen. The same was said when Trevor Immelman won the Masters in 2008, but what has he done since?

This is not to dismiss what McDowell did at Pebble Beach and what Oosthuizen did at St. Andrews, but I'm thinking more about what Woods and Mickelson and Els couldn't do. Many blamed the way the USGA set up the course at Pebble Beach, and the way the wind played havoc at St. Andrews, but I believe it has more to do with the lack of greatness in golf right now.

If Mickelson was truly one of the game's greats, he would have snatched that No. 1 ranking away from a slumping Woods already. If Els was truly one of the greats, he would have won the U.S. Open and been a factor at St. Andrews, where he missed the cut. We're giving Tiger a pass right now because of his personal problems, but what if he never gets it back and never wins another major?

A similar thing happened when Woods was going through overhauling his swing -- not his life -- in 2003. That was the year Mike Weir won the Masters, Jim Furyk won the U.S. Open, Ben Curtis won the British Open and Shaun Micheel won the PGA. Golf was an afterthought, as it now. Woods is still the No. 1 player in the rankings, but his reign as the most dominant player in the history seems as ancient as Old Tom Morris.

And me? I'll never get up to watch a golf tournament at 4 in the morning again.

-- Don Markus

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