HOYLAKE, England — Even when he's not the favorite, Tiger Woods is still the show at the British Open.
Woods earned that attention by piling up majors at a faster rate than anyone in history, and the attention is just as great now because his recent past includes back surgery and his immediate future is more uncertain than ever. ESPN plans to show his entire round online today.
Not to be overlooked at golf's oldest championship, however, is a new generation of stars.
Rickie Fowler and Harris English will be playing ahead of him. Two groups behind will be Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama. They are among 25 players who share a bond that speaks to the state of golf. Woods has never won a major during their professional careers.
Yes, they saw his dominance on TV. They just never experienced it.
They were not around for the decade when Woods won majors with regularity, sometimes by a record score, sometimes by a record margin. They missed the days that were so Tiger-centric a player couldn't get through an interview without being asked something about Woods.
"Tiger ruined a lot of guys' lives," Charles Howell III, a longtime friend of Woods who lived through those times, said earlier in the year. "He caused a lot of people some sleepless Sunday nights. But he also motivated an entire generation behind him."
Howell's point was that while the next generation might have been in awe of Woods, being outside the arena allowed them to study him without getting scarred. They learned from the way he worked. They were more prepared than the generation before them.
The talk at this British Open is that it is more open than ever.
HISTORIC VOTE: The Royal & Ancient Golf Club will hold a business meeting next week to determine whether to allow club members to vote by proxy for its historic September vote to have female members.
Club rules require members to be present to vote but R&A secretary Peter Dawson said Wednesday at Royal Liverpool that "it's clear that the majority of R&A members feel that postal voting would be appropriate in this case. The rules of the club do not cater for postal voting and, therefore, those rules would have to be changed for a postal vote to be held legitimately."
Dawson announced in April that the R&A would vote Sept. 18 whether to allow female members for the first time in its 260-year history. The club has about 2,400 members around the world, meaning the issue could be decided by only a few hundred members who live near the club if the rules aren't changed.
CHAMPION PARTNERS: Matt Kuchar wasn't messing around at Royal Liverpool as he prepared for the British Open, picking the brains of four former champions with a total of 12 titles during practice rounds.
Kuchar, whose best finish at the British Open was tied for ninth in 2012 at Royal Lytham, played with Woods (winner in 2000, 2005, 2006) on Sunday, Nick Faldo (1987, 1990, 1992) on Monday, Tom Watson (1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983) on Tuesday, and David Duval (2001) on Wednesday.
"I hope I get some unique perspective and some of that mystical Open championships to rub off a little on me," Kuchar said. "It was great to play with all of them. I feel like after four rounds, I'm quite comfortable here. I think all of us as kids that played the game envision holding the claret jug and envision winning British Opens."
Kuchar tied for 15th last year at Muirfield. He missed the cut the first five times he played the tournament and again in 2011 and is playing the British Open for the 10th time.
Kuchar will play with two major champions over the first two days at Royal Liverpool — Graeme McDowell (2010 U.S. Open) and Louis Oosthuizen (2010 British Open).
THUMBS-UP: Jason Day pulled out of the Greenbrier Classic two weeks ago, raising fears he is still not over the left thumb injury that has restricted him to only nine tournaments in 2014.
But the 26-year-old Australian said the withdrawal was a "precaution" and there are no concerns ahead of his first round at the British Open.
"It's fine. It's fine," said Day, who won the WGC-Match Play Championship in February. "I just have to watch it."
In the last six majors, Day has finished in the top eight on four occasions.
MEDITATION HELPS: While some players hire sports psychologists, Anirban Lahiri of India, the No. 1 player in Asia, credits Vipassna meditation for his rise in the rankings.
"My career graph has been on the upper trend, but it's been bumpy," Lahiri said Wednesday after a practice round with U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer of Germany.
"I've relied on meditation throughout this period, which has helped me a lot. I have to try really hard to stay calm. It's not something that comes naturally to me. As a kid, I had major anger management issues and anxiety issues. Having learned to overcome that, it's my tendencies to fall back on that, and I have to work really hard and stay conscientious on that."
FRIENDLY WAGER: There was no doubt who took the money after a practice round Wednesday at Royal Liverpool between 2011 British Open winner Darren Clarke and fellow Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy.
Clarke hit his approach on the 18th into a right bunker and had difficulty getting out of it in one. McIlroy, meanwhile, sank a 10-foot putt for an apparent victory over his close friend. After Clarke peeled a 20-pound note out of his wallet, McIlroy kissed it and then paraded it around the green for the benefit of spectators.
ROTATION CHECK: The R&A has not decided whether Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland will become a permanent addition to the British Open rotation, but it will not remove one of the nine existing clubs. The R&A announced in June that the British Open will return to Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951 — that was the only time it was held outside Scotland or England since the Open began in 1860. The next available date is 2019.