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Goosen ready to defend at Loch Lomond

Retief Goosen defends his title at this week's Scottish Open and will want to build on the improved form he displayed in tying for second at the European Open in Ireland on Sunday.

The 33-year-old South African closed with a three-under-par 68 at the K Club, finishing just a stroke behind winner Michael Campbell to strengthen his position at the top of the 2002 European money list.

That represented a welcome upturn in fortune for world number four Goosen, who had slipped to joint-60th and joint-77th in his previous two European Tour events.

He also missed the cut by a shot as defending US Open champion at Bethpage State Park three weeks ago.

Twelve months ago at picturesque Loch Lomond, the South African eased to a wire-to-wire victory in the Scottish Open, firing a last-day 71 to take the title by three strokes from Denmark's Thomas Bjorn.

The win was his second of the year and helped him become the first non-European to head the season-ending European money list since Australia's Greg Norman in 1982.

"I really thought I needed to get to 20-under to win," said Goosen, after finishing the 72 holes at 16-under 268.

This week, a score of 20-under could well be on the cards as steady rain has saturated the par-71 Loch Lomond layout.

Rainfall figures in the area just to the north of Glasgow have been 50 percent up on last year's averages.

"I think the scoring will be really low this week," said 2000 winner Ernie Els, who returns to competitive action for the first time this season on the European continent.

"I don't care how long you make a golf course, if it is soft and wet and you are allowed to place (the golf ball), you are going to see people going low.

"But you have to be in the right position on these fairways to attack the flags. If you end up in the wet rough, you have no chance."

Twice US Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, who has taken a three-week break from the game since last month's US Open, is looking forward to playing this week on one of his favourite layouts.

"I think this is one of the best courses I've played design-wise anywhere in the world," he said.

"It's just a shame that most of the time we have to play here in extreme weather conditions. That's the only negative side about this place, but that is nature.

"The fairways were very wet and we were hitting from water all day long," he said after a practice round over the 7,083-yard layout designed by 1973 British Open champion Tom Weiskopf.

This week's event, the final European Tour stop before next week's British Open at Muirfield, has attracted a strong field.

Apart from defending champion Goosen and world number three Els, past winners Colin Montgomerie and Tom Lehman are also competing.

Montgomerie was Scottish Open champion in 1999 while American Lehman, winner of the 1996 British Open at Royal Lytham, triumphed at Loch Lomond in 1997.

Several other US players are taking the opportunity to compete in Europe before the third of the year's four majors.

Ryder Cup player Jeff Maggert - who finished third in the US Open - has entered, along with compatriots Stewart Cink, Brad Faxon, Fred Funk and Matt Kuchar.

Six-times major winner Nick Faldo is also playing this week, along with European Tour regulars Justin Rose of England, Welshman Ian Woosnam, New Zealand's Michael Campbell, Danes Anders Hansen and Soren Hansen and Australian Adam Scott.

There is also the incentive for some players at Loch Lomond to earn a late exemption for the 131st Open.


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