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Big names & celebrities head for Dunhill Links

Those purists who don't care much for the presence of celebrities or the added ingredient of a team competition within the £3.5million individual event, are missing the point about the Dunhill, according to the defending champion, Padraig Harrington. Although a big star in the golfing firmament - he's ranked ninth in the world - the Irishman enjoys feeling star-struck himself whenever he takes part in this unique tournament.

"This is a special event and should never be treated like a regular tournament," he argued yesterday. "OK, some people don't particularly love the format with the amateurs. But if you look for the good points, this is a tremendous week. There's nothing about this week which you can say is the same as any other."

Harrington went to a cocktail party on Tuesday evening when the draw was made and was as much in awe of Samuel L Jackson, the Hollywood film star, as most golf fans would be if they found themselves sitting beside the Dubliner in a restaurant.

"You look at someone like Samuel Jackson and think, wow, he's cool, isn't he? Hugh Grant is here too. As professional golfers, we're looking at the stars and saying, wow. Like everyone else we discuss their characteristics and judge them if they're good or bad. Last year at Carnoustie I saw Peter Schmeichel and remember thinking he's a big guy. You want to go and say ‘hello' but then you remember they don't know you. You just think you know them because you've seen them on TV. But you can sit in the hotel for days and stargaze."

Harrington also won the team competition in the company of Irish businessman JP McManus last year and felt that experience helped him to edge out Eduardo Romero in the play-off for the individual title. The Ryder Cup man reckoned the presence of an amateur partner gave him something else to focus on and, consequently, he wasn't as obsessed as usual with the intricacies of his swing.

Of course, the celebs also have a special place in their hearts for the Dunhill. No tennis enthusiast can walk on to Centre Court at Wimbledon and play alongside Roger Federer while the chances of a keen amateur footballer turning out beside David Beckham in the Bernabeu are nil. Someone like Grant, though, can tee up alongside Colin Montgomerie at golf's greatest theatre. "I view it as the biggest treat of the year," said the star of Notting Hill and Four Weddings And A Funeral.

Among the stellar names assembled in one of the strongest fields anywhere on this season's European Tour is a man, who, by his own admission, is more accustomed to coming in under the radar than playing a high profile role in the build-up to events. Shaun Micheel, the US PGA champion, is making his first visit to Scotland and was taken aback by the severity of the test posed by Carnoustie as well as the strangeness of the game in the home of golf.

"Carnoustie beat me up pretty bad," he admitted. "I'm used to being able to hit the ball and see where it lands. Here you're aiming at bunkers, you're aiming at cranes, you're aiming at a clock. It's different for me, but I love it - it's a lot of fun."

While Micheel is a newcomer to the joys of the linksland, Ernie Els, the leader of the European Tour's Order of Merit, and Vijay Singh, No1 on the US money list, are old hands in this part of the world. The South African lifted the Claret Jug at Muirfield last year and the Fijian was second behind Ben Curtis at Sandwich.

The pair are clear-cut favourites to come out on top this weekend with Harrington, Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn the pick of the European hopes.

There's also a 14 strong Scottish contingent in the field hoping to emulate the success Paul Lawrie enjoyed here in 2001 or the third-place finish which earned Sandy Lyle the biggest cheque of his career, £159,506, last autumn. Gordon Brand Jnr, Andrew Coltart, David Drysdale, Alastair Forsyth, Stephen Gallacher, Doug McGuigan, Colin Montgomerie, Andrew Oldcorn, Gary Orr, Raymond Russell, Sam Torrance and Simon Yates will join the former Open champions in the quest to make home advantage count.

After unveiling the plaque which re-named the sixth hole in honour of Ben Hogan at Carnoustie yesterday, Lawrie described the experience as "difficult to put into words". The Scot is back playing Callaway clubs again and admitted the experience of hitting the small ball with a persimmon wood off the sixth tee at Carnoustie (the same equipment Hogan used 50 years ago) was "a strange sensation - the ball almost came off sideways".

Lawrie, incidentally, is looking forward to playing with Forsyth for Scotland at the World Cup on Kiawah Island in November. "He's desperate to play for his country as I am," said the Aberdonian. Forsyth, who is recovering from a wrist injury which contributed to a sequence of five missed cuts over the past couple of months, hopes he and Lawrie can better the 12th spot Scotland gained in Mexico last year.

In the Dunhill's team competition, which carries a prize fund of £120,890, there are any number of attractive pairings to follow. Monty and Grant, Forsyth and Alan Hansen, Nick Faldo and Jackson, Lyle and Nigel Mansell and Ronan Rafferty and Jodie Kidd are among the partnerships at Carnoustie today. Students of the draw may also note the novelty element in this year's tournament which burdened Malcolm Mackenzie, winner of last year's French Open, with The Scotsman's golf correspondent.

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