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Woods heads strong Western Open field

This week's Western Open at the Cog Hill Golf and Country Club in Lemont, Illinois is a heavyweight affair -- and not just because world number one Tiger Woods is taking part.

Previously bracketed as a major championship alongside the U.S. Open, Open and U.S. PGA Championship, the tournament is the second oldest on the American PGA Tour and this week is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

The Western Open was first held at Glen View Golf Club in Chicago in 1899 and only the U.S. Open, which began in 1895, is more established in the United States.

Chicago venues dominated the tournament's early years and the 1933 edition at Olympia Fields was highlighted by the arrest of one of the competitors, who also happened to be one of gangster Al Capone's top hit men.

"Machine Gun" Jack McGurn had entered that year's Western Open under the name of Vincent Gebardi, hoping he would go unnoticed in the 220-strong field. But he was spotted and identified by a Chicago detective, watching play as a golf fan.

This week's event is also the final qualifying tournament in the U.S. for the Open, to be played at Royal St George's, Sandwich from July 17-20.

The top eight finishers on Sunday, who are not otherwise exempt, will gain automatic places in the Open field.

Also qualifying will be the top seven players and ties, not otherwise exempt, in the top 25 of a cumulative money list taken from the Players' Championship and the five PGA Tour events up to and including the Western Open.

For twice champion Woods, it will be his last tournament before the Open in a year when he has been forced to reduce his playing schedule following knee surgery last December.

However, the 27-year-old American is happy with the pace of his recovery.

"I'm right on the timetable as far as the number of tournaments," said Woods, who has won three times in nine PGA Tour starts this season.

"I'm not going to play as many as I did last year, and that's all by design. We're going to take it nice and slow this year and see how it goes.

"So far, it's been very successful," he added. "I've paced myself well."

John Kaczkowski, tournament director for the Western Golf Association, is delighted Woods is playing.

"Tiger's presence raises the competitive bar for the entire field and gives Chicago area fans an opportunity to see the greatest talent in the game today," he said in a statement.

"Tiger's victories have continued our tradition of great champions. We're happy and proud to welcome him back for this historic event."

Woods, who first played in the Western as an amateur in 1994 and won the tournament in 1997 and 1999, heads a strong field of 156.

Ten of the world's top 20 are entered this week, with Open champion Ernie Els and world number four Davis Love III among the notable absentees.

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