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Top players head to Scottish Open

Eight of the world's top 20 players will take the high road to Loch Lomond on Thursday for the first round of the Scottish Open, a tasty appetiser ahead of next week's British Open at Hoylake.

Leading the race for this week's first prize of 400,000 pounds ($735,400) are South African pair Retief Goosen and Ernie Els.

World number eight Els is the only multiple winner at Loch Lomond, having picked up the trophy in 2000 and 2003.

Goosen, the world number four, also captured the title in 2001.

"It is a very special place and the Scottish Open is a fantastic tournament," Els told the European Tour's official website.

"As twice champion it holds great memories for me."

Spain's Sergio Garcia makes a welcome reappearance after a lengthy absence from the tournament.

"It has been several years since I have participated in the event and I am looking forward to playing," said the world number nine.

Briton David Howell, the order of merit leader and 10th in the world rankings, returns to competitive golf after a short break.

Among the other likely title challengers at the 2.4 million pounds tournament are Luke Donald (12th), Colin Montgomerie (13th), Jose Maria Olazabal (14th) and holder Tim Clark (17th).

South African Clark, who beat Darren Clarke and Maarten Lafeber by two strokes last year, said: "Winning the 2005 Scottish Open was one of the greatest moments of my career.

"The support of the crowds was awesome and I won't forget the excitement of the final day for many years to come."

This week's event is of special significance to former Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance, who becomes the first player in the history of the tour to make 700 starts, 35 years after his debut.

On that occasion, the Scot won 35 pounds ($64.35) for a share of 39th place.

The 52-year-old Torrance is joined in the field by U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, 47, and former U.S. Masters champion Fred Couples, 46.

With advance ticket sales 25 percent up on last year, record crowds are expected at Loch Lomond.

For the third year running, spectators will be helping to raise money for the Children's Hospice Association Scotland.

July 12, 2006


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