TIGER Woods says he is excited to be back on the Fylde coast and thinks the people are “fantastic”.
The 14-time Major champion is back at The Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes dreaming of a first win on the famous old course.
And the most recognisable sportsman in the world told The Gazette: “This is my third time here, and the people here have been fantastic.
“I remember my first time here in 1996 I was so excited to come here and play and just had just a great time.
“2001 was the same, and I feel this week will be the same thing.”
The 36-year-old is part of a star-studded field set to do battle with Royal Lytham’s challenging course in front of 200,000 spectators.
Woods has won The Open on three separate occasions – in 2000 and 2005 in St Andrew’s and 2006 in Royal Liverpool – and is ranked among the all-time greats of golf.
But despite playing all around the world, he thinks there is something special about the Fylde crowd.
“They’re definitely excited about their sport here, and they definitely come out. I know this is probably I think the smallest courses in terms of size we have in The Open rotation.
“There aren’t as many people, but it feels they’re a little bit closer to you, it’s a very intimate atmosphere, and I think that’s fantastic for us as players.”
Despite being here since Sunday, you wouldn’t have seen the superstar doing his shopping on the high street, although the 10/1 favourite for the tournament hasn’t ruled it out.
“I haven’t gone out really yet,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get my rest, trying to get adjusted to the time.”
It’s been 11 years since The Open was last on the Fylde coast.
The tournament is shared between six courses up and down the UK. And Woods thinks Royal Lytham and St Annes should be used more often.
“It should be here sooner than another 11 years, yes,” he said.
“This is one of their more difficult ones that we play. It’s more confined, but I think that as far as shot-making it tests us, it tests us a lot.
“It really tests your ability to hit shots and hit them the proper distances more so than most links courses.”
World Number One Luke Donald, one of the best homegrown chances of securing The Claret Jug, today sent out a rallying cry to golf fans to get behind him.
The English star says the practice days have been ‘eerily quiet’ around the course.
But he added: “Hopefully by Thursday it will be a fun atmosphere and the people will come out in force.”
Northern Irish star Rory McIlroy revealed he’s been out in Lytham over the past few days.
The 23-year-old was pictured having dinner in Henry’s, Henry Street, Lytham on Sunday night.
He said: “People came up and wanted photos and stuff, but it wasn’t too bad.
“The commotion was definitely not as bad as what it was this time last year, it was nice to get out and see the area.”
But it is not just autograph hunters and golf fans who will benefit over the next few days.
Research carried out by the Sport Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University has predicted this year’s event will generate £35.1m for the local economy.
And it said the exposure of the tournament on television across the globe was worth a further £52.6m.
Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, executive director of organisers the Royal and Ancient, said: “We are delighted the local business community in this region recognises the fantastic opportunity which comes with increased tourism and global attention, and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.”