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Jordan Spieth stays breezy, Tom Watson feels a chill on eve of British Open

They've been playing golf here on the Old Course since the 1400s. Sometime later in that century, Christopher Columbus discovered America.

The 144th British Open, known in Europe simply as "the Open," was well underway Thursday about the time the United States was awakening to its workday.

By its grand finale Sunday, over a course that is set up to play around 7,300 yards — with wind, it can feel like 9,000 —the expected story lines range from weather to retirement to youth.

Weather is almost always a story at St. Andrews. The legendary Old Course, hosting this championship for the 29th time, is located off the wind-swept North Sea. Sometimes, the winds hold off for the tournament. Not often.

Friday and Saturday are expected to bring swirling gusts nearing 40 mph. Rain is also forecast to join the misery party, on and off, both days .

Peter Dawson, retiring chief executive of the sanctioning Royal and Ancient Golf Club, said Wednesday, while making no attempt to hide his smile, "It looks as if we are going to have some rough weather coming up, and that's the Open Championship."

Tom Watson, who has won the title five times, said, also with a twinkle in his eye, "Sounds like we're going to get some gales."

Watson, 65, will be playing in his last British Open — unless he finishes in the top 10, which brings another five years of automatic exemptions into the tournament. With just about everybody else, that would be totally out of the question. But Watson nearly won just two months before his 60th birthday in 2009, before his approach shot on No. 18 on Sunday skipped off the green.

He also said that his next Masters in April will be his last.

"It [Augusta National] has just become too much course for me," he said.

This was supposed to be a youthful battle to the title between Rory McIlroy, 26, and Jordan Spieth, 21. But McIlroy, the defending champion and pride of European golf, sprained his ankle playing soccer last week and will not play.

Spieth, who has won the last two majors, also won last week's John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill., and then flew here late Sunday. He practiced Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and still was taking jabs from the British press, which seemed to take his lack of extended preparation for their Holy Grail as an affront.

That seemed to be made worse when Spieth said he had played a practice round on a golf simulator in his home. He retained a sense of humor about it Wednesday.

"The course was a lot easier," he said, "with 68 degrees and no breeze coming out of the air conditioner."

This place is saturated with tradition and history, and not just because of the nearby ocean and the surrounding castle-like buildings. In addition to Watson, among the somewhat-over-the-hill golfers who will play — as former champions still with exemptions — are John Daly, Nick Faldo, Mark O'Meara, Paul Lawrie, Sandy Lyle, Mark Calcavecchia, David Duval and Tom Lehman.

Tiger Woods said he is healthy and ready to pursue his first major title — his 15th overall — since Torrey Pines in 2008.

"I'm very excited," said Woods, 39. "I've always loved this golf course, from the first time I played it back in '95."

Woods has won three British Opens, two at St. Andrews.

Spieth will play the first two days with Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama, Woods with Jason Day and Louie Oosthuizen, and 2013 champion Phil Mickelson with Matt Kuchar and Henrik Stenson.

bill.dwyre@LATimes.com

Twitter: @DwyreLATimes

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