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One of the best golfers who never won a major tournament would love a crack at one now.

Colin Montgomerie used to say it was harder than ever to win a major because each year it seemed Tiger Woods won two of them while Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh won another and that left only one for everyone else.

Those days, at least for the moment, are gone.

Over the last five years, 18 players — none named Woods — have accounted for the last 20 major titles. And the winner? It could be anybody. Darren Clarke won in his 54th major start. Keegan Bradley won in his first. Rory McIlroy won when he was 22. Els won when he was 42.

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The next chance is the 142nd British Open, which returns Thursday to Muirfield in Scotland for the 16th time dating to 1892.

Muirfield is reputed to be the fairest of the links courses on the rotation, mainly because there are no tricks and few blind shots. The course consists of two loops running in opposite directions, so players will face the wind in every direction by the end of the day. Muirfield is perhaps more predictable than some other courses that have hosted the Open.

Not so predictable is finding a player at the top of his game.

The search ordinarily would start with 14-time major winner Woods. The world’s No. 1 player already has won four times this year, and during a two-month stretch in the spring, the American won three out of four tournaments, the exception a tie for fourth in the Masters.

But Woods has not played since he tied for 32nd at the U.S. Open because of an elbow injury.

On his website, Woods wrote, “I started chipping and putting a little over a week ago and I’m full go for the British Open. I’m very confident that my left elbow strain won’t be a problem and I will be able to hit all the shots I need to hit. That’s why I took the time off, so it could heal, and I would feel comfortable playing again. I’m still taking anti-inflammatory medication for my elbow and getting treatment, but the big thing at Muirfield Golf Club will be to avoid the rough.”

McIlroy is one of two players to win multiple majors in the last five years — Padraig Harrington, with back-to-back major victories in 2008, is the other — only Boy Wonder has become an afterthought this year.

In his last eight tournaments, Graeme McDowell has won three times and missed the cut the five other times. At this rate, there is simply no telling what kind of game he will bring.

“When it’s been good, it’s been really good,” McDowell said.

If there is a trend in this year’s majors, it is the emergence of quality players whose careers were elevated by winning a Grand Slam event.

Most players would have been devastated to lose a four-shot lead with four holes to play, as Adam Scott did last year in the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. But Scott responded in April by winning the Masters in a playoff against Angel Cabrera to end a trend of Australian misery at Augusta National in Georgia.

“I’m really looking forward to going back and trying to get myself in a similar kind of situation, a chance to win the Open,” Scott said.

Not long after his Masters triumph, Scott sent a text to fellow 32-year-old Justin Rose that “this was our time.”

Englishman Rose proceeded to win the U.S. Open at Merion in Ardmore, Pa., with three clutch shots at the end that yielded a two-shot victory.

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