GULLANE, Scotland -- Debate about the men-only membership at the site of this year's British Open won't go away.
Peter Dawson, secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, described himself as "hacked off" about the attention the issue was receiving.
Muirfield has 625 member, all men. The R&A - the world governing body of golf outside of North America and the operator of the Open - has 1,700 members, also all male.
"We announced this Open was coming to Muirfield four years ago, not just last week," Dawson said. "It is one of the truly international sports events this country puts on and people ought to be supporting it, not sniping at the edges.
"There is no discrimination. I believe there is room for all types of golf clubs. You get men-only clubs and women-only clubs, and it has been that way for a long, long time. I see no need to change."
Dawson said the issue was "certainly not" comparable to clubs that bar blacks.
"It is not discrimination," he said. "Women can come (to Muirfield) to watch the Open. They are here to enjoy the tournament. When I look around I certainly don't see any discrimination against women."
Dawson left the door open on women eventually becoming R&A members.
"Never say never," he said. "It's a matter for the members as to who gets into the club. And where that will go in the future, we'll have to wait and see.
"Society has always evolved, but it will do so at its own pace."
John Prideaux, club secretary at Muirfield, explained that membership was "just the way it is." He said there were no written rules barring women.
"We discriminate against nobody," he said. "It is just that no woman, to my knowledge, has ever been proposed here."
PLAYING WITH TIGER: Japanese Shigeki Maruyama has played with Tiger Woods before. But being paired with him on Thursday and Friday in the first two rounds of the British Open will be special.
Maruyama, who played with Woods earlier this season in the Memorial at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, will have a different experience playing with him at Scotland's Muirfield.
Maruyama won the Byron Nelson earlier this season with a 14-under 266.
"Playing with Tiger in a major is special," Maruyama said. "At the Memorial, I don't think he was quite as serious as he will be here. He had just come back from playing in Germany and was tired.
"The only thing that is a bother are the galleries, with so many people moving around to see him and not worrying about the other players. That's not a welcome thing."
WITHDRAWS: American Kenny Perry has withdrawn from the British Open, with Briton Tom Whitehouse getting his place.
Perry gave no reason in a fax sent to organizers. "We regret any inconvenience this may have caused," the fax said. "Kenny looks forward to participating in the 2003 Open championship."
Whitehouse shot 68-68 in regional qualifying at neighboring North Berwick.
American Paul Azinger withdrew Monday with an undisclosed injury.
SERGIO ON SEVE: It's just not the same without Seve Ballesteros in the British Open.
The Spaniard, who has three Opens among his five major championships, has been playing horrendous golf and withdrew last month. He has missed the last six cuts in the Open and had played in the last 27.
"It's unfortunate, it really is," fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia said. "The British Open without Seve, it's not a British Open anymore. There's something missing.
"Hopefully ... he'll take some time off, think about what he has been doing and just recover and start playing better golf and be back as strong as ever."
Asked if he expected Ballesteros to return to his old form, Garcia replied: "Yes. Why not? It's hard. It's difficult. But I really think that he can. He's strong enough."
NO MARTINA:" Also missing from this British Open - tennis star Martina Hingis, Sergio Garcia's girlfriend, who is recovering from an ankle injury.
"She's not going to be here," Garcia said. "She's recovering from her ankle surgery and she doing actually quite well. She's getting ready to hopefully play some tournaments soon."
Hingis walked the course with Garcia at the U.S. Open in June.
ODDS: British bookmakers Ladbrokes has Tiger Woods at 7-4 to win the British Open. Rival William Hill had the American a slightly poorer payoff of 13-8.
Behind Woods, Ladbrokes has Phil Mickelson (10-1); Ernie Els (16-1); Sergio Garcia (20-1); Davis Love and Padraig Harrington (25-1); Colin Montgomerie, David Duval, David Toms, Retief Goosen and Vijay Singh (33-1); Darren Clarke, Justin Rose and Nick Price (40-1); Justin Leonard, Jose Maria Olazabal and Michael Campbell (50-1).
WEATHER: Rain, some sun and mostly soggy. That's the forecast for the four days of the British Open.
Sunshine and no rain were predicted for Thursday, with high temperatures near 66 degrees.
Friday should bring rain, with Saturday partly cloudy and rain in the forecast for Sunday. Wind is not expected to be much of a factor.
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