If the young guns of golf want to make inroads this year, they will have to start at the game's oldest championship.

When Justin Leonard celebrated his British Open victory last year in Generation X fashion - sharing a pizza with friends on the 17th green of Royal Troon under the glow of a Scottish night - it signaled a changing of the guard:- Tiger Woods, only three months past the legal drinking age, who was crowned the youngest Masters champion ever.

- Ernie Els, a two-time U.S. Open winner and still only 27.

- And Leonard, at 25 playing with the concentration of Ben Hogan in his prime.

One year later, the old guard is fighting back.

"The old guys never went anywhere," said Tom Lehman, the British Open champion and PGA player of the year in 1996, who turns 40 next year. "It's just that the younger guys played a little better last year."

This year has been different.

Woods put the green jacket on 41-year-old Mark O'Meara at the Masters. At The Olympic Club last month, nine-year veteran Lee Janzen outdueled 41-year-old Payne Stewart at the U.S. Open.

Fred Couples, 38, let the Masters and the Byron Nelson Classic slip away, but still has two PGA Tour victories and is enjoying his best year since 1992.

John Cook and Scott Simpson, both in their 40s, also have won this year. And Tom Watson, the five-time British Open champion showed at Colonial that he still has what it takes to win at age 48.

"I still believe that I can swing the golf club and hit the ball straight," Watson said.

The juniors have not exactly disappeared. Els, Woods and Leonard have all won this year, but the only 20-something player who has been a threat every time he tees it up is David Duval, a two-time winner who finished a stroke behind O'Meara at the Masters.

"There are so many good players now in the world, and a lot of them happen to be young," O'Meara said. "But the fact is, I've actually played some of my best golf over the last three or four years. Tom Watson has been playing some extremely good golf."

And that's what could make the 127th British Open one for the ages.