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Golf: Big hitters facing a longer haul on the Old Course

Alterations that have been made to the famous Old Course at St Andrews received a mixed reaction on the opening day of the Alfred Dunhill Cup. Andy Farrell reports.

The great attraction of this event is the venue. St Andrews has been steeped in golf longer than anywhere else in the world. Even the New Course here is more venerable than most elsewhere and the Old Course is exactly that, the oldest, most unchanging setting for the ball-and-stick game.

Until now that is. The Old Course has been changed. The Auld Lady has been placed on a rack and extended by 161 yards. Six new tees have been built in an attempt to increase the level of torture experienced by modern- day professionals with their hi-tech balls and state of the art clubs.

Action was needed after John Daly won the Open here two years ago. His victory was not unexpected. Michael Bonallack, the secretary of the Royal & Ancient - who are more forward thinking than their image suggests - profited from a wager that Long John would prevail that week.

The Old Course has always evolved - it was once played the "other way round'', i.e. from the first tee to the 17th green - but the trouble with the links was that the difficulties, represented by pot bunkers with names such the Coffins and the Principal's Nose, were no longer in play not just for Daly, but a whole host of other big hitters.

Colin Montgomerie and Ernie Els approve of the changes. "I cannot see any negatives to the changes," Els said. One of the old guard, Mark James, disagrees. "Unimaginative, unnecessary and irrelevant," the English captain said.

"If a course is obviously flawed, then you try to do something about it. This is obviously flawed because if you carry the ball 270 yards off the tee, there isn't a bunker in play. But that still exists. It doesn't make a difference for the gorillas. It's wide open. You can reduce it to nothing. So I'm told.''

At this point, James looked for guidance from his more youthful, long- hitting countryman Lee Westwood. "Mark plays a game with which I am not accustomed," the youngster chided his elder. "You won't want to become accustomed to it," James replied.

The English trio of James, Westwood and Russell Claydon beat Japan 3- 0 to put pressure on the group's top seeds, America, who dropped a point to Argentina. There was not much subtlety about the English strategy. Claydon, at 16 stone and more, was put out against the lightest Japanese player, Tsukasa Watanabe, and told to "flatten" his opponent. This he did only thanks to Watanabe's double-bogey at the Road Hole, the 17th, one that is in no need of making tougher.

Justin Leonard set what is the new course record of 65, later equalled by Sweden's Jesper Parnevik, and had Curtis Strange's previous mark of 62 within his sights when he had eight birdies in his first 12 holes. The Open champion said: "I never thought I would be eight under on this course. I was not hitting it close, but holing a lot of 10 to 15 footers.''

But with Brad Faxon losing to Angel Cabrera 68-72, the result of the match was decided when Mark O'Meara beat Eduardo Romero at the first extra hole. Romero birdied the 17th to bring the match level, but then went in the burn at the first.

The day's upset came from France, who beat Australia 2-1. Fabrice Tarnaud matched Robert Allenby's birdie at the last to win by one, while Jean Van de Velde holed from 25 feet at the first extra hole to beat Steve Elkington.

That leaves Sweden, who defeated Taiwan 3-0, in command in Group Two, while South Africa and Scotland both came out 2-1 winners over Ireland and Germany respectively in what should be the most closely fought group.

Scores, Sporting Digest, page 31