Golf: The Open - Rough ride awaits wary Montgomerie

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The Independent Online
FOR ALL the agony of going through the final qualifying, those in competitive action yesterday had one advantage over the exempt players already practising on the championship course here at Carnoustie. At least they could postpone their first look at the venue for the 128th Open Championship for another 24 hours.

As the haar lifted and the sun came out - it surely cannot last - there could not have been a better afternoon for being on a links. But that only made it all the more obvious how demanding a test, with the narrow fairways and thick rough, awaits the best players in the world from Thursday.

"This is the most difficult course by far, by a long, long way, and this is a glorious summer's day with a very light breeze," reported Colin Montgomerie after his first practice round following his victory at Loch Lomond on Saturday.

"We all hope and pray that it doesn't become a wind," the Scot added. "If it becomes a wind, you'll see scores higher than we've ever, ever seen before in any British Open."

Montgomerie meant in the modern era since the Open was regularly won with scores of 300 or over at the turn of the century. However, it would not surprise the European No 1 if it happened again for the first time since 1925.

"Everyone is saying that even on a perfect day like today they would take level par and run," Monty said. "And if it blows at all, there will certainly be scores in the 90s and the winning score might well be 300. That's 16 over par and I think four over times four is not bad at all around here. It's not unfair, it is just very, very difficult."

Montgomerie is the course record holder at Carnoustie. "I think that 64 is very safe. This year, I think, all the majors have got together and decided to make it tough. The Masters added rough and at Pinehurst even good shots got punished.

"This course is going to identify the best driver, then the best iron player or three-wood player, then the best chipper, because you are not going to reach every green, and it is going to identify the best putter. So, yes, it will identify the best player. But I must admit that the condition of the course is unbelievable. You will never see a finer links. The fairways are absolutely fabulous, the teeing areas are firm and flat, the greens putt very true."

Montgomerie said he hopes his Open record of missing more cuts than he has made is just "coincidence" and is delighted that there will be such a premium on straight driving. Though the longer players, such as Tiger Woods, David Duval and Vijay Singh, will be able to take irons off some tees, the overall length of 7,361 yards means others, like Jose Maria Olazabal, will have to stick with the driver.

That is not always good news for the Masters champion, who knocked himself out of the US Open last month by breaking his right hand after punching his hotel bedroom wall. With his fourth and fifth fingers strapped together, Olazabal began practising again last week. Yesterday, he and Miguel Angel Jimenez lost to Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Martin.

"The hand is recovering but there is still a bit of pain and it will take another two or three weeks to be truly free of pain," Ollie said. "It does not hurt when I hit the ball but I can't grip the club properly." Asked whether his problem gripping the club was affecting the flight of his shots, he said: "No, the flight is still the same; sideways with the driver and pretty straight with the irons." Olazabal will have a session with his mentor, John Jacobs, today.

The wall-punching incident happened after Olazabal's 75 in the first round at Pinehurst. "The hotel have not phoned so the wall must be still intact," he said. "We are all human beings and I am not perfect. I might make some mistakes along the way but I will think twice another time. I live the game with a lot of passion and it hurt to drop four shots over the last four holes. I finished the round, had lunch and then went to the range and then to the putting green. Then, around five o'clock, I got back to the room and hit the wall.

"I think I must have improved because before I would have done something on the course. I managed to hold my emotions on the course and on the range and only when I got to the room could I express my emotions freely."