Golf: Wild terrain made for the Tiger

Andy Farrell says a brute of a course is no place for the meek or weak: Countdown to The Open: Woods the Western hero is in commanding form for the rough and tumble
Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE WITHDRAWAL of several American players last week does not prove there is a waning interest in The Open Championship on the other side of the Atlantic. What it does suggest is that Carnoustie this week will be no place for the weak of body or spirit.

The 128th Open returns to a venue that has not staged the game's oldest championship for 24 years. The course always was a bit of a brute. Less refined than that place across the bay - St Andrews, the home of golf, no less - Carnoustie enjoyed the reputation of being rustic but as tough a challenge as can be found in Christendom.

A quarter of a century on and nothing has changed. Ten new back tees have pushed the course to 7,361 yards, with a meagre par of 71, and the rough, it is said, is of the seriously tangly variety. "Carnoustie is as tight as a duck's backside," noted Sandy Lyle on a recent visit.

"I don't know if anyone is really looking forward to it," Jesper Parnevik admitted. "You can see some really bad scores. It's a brutal golf course, very tough and demanding. Every bunker is perfect, you can't relax for one hole." Does this sound like somewhere to be playing if you are injured or out of form? The winner of this Open will have to be fit, strong and long.

Look at the top of the world rankings and the players who fit the bill fall into a trio of threeballs. There are the Americans: Tiger Woods, David Duval and Davis Love. There are the internationals: Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Nick Price. And then there are the home boys: Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood and Parnevik.

Americans have won the last four Opens. Should the streak be extended to five it would still only be half that of their record winning run between 1924 and 1933. Last year Mark O'Meara declared that Woods, who finished third at Royal Birkdale, would one day become, as the retiring secretary of the Royal and Ancient Sir Michael Bonallack always puts it, "the champion golfer of the year".

Having responded magnificently to Duval's usurping of his crown as the game's best player earlier in the year, Woods will see as a challenge the fact that the world No 1, in the 13 years of the world rankings, has never won The Open. Indeed, in the last four years, the winner has come from outside the world top 10.

But that is hardly a reason to rule out a player who has won three of his last four tournaments and finished third in the other, the US Open. Such was his commanding performance in the Western Open last weekend, Woods worked on his knockdown shots ready for the third major of the year.

"There is no way it is going to be calm at The Open," Woods said. "I am controlling my trajectory well and I am going to Scotland very pleased and very confident."

Woods played in the two Scottish Opens at Carnoustie in the middle of the decade. "We had basically every single different kind of condition imaginable: rain, wind, calm, sunny, cloudy, foggy, and I think that was all in one round. It's probably the toughest course they have over there," he said.

While Woods was warming up with some of his American pals in Ireland last week, Els broke off from his practising at Wentworth to venture up to Carnoustie. What he saw almost blew his mind. "If I could get a good bet, I'd bet that four over will win," said the South African. "The course is in excellent shape but looks totally different to what it was in 1996. I remember the ball was running a bit more and there was less rough. It is quite unbelievable how the rough is. I have never seen anything like it. I'll be quite happy if the crowds come in and trample it down a bit."

In 1995 in generally good weather, the Scottish Open was won by Wayne Riley at what was then 12 under but would now, with the reduction in par, be eight under. A year later, in windy conditions, which included a gale on the last day, Ian Woosnam won at what was then one over but would now be five over.

After his victory yesterday at Loch Lomond, Montgomerie is determined do something about an Open record which shows five missed cuts and one top 10 finish in nine starts. "I can't go into the Open with any more confidence," he said. "But I have to be careful to calm down and start again. I need to be confident but sensible."

Monty has heard the stories of the high rough. "It concerns everyone," he said. "But I feel it's a positive step that there is more of a demand to hit the ball straight off the tee. However narrow the fairways are, I'd like them narrower."

Monty equalled the Carnoustie course record of 64 in 1995, but a year later had a last round of 81 in the wind. Over a third of the field failed to break 80 that day, and while Sam Torrance was the only player to break par, Westwood was the only one to match the then par of 72. For all the disappointments of the spring, it was only at Augusta that Westwood experienced the thrill of contending on the back nine on the Sunday of a major. He was honest enough to admit it turned his stomach, but also says that he cannot wait for another crack.

And what of Sergio Garcia? He is fit, strong and long, and his world ranking of 80 is false because he has not played the minimum number of events. In the last major he played, the 19-year-old won the low amateur honours but judged in the hard light of the professional world he has since entered, he finished tied for 38th place.

Yet while Garcia may be revealed as the kid that he is in the man's world that is Carnoustie, is the Open not a time to dream? While Justin Rose took the amateur medal at Royal Birkdale a year ago, Garcia, who won the British Amateur at Muirfield, was a creditable 29th.

"I have heard Carnoustie is the most difficult course in the world," the Spaniard said. "But I have played a lot of links golf and I love it. I think I have all the shots. I have been practising a lot of low shots with a fade and a draw. I will go there with the mentality that pars are going to be very good."

His win in Ireland and second at Loch Lomond, with that first- round 62, have established the young maestro's pedigree. Seve Ballesteros came second in the Open at 19 and won it at 22. If not this year for Garcia, then surely some time soon.

LOS NINOS: FOUR ACTS FOR TIGER AND SERGIO TO FOLLOW

YOUNG TOM MORRIS

The original wonderboy. His father, Old Tom, having won the Open four times, Young Tom Morris took over in 1868 at the age of 17 years, five months and eight days. He had The Open's first hole-in-one and then became the first player to break 50 over Prestwick's 12-hole course the following year. In 1870, still younger than any other major winner, Young Tom won for the third year running and claimed the Championship Belt outright. There was no Open in 1871, but he returned in 1872 to become the first name on the silver Claret Jug. He was acclaimed the greatest golfer of his time but aged 24 was dead of a broken heart after his wife died suddenly.

WILLIE AUCHTERLONIE

Shortly before founding his famous club-making firm in St Andrews, Willie Auchterlonie won The Open at the age of 21 years and 24 days. Prestwick had by now been expanded to 18 holes and Auchterlonie took the lead on the first day with rounds of 78 and 81 when conditions were described by Old Tom Morris, playing in his 33rd consecutive Open, as the worst he had ever experienced. Auchterlonie never played with more than seven clubs in his bag, believing golfers should master half shots. He became the professional to the Royal & Ancient in 1935 and saw Kel Nagle win the Centenary Open in 1960 at St Andrews before dying in 1963.

SEVE BALLESTEROS

Nine months before becoming the youngest winner of the Masters - until Tiger Woods - Seve Ballesteros won The Open at Royal Lytham at the age of 22 years, three months and 12 days. Three years previously, the dashing young Spaniard finished runner-up to Johnny Miller at Royal Birkdale. At Lytham he beat Jack Nicklaus and Ben Crenshaw by three, gaining for himself the reputation as the "car park champion" after many spectacular recoveries from wayward drives. His was the first win by a continental European for 72 years. He followed up with victories at St Andrews in 1984 and back at Lytham in '88, and introduced a new generation of fans to the game, as Sergio Garcia is set to do.

J H TAYLOR

One of the Great Triumvirate with Harry Vardon and James Braid, J H Taylor won the first Open to be played outside Scotland. He was 23 years, two months and 24 days when he won by five strokes at Royal St George's in Sandwich in 1894. Taylor, from Devon, retained his title the following year and claimed five Opens in all, while he was also the runner-up six times, an unfortunate record only beaten by Jack Nicklaus. In all, the great trio won The Open 16 times between 1894 and 1914. Taylor was the pro at Burnham & Berrow, Winchester and Royal Mid-Surrey. He was granted honorary membership of the R & A and was a prime mover in the early days of the Professional Golfers' Association.

Comments