CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (Reuters) - The cream of the world’s golfers can expect a fiery Carnoustie this week but the Scottish links is unlikely to live up to its Car-nasty nickname of old.
Rather than the tangled knee-high rough that caused carnage on the leaderboard and reduced Spain’s Sergio Garcia to tears in 1999 when he hacked it round for a first-round 89, lightning-fast fairways will be the order of the day.
That year Scotland’s Paul Lawrie prevailed after a three-man playoff with American Justin Leonard and Frenchman Jean van de Velde who famously blew a three-stroke lead on his 72nd hole and ended up standing in the Barry Burn.
That trio completed their four rounds in six over while in 2007 Ireland’s Padraig Harrington finished on seven under, level with Garcia, and lifted the trophy after a playoff.
Sandy Reid, Carnoustie’s Links Superintendent, thinks the winning score will be in double digits below par this time but says the course will not be defenseless even if the fickle Scottish weather remains friendly as it has been in the two months leading up to the 147th Open.
“The course is going to play really fiery,” Reid told Reuters. “The course is really dried out because we’ve had only half the usual amount of rain over the past three months.
“Players will need to be able to control the way the ball runs. They will really need to study that, try to work out where it will stop rather than where it will carry.
“They will really have to think their way around.”
Fourteen-times major champion Tiger Woods has remarked that the fairways are playing faster than the greens during practice rounds, with balls running 80 yards down the fairways.
“There are not a lot of opportunities to hit driver just because the ball is going to be rolling out 80 yards,” he said.
“It’s just hard to keep the ball in play, and even when you’re hitting four or five-irons, they’ve been running 50 to 60 yards.”
Dry and calm conditions are expected throughout the four days and with the greens being relatively flat it would suggest a low-scoring Open.
Reid says the bunkers will stop players taking liberties.
“Carnoustie is one of the best-bunkered courses you will find,” Reid, who took over as Links Superintendent, six years ago, said. “You have to take on the bunkers if you are going to score well at Carnoustie.
“The good ball strikers will be the ones that will flourish but because it will be playing shorter this year maybe that will help others. The greens are fairly gentle but if you are a little off your game Carnoustie punishes you.”
Thankfully, this time the farcical sight of balls running two feet off the fairway and never being seen again, as happened in 1999, will not happen this year.
“It’s far removed from 1999,” Reid said. “That year it rained every day for 30 days leading to the Open and it was perfect growing conditions for rough.
“We have good links rough. Compared to 1999 the quality of the grasses is better. We have less bad grasses. It’s a lot fairer. There are still some spots where it’s long but its fescues so its whispy enough to play through it.
“There will be the odd spots where it’s like playing out of the fairway or semi-rough but there will still be some thick stuff.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond