That’s the reason Tiger Woods loves to play in the
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (AP) — The 18th hole at Carnoustie stretches 499 yards, a straight shot that must clear the Barry Burn off the tee and on the approach to the green.
On some days at the British Open, it can be reached with a big drive and a short iron.
Not this day.
That’s why Tiger Woods was aiming sideways.
Fearing he might not clear the burn into the 30 mph gusts, Woods hit a 2-iron about waist-high toward the opposite fairway and found short grass.
Then came another 2-iron whistling under the wind, back toward the 18th fairway. That left him one more 2-iron to the green, but this one drifted just enough to the right to catch a bunker.
It was only a practice round, but it was an example of how players must use their imagination to figure out how to get to the green, no matter how unconventional it might be.
And it explains why Woods considers the British Open his favorite major championship.
“I love playing over here, because it allows you to be creative,” Woods said. “Augusta used to be that way. The U.S. Open is obviously not. The PGA is kind of similar to a U.S. Open setup. Over here, you can create shots. You get to use the ground as an ally.”
The ground was his best friend a year ago at Royal Liverpool.
Left driver in the bag
After a few rounds on the dry fairways, Woods realized he was better off leaving his driver in the bag.
He hit it only once over four rounds, opting for irons short of the bunkers and long to mid-irons into the greens. The strategy worked to perfection, and Woods captured the claret jug for the second straight year.
He arrived at Carnoustie with a chance to win three in a row, a feat accomplished by only four other players at a championship that dates to 1860. The last was Peter Thomson in 1954-56.
Thomson, a savvy Australian, is now a member of the Royal & Ancient and expects to see Woods posing with the claret jug Sunday.
“He has a chance to win eight in a row,” said Thomson, who won five times and was runner-up three other times. “If I could do it, surely he could.”
Owned other tournaments
Woods seemingly has owned other tournaments since turning pro. He won at Bay Hill four straight years, and he has won five times at Firestone and Torrey Pines. He won three straight years at Muirfield Village, and those four green jackets came from Augusta National.
Those courses were predominantly about power.
The links courses used at the British Open require brains, even at a 7,421-yard course like Carnoustie.
This is where Woods first experienced links golf, as a 19-year-old amateur at the Scottish Open. He opened with a 69 in the first round, and it was all uphill from there. Woods finished at 9-over 293 and tied for 48th.
“I absolutely loved it,” Woods said. “It was the first time I could actually use the ground. I grew up on kikuyu grass golf courses [in California], and you never would bump-and-run a golf ball there. I thought it was neat to putt from 40 to 50 yards off the green, hit 5-iron from 135 yards and run the ball. That to me was fun.”
But that didn’t make him an expert.
Thomson first noticed Woods a year later, playing the British Open as an amateur at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and felt he looked lost. Woods shot 66 the next round to make the cut and wound up in a tie for 22nd, his last event as an amateur.
O’Meara saw maturation
Mark O’Meara played practice rounds with Woods on links courses in Britain and Ireland and watched the maturation process.
“When Tiger came out, he played one kind of shot,” O’Meara said. “He would admit that when he played here in ’99, he wasn’t as capable as playing low shots as he is today. He’s much better at playing low shots now. Links golf brought that out in him.”
But the imagination was there all along.
Woods recalled his preteen years in golf, when it was challenging to find different ways to get the ball to the green.
“That’s one thing my instructors tried to get me to do, just hit a normal shot,” Woods said. “I like to maneuver it a little bit. I like to do something to with it. That was always an enjoyable part of the game of golf. Coming over here enhanced it.”
Phil Mickelson understands what he means.
His father built a green in their backyard in San Diego, and Lefty spent hours chipping.
“I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t go to the golf course,” he said. “I’d hit the same shot over and over, and it got boring. So I would move around the backyard, hitting lob shots and low spinners and trying to create shots just in a small space. It kind of carries over to the way I like to play when I get in a tournament.”
But it hasn’t carried over into the results.
He has only one top 10 in the British Open, missing the playoff by one shot at Royal Troon three years ago.
Mickelson has every shot in the bag, but his short game usually helps him save par.
“It’s getting better,” he said. “The biggest thing for me was off the tee. I really struggled in the past off the tee. Now, I’ve been working on these low drivers that I’ve been able to keep in play and not have the wind blow it way off line. That’s going to be a key. If I don’t hit the fairway, I have to keep it close enough to where it doesn’t get in too much trouble.”
Woods has won twice at St. Andrews, where he could power his tee shots beyond the bunkers, and once at Royal Liverpool, where the strategy was to keep it short of the bunkers.
Carnoustie offers a mixture of those choices, its fairways littered with so many bunkers that keeping short of the sand often means bringing another hazard into play.
“On a lot of holes, there’s always going to be a bunker you have to avoid,” Jim Furyk said. “You’re going to have to pick your poison. Do you want to play more conservative or more aggressive? Take it over the short ones or stay wide of the long ones?”
This is what Woods and the rest of the field will have to sort out when the British Open starts Thursday. Most of that depends on the wind, which can change direction and strength without notice.
Woods was home in Florida last week, which never will be mistaken for the eastern coast of Scotland. He said he was working mainly on moving the ball in both directions with various trajectories.
It might have looked strange to some of his neighbors in Isleworth. It might be just right at Carnoustie.