Mystery solved: Counting the bunkers at Royal Lytham

By Jason SobelJuly 17, 2012, 2:44 pm

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Darren Clarke was seated in the interview room at Royal Lytham & St. Annes on Monday when a reporter asked the defending champion about the 205 bunkers on this course.

Immediately he perked up, a broad smile emerging across his face.

“You’ve just enlightened me to something,” he revealed. “I have the number 205 on my golf bag this week and I had no idea what it meant until now.”

Exactly 24 hours later, Tiger Woods perched himself in the very same seat and was posed with a similar yet un-identical question about the venue’s 206 bunkers.

“Is that what there are – 206?” he asked in response.

Valid question.

There has been some obvious confusion in the days leading up to the start of this week’s Open Championship – and it all has to do with the numbers game.

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Some reports list the bunker total at 205; others have it at 206. Does it matter? Well, maybe not in the grand scheme of determining a winner, but for the sake of accuracy throughout the week, of course it does.

So I figured, I’m decent at counting. I’ve got nothing better to do. And it’s a beautiful day for a rain-soaked slog through increasingly muddy conditions.

Walking and counting. Counting and walking. Sounds like an easy way to solve a major conundrum.

And so I set forth to find out whether there are exactly 205 or 206 bunkers at Royal Lytham.

The first one I encounter is so small you can barely stamp a footprint in it. Located 150 yards from the tee on the 205-yard, par-3 opening hole, unless a few 22-handicappers sneak into the Open and commence chunking, this should serve as nothing more than a landmark.

Onto the second bunker and – same thing. Located just a few yards beyond the first, this one has all the usefulness of a donated appendix. Boy, if they’re all this benign and out of the way, then maybe this course isn’t so…

Whoa. Hold that thought.

That’s because the first green is guarded by seven bunkers – Royal Lytham’s interpretation of team defense. Surrounded in all directions, the putting surface has all the charm of a picnic blanket lying in the middle of a beach. Or maybe a towel.

Time to keep walking before I start making sandcastles.

Another hole, another nontuple-bunkered layout. Unlike the opener, though, the par-4 second hole has only four around its green, which means they’re more spread out. Sort of like expanding the search party for a missing person. Fittingly, some players’ chances of winning could go missing here, too.

19, 20, 21…

The bunker count only increases the farther I traverse on the course. Ten on No. 3. Twelve on 4. Six on 5. Twelve on 6. It sounds like an Abbott and Costello sketch, only there’s nothing funny about these monsters.

On the par-5 seventh, there are 15 bunkers. The hole features a fairway narrower than most English side streets. If cars were driving it in opposite directions, one might have to pull over into the rough to let the other pass. Only problem? It would probably get stuck in one of the many bunkers that border the entirety of the fairway.

74, 75, 76…

Every bunker is technically a hazard, but some are obviously more hazardous than others. The par-5 11th owns a modest pair on the left side of the fairway that will catch any slightly pulled drive of 275-300 yards.

It’s one reason Woods says, “At any links golf course you've got to stay out of the bunkers, because you can't get to the green. That's just a fact. If you hit the ball in there, it's going to go up against the face, because it goes in there with some steam and you're pitching it out sideways or sometimes even backwards.”

110, 111, 112…

As the course methodically winds its way inward, the bunkers only seem to multiply like bunnies.

Fifteen on No. 13. Ten on 14. Thirteen on 15. Fourteen on 16.

Some are so diminutive that players will barely make note of them on the yardage book. Others are so immense you can lose a small child inside.

The one thing they have in common, though, is that none are untroublesome. Armed with steep faces and wet, packed sand, would-be contenders will need to avoid these traps – and yes, “traps” is an apt portrayal. Don’t be surprised if more than a few players describe their situations in bunkers as being “trapped.”

169, 170, 171…

“Not that I counted, but there's 17 on 18,” Bubba Watson said after an early practice round.

Maybe he should have counted. There are actually 19 on the penultimate hole, making it the official team leader on the Lytham squad.

And here’s where our mystery is solved.

The yardage book lists 20 bunkers on No. 17, but one that was supposed to be off the right fairway wasn’t built in time for the tournament, leaving it with a meager 19 instead.

I’ve spent vacations by the ocean that didn’t involve that much sand.

“I don't understand why there's that many,” Watson contended, “but they didn't ask me to design it.”

188, 189, 190…

The bunker bunch certainly doesn’t stop on the final hole.

The last of the 205 – in geological order – is a kidney-shaped bunker precariously resting two-thirds of the way back off the right side of the 18th green. Undoubtedly, after long days of avoiding and failing to avoid these traps, there are players who will find themselves one last time mired in the sand.

It will be no day at the beach, but then again these are supposed to be hazards. They are traps in the truest sense of the word.

All 205 of ‘em.

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”