Tiger Adopts Bunker Mentality

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- The names Tiger Woods must master at this British Open are not the usual suspects he faces at other major championships, like Vijay Singh or Phil Mickelson or Ernie Els.
 
Tiger Woods and caddie
Tiger Woods and caddie plot their Old Course strategy during Wednesday's practice round.
It's Sutherland -- not Kevin or David, but the tiny pot bunker that looms large on the fourth fairway at St. Andrews.
 
There is Cartgate and Coffins, Cat's Trap and Lion's Mouth, Kruger and Mrs. Kruger.
 
And, of course, there's Hell.
 
The strongest line of defense at any British Open is the wind that whips across links courses, although make no mistake about the Old Course. It's all about avoiding the brutal bunkers, 112 of them in all, some of which can't be seen until a player gets to the green and looks behind him.
 
Woods won five years ago at St. Andrews by failing to hit into a single bunker over four days, which helps explain why he set a major championship record at 19-under 269 and finished eight shots ahead of anyone else.
 
'That's how golf is meant to be played,' Woods said. 'You have to think about your placement. You have to picture a trajectory and shape and try to hit that shape and that trajectory on your spot, and it will be fine. If you don't, there's a chance that you can get some pretty bad spots out here.'
 
Woods will try to avoid them again when the 134th British Open begins Thursday at St. Andrews.
 
This figures to be a momentous occasion, as it usually is when the oldest major returns to the home of golf. For starters, Jack Nicklaus is playing his 164th and final major championship.
 
Nicklaus once said there were three types of British Opens -- those in England, those in Scotland and those at St. Andrews.
 
As much as he has played the Old Course -- this is his eighth Open at St. Andrews -- he sounds as though he has developed a close and personal relationship with its bunkers.
 
'I don't know all the bunkers, obviously, but I know a fair number of them,' Nicklaus said. 'I guess not many courses have names, but I go through the golf course and I name 15 or 20 bunkers, however they pop out of my head. I would never think of that in any other place.'
 
The bunkers can be so treacherous that Nicklaus and Gary Player, who had nearly a century of major championship golf between them, asked a rules official in 2000 whether they were allowed to take an unplayable lie out of a bunker, and whether hitting the sodden wall in the backswing was a penalty.
 
Woods said his legacy at St. Andrews -- no bunkers -- required no small amount of luck. There was that tee shot on the 10th hole in the final round that was headed for three pot bunkers when it skipped over them.
 
'I should have been in probably three or five bunkers, easily,' he said. 'Just off the tee shots alone, it happened to hop over a bunker and catch a side and kick left or right of it. That happens. Fortunately for me, it was happening that week. I got
lucky a few times.'
 
Nick Faldo almost set the standard when he won in 1990 at 18-under 270. Woods broke his record in relation to par by one shot, and the difference might have been the one bunker Faldo found that year.
 
'The strategy of this golf course is respect for the bunkers,' Faldo said. 'When I won it, I hit it in one. And that's the whole key to this place. Anything can happen. You get under the lip, and you have to come out backward or whatever, and you can't even get to it.'
 
Nicklaus knows that all too well.
 
It was in 1995 when he hit his second shot on the par-5 14th into Hell Bunker, a massive sand box with 6-foot walls that feel like a crudely made prison, which might be how it got its name. Nicklaus took four shots to get out on his way to a 10.
 
The most infamous incident took place at the most famous bunker on the Old Course -- the Road Bunker that fronts the 17th green. Tommy Nakajima was in contention in the '78 British Open and seemingly safe on the green when his first putt was struck too hard and went into the bunker. It took him four shots to get out, and he fell out of the hunt.
 
Asked if he lost concentration, Nakajima replied, 'No, I lost count.'
 
David Duval suffered a similar fate in 2000, although his four swings from the Road Bunker for a quadruple bogey in the final round only cost him second place.
 
That will be the trick at St. Andrews this week, as it always is. It might be slightly easier to avoid the bunkers if the warm sunshine and slightest breeze remain through the end of the tournament.
 
That's how it was when Woods and Faldo won so easily.
 
Woods hasn't always had it this good. He played St. Andrews as an amateur in 1995 and tied for 68th in windy conditions. He also played the Dunhill Cup in 1998, another wind-blown occasion, when he lost to Santiago Luna of Spain in the semifinals.
 
'This golf course, it's kind of funny,' Woods said. 'You play along here and you think, 'What is a bunker here for?' And all of a sudden the wind switches and you go, 'Oh, there it is.' That's the beauty of playing here. You always discover some new bunkers, just because the wind conditions change.
 
'I've played here in '95 and '98 and then 2000, and I've had all types of wind,' he said. 'I've got to experience some bunkers that I didn't think would ever come into play.'

Justin Leonard played five holes in his practice round before he finally went into a bunker. The shot was familiar -- a blast out of the sand, with the ball bounding off the wall with topspin to roll down the fairway.
 
As he climbed out of the pit, Leonard was asked if he knew the name of the bunker.
 
'No,' he replied. 'I've lost track.'
 
Nicklaus played two practice rounds earlier this week and dropped a few balls in the bunkers, a reminder he didn't need that they are not where he wants to be.
 
'You don't play any golf course like this one,' Nicklaus said. 'There's just no other golf course that is even remotely close.'
 
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