The Way the Ball Bounces

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SANDWICH, England ' Tiger Woods walked along the mounds that are Royal St. Georges fairways, wiping his brow as the heat intensified Tuesday.
 
It is those contours, however, not so much the sun, that will make a man sweat in this 132nd Open Championship.
 
These fairways are very difficult to try and hit, especially with all the mounding in them, Woods said. And thats just the way it is. You try and understand youre hitting good shots, youre going to get bad bounces ' hit marginal shots and get great bounces.
 
Irelands Padraig Harrington, the highest ranked European (ninth) in the field, agreed: You have to accept the good and the bad bounces.
 
Its going to test our patience, added U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk, I think more than any course Ive ever played.
 
This is the 13th time Royal St. Georges has hosted an Open Championship. It has produced a list of champions far less suspect than its fairway caroms.
 
John H. Taylor (1894), Harry Vardon (1899, 1911), Walter Hagen (1922, 28), Bobby Locke (1949), Sandy Lyle (1985) and Greg Norman (1993) are among RSGs accredited winners.
 
Things have changed a bit in the decade since Norman fired a final-round 64 to win his second Claret Jug. The course, which was the first venue outside of Scotland to host this championship, has been lengthened 246 yards to a healthy 7,106. Nine of the tees have been altered.
 
But while nuances have changed, the essence is still the same.
 
Whereas Olympia Fields, site of this years U.S. Open, was straight forward, Royal St. Georges is more Jerry Lewis than Dean Martin.
 
Here, what you see is not always what you get. Because you cant entirely distinguish what it is you are seeing.
 
My definition of this golf course is a quirky golf course, said Norman. Youve got humps, lumps and hollows.
 
Some of the shots are semi-blind, some shots you have to trust the distance how far you want to hit it through the air, but then you have to calculate a 60-yard run, and hopefully that run is going to be straight.
 
Some of the greens are situated low, some are high. Some are exposed, where the greens are very, very firm and fast, and some are receptive, where you can spin the ball back with a pitch shot.
 
You have got to get to know the golf course early on in the week, and if the conditions stay the same, you get a good feel about the golf course.
 
Woods, who is usually more exacting than exhausting in his major preparation, played his third practice round at RSG Tuesday morning, teeing off a shade past 6:00 AM.
 
Its playing differently than what Ive seen on videos, a different wind, said the 2000 British Open champion. I remember Greg (Norman) hitting driver, 4-iron on the last hole (in 1993). Today I was debating whether to hit 2-iron or 3-iron off that tee.
 
This is Tigers first visit to Sandwich, situated along Englands southeast coastline, as it is for many in the field. And all involved have been treated to a series of glorious sun-drenched days.
 
The conditions remind Norman of the time leading up to the 93 championship, when the sun teamed with the wind to create a treacherously fast and firm layout.
 
Id love to be able to sit here in the locker room for about four hours and listen to what the players said after the first day they played here, said Norman.
 
Like the first fairway ' if the conditions stay like this, 20 percent of the field will only be able to keep it on the fairway. They may all hit the middle of the fairway, but it wont stay on.
 
Wednesday rains took the teeth out of the course a decade ago, and may again do so this time. Thunderstorms are a possibility over the next two days.
 
But, forecasters predict, players will not have to endure the extreme wrath of Mother Nature, as they did Saturday at Muirfield a year ago.
 
It was very cold, very windy and very wet. And nothing defines that days apocalyptic attitude more so than Woods round.
 
Two off the lead at the start of the day, Woods, who had already won the Masters and U.S. Open, struggled mightily, lashing through the heather on his way to a 10-over 81. He recovered Sunday to shoot 65 and tie for 28th. Still, it was his fifth finish outside the top 10 in eight British Open appearances.
 
It marked the first of four consecutive majors played without a victory. For the first time since 1999, he is without a major trophy on his mantle.
 
I just would like to play more consistently. If I do that Ill give myself a chance to win, he said. Youre not going to win every one, but certainly at least you can give yourself a chance coming down the back (nine) on Sunday. Thats one of the things I havent been able to do.
 
Woods was five back entering the final round of last years PGA Championship before rallying to a runner-up finish. He had bookend rounds of 76-75 at this year's Masters, and a third-round 75 knocked him out of contention in the U.S. Open.
 
Though recently winless in golfs four biggest events, Woods does have four victories this season.
 
He won three times in his first four starts coming off of knee surgery, had one top 10 in his next six, and then quashed all talk of a slump by crushing the field in his last tournament, the Western Open.
 
The key to making it two in a row this week may well lie in events beyond his control ' the spastic ball-hops.
 
Woods said he hit a 2-iron down the 17th fairway Tuesday only to have it finish in the knee-high hay.
 
I think everyone will probably say this is the most severe fairways were going to play, as far as bounces go. Not too often do you hit the ball down the middle and you end up in the bunker or the rough because of the bounces, he said.
 
It comes down to getting the right bounce, and a guy getting a bit a luck on this golf course.
 
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