Imagination the Key to Tigers Open Success

By Associated PressJuly 17, 2007, 4:00 pm
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- 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.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods practices Tuesday with Hank Haney watching. (Getty Images)
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.
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.'
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.
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.
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    Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

    According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

    Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

    Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

    And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

    Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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    Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

    The Monday morning headline will be …

    REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

    RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

    MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

    JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

    Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

    HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

    LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

    BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

    COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

    Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

    HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

    LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

    BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

    COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

    What will be the winning score?

    HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

    LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

    BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

    COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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    Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

    Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

    Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

    This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

    While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

    Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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    McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

    Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

    “It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

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    McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

    “Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

    He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.