Carnoustie served as early links stomping grounds for Tiger, Rory
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlory have fond memories of Carnoustie, which served as a venue early on in their respective playing careers.
Say the name “Carnoustie” and some of the most iconic moments in the history of The Open come flooding back.
Ben Hogan winning his third straight major in 1953 in his only appearance at The Open Championship.
Gary Player’s gritty win in 1968.
Tom Watson’s win in 1975 in his first appearance.
Jean Van de Velde standing in the Barry Burn in 1999.
Sergio Garcia’s agonizing miss on 18 in 2007 and Padraig Harrington’s improbable win after hitting two shots into the Barry Burn on the 72nd hole.
Those memories certainly stick out, but the fabled links along the North Sea has also been the site of milestones for two of the biggest stars in the game – Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
In 1995, Woods was the reigning U.S. Amateur champion and had finished as the low amateur at the Masters. He was coming off a WD at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills after spraining his wrist hitting out of thick rough.
Woods had never played links golf before, but he received a great indoctrination in the 1995 Scottish Open at Carnoustie. A week later, he played in his first Open at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
For Woods, it was love at first sight.
"I love playing over here because it allows you to be creative," Woods said at the 2007 Open. "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. We play so much in the States where everything is up in the air ... I loved coming over here my first time in '95. I played here at Carnoustie and over at St. Andrews. My first two experiences on links golf were probably as good as they get."
Woods immediately embraced the challenges of links golf. The quirky bounces, unpredictable weather and variety of shots can be a turn off to Americans used to bomb and gouge, perfectly manicured courses and target golf.
But not for Woods. He was only 19 years old, but Woods instantly saw the connection to the Old Course and Augusta National, and how St. Andrews served as an inspiration to Bobby Jones and Dr. Alister MacKenzie when they were designing the home of the Masters.
With a solid foundation of links knowledge, Woods returned a year later to The Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Now a two-time U.S. Amateur champion, Woods not only made the cut for the second year in a row, but he also tied for 22nd, won low amateur honors and took home the silver medal.
It was then that Woods knew he had the game to be a professional. His third straight U.S. Amateur win later that summer would solidify his decision.
Eleven years later, another young prodigy showed flashes of his enormous promise on the links of Carnoustie.
Only 18 years old, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy was already making a name for himself.
Since the age of 13 he was enrolled in fellow Ulsterman Darren Clarke’s foundation and also in Sir Nick Faldo’s junior program. McIlroy earned a spot into his first Open by winning the European Amateur. Two years earlier, he set the course record at Royal Portrush with a 61.
He wasted no time thrusting his name onto the bright yellow leaderboard at Carnoustie. In his first round in a major championship and grouped with Henrik Stenson and Miguel Angel Jimenez, McIlroy was the only player to shoot a bogey-free round. Even better, his opening 68 was one stroke better than his idol Tiger Woods.
“It's pretty special feeling to say you shot one better than Tiger,” said McIlroy after the first round. “And then to be playing partners as well with Henrik and Miguel, it's just awesome.”
McIlroy fell back in the second round with a 76, but by Friday evening he had already accomplished his goal for the week. He was the only amateur to make the cut, so he was guaranteed the silver medal as low amateur.
Standing on the 18th green with the Claret Jug in his hands and the sun casting a warm glow over Carnoustie, 2007 champion Padraig Harrington said what every golfer was probably thinking after watching the kid with the puffy cheeks and moppy hair collect his medal.
“I’m glad I got in before he gets one,” Harrington said. “I think he’ll win a few Open Championships in the future. A fine talent and he proved it this week.”
Seven years later, McIlroy’s name would be on the Claret Jug after a masterful performance at Royal Liverpool.
At the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale, McIlroy reflected back on his debut at Carnoustie with a smile and immense pride at what he had accomplished since then.
“If you were to ask me in Carnoustie ten years ago, OK, you're going to be sitting in your press conference in ten years' time at Birkdale, what would you like to have achieved? If someone told me, you're going to be a four-time major winner and you won The Open, and you're one leg away from the career Grand Slam, you've played on three winning Ryder Cup teams, you've won the Order of Merit three times in Europe, you've won the FedExCup in the States I'd be, like, yeah, I'll take that! That's pretty good.”
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