Insights from Peter Dixon - Carnoustie Tactics
With Carnoustie Links baked under the unseasonable Scottish summer, course tactics will be key to winning The Open.
When Tiger Woods won The Open at Royal Liverpool in 2006 the links were running so hard and fast that the greatest player of the modern era chose to use his driver just once in 72 holes. He would lay up short of the many fairway bunkers and rely on hitting mid-irons to the greens. Seasoned observers described his iron play that week as the best they had ever seen.
Some may choose the same approach at a sun-baked Carnoustie this week. The fairways, say the players, are running faster than the greens - which means accuracy off the tee could be as important as length. The balls could easily find themselves rolling into the big, deep bunkers that lie in wait, or all the way into the Barry Burn, which comes into play on six of the holes.
In practice on Sunday, Padraig Harrington, the Champion Golfer at Carnoustie in 2007, took a driver at the fearsome 499-yard par-four 18th and was mightily surprised to find that his ball ended in the burn just 13 yards short of the front of the green. Tactics are going to play a huge part this coming week.
For the big hitters, however, the temptation to attack the course may prove too hard to resist. After his practice round today, Rory McIlroy admitted that those who can fly the ball 300 yards through the air may seek to take bunkers out of play and then benefit from playing wedges into the greens. “That would give us a huge advantage,” he said.
Chris Wood, the Europe Ryder Cup player, offered another take. “Billy Foster, Lee Westwood’s caddie, said this could be the Hindsight Open,” he said. “I see what he means.
“On some holes, you could choose a driver off the tee or an 8-iron. If you hit an 8-iron and it rolls into a bunker, you’ll kick yourself for not using a driver. But if you do the same with a driver, you’ll kick yourself for not laying up with an 8-iron.”
Regardless of the tactics, patience is going to be a key to the four days of competition. The rough is not too penal, but there will be the inevitable bad bounce as balls hit the top of mounds and kick off sideways.
“It will make for an interesting championship,” said McIlroy, who hit a five-iron a staggering 280 yards off the tee at the 15th. “There are going to many different strategies on view. Some will take an aggressive approach while others will be more careful and cautious. The R&A have done a great job in setting up this Championship.”
Interestingly, the greens stand out like oases in a desert. They are relatively receptive and are holding approach shots, so there are chances to score well. Who does it best, and what approach they take, will be interesting to see.
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