July 17, 2018

Woods Arrives at Carnoustie

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods will pursue his fourth claret jug this week in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Links.

A 14-time major winner, his previous titles came at the Old Course in St. Andrews in 2000 and 2005, and at Royal Liverpool in 2006.

Woods will make his 12th start of 2018 and first at the Open since 2015. After missing the majority of the last two years due to back injuries, he has already recorded three top five finishes and five top 12’s, and has climbed to No. 69 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Carnoustie marks Woods’ 340th career start on the PGA Tour and 20th Open appearance. In addition to his three triumphs, he has registered six top 10’s.

Woods arrived  Sunday after a stop in London, where he participated in a clinic and filming for Nike at famed Wembley Stadium, and attended the women’s singles final at Wimbledon, where he was the guest of good friend Serena Williams, cheering for her from her player’s box.

After playing eight holes Sunday, Woods played 18 holes on Monday with Justin Thomas and nine holes on Tuesday with Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed.

Woods, 42, loves links golf and believes Open Championships are his best opportunity to win another major.

“Yes, because of the fact that you don’t have to be long,” he said.

Greg Norman (2008) and Tom Watson (2009) contended in their 50’s. Watson was 59 and lost to Stewart Cink in a playoff at Turnberry.

Carnoustie is hosting for the eighth time. Woods tied for seventh in 1999 and tied for 12th in 2007. At age 19, having just completed his freshman year at Stanford, he played in the 1995 and 1996 Scottish Open at Carnoustie, where he tied for 47th in 1995 and missed the cut in 1996.

It was an unforgettable experience.

“I spent probably close to two hours on the range just hitting balls before I even went out and played because I thought it was just the best, seeing the ball bounce and being creative and using my mind,” he said.

Woods had never used a putter from 120 yards off the green, and quickly embraced the imagination and feel required in the ever-changing conditions.

Considered by most the toughest course in the Open rotation, Carnoustie is also known as “Car-nasty” and “The Beast.” Located just inland from the North Sea on the east coast of Scotland, and often buffeted by brisk wind, it measures 7,400 yards and features tight fairways and deep bunkers, along with two wandering burns. Par is 71.

Typically, the layout is long and penal due to punishing rough. However, after several months of dry weather, Carnoustie is playing firm and fast, and the rough is yellowish-brown and wispy.

On Monday, Woods hit a 3-iron 333 yards off the 18th tee.

“The fairways are faster than the greens,” Woods said.

Woods has added a new 2-iron that he bent from 20 to 17-degrees, and expects to hit many stingers off the tee.

“Just trying to have the ability to chase it down there,” he said. “It’s more of a driving club.”

The firm conditions are forcing players to re-evaluate their strategy. Conditions were similar in 2006 at Royal Liverpool. Woods plodded his way around the baked-out course and used only one driver during the tournament.

“It’s going to be a real interesting test in how we’re going to manage our way around this golf course,” said Woods.

Not that Carnoustie is a pushover. Although the course is flat – the North Sea is only visible from the fifth hole — it is also unprotected from the ocean breezes. Seven par-4s stretch 460 yards or longer.

In 1995, Woods reached the demanding par-4 17th with two 4-irons. The next day, he used driver-driver.

“The wind can wreak havoc,” Woods said.

Many fairways seem the width of bowling alleys and avoiding bunkers is critical. Although the forecast calls for temperatures in the high-60s and minimal wind, the key to success is finding fairways and greens.

For the second consecutive event, Woods will use a new mallet-style, TaylorMade putter. He had good success in his last start, tying for fourth at the Quicken Loans National.

“To be honest with you, I’ve struggled on slower greens throughout my entire career,” said Woods. “It’s going to help me on these greens, for sure. I feel very confident with the way I’m rolling the golf ball.”

The closing stretch of 15-through-18 at Carnoustie is widely regarded as the toughest of all Open venues, arguably in the world. The par-4 15th is 472 yards and called Lucky Slap; the par-3 16th is 248 yards and called Barry Burn; the par-4 17th is 461 yards and called Island; and the par-4 18th is 499 yards and called Home.

In 2009, Padraig Harrington won with a score of 7-under 277, the lowest at Carnoustie when played at par-71. In one of the most famous meltdowns in Open history, which saw Frenchman Jean Van de Velde implode on the last hole, native son Paul Lawrie prevailed in a playoff against Van de Velde and Justin Leonard, all shooting 6-over 290. In 1975, Watson posted a winning score of 9-under 279 – the lowest in relation to par 72 — without parring 16. Gary Player claimed the 1968 championship with a score of 1-over 279, while Ben Hogan collected The Golf Champion Trophy in his only Open appearance in 1953, famously finding the fairway at the narrow par-5 sixth – now nicknamed “Hogan’s Alley – in all four rounds. Henry Cotton (+6, 290) and Tommy Armour (+8, 296) were victorious in 1937 and 1931, respectively.

Tommy Fleetwood established a new course record last October during the Dunhill Links Championship with a 63.

Woods draws a late start Thursday at 3:21 p.m. local time (10:21 a.m. ET) with Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama. The trio tees off Friday at 10:20 a.m. local time (5:20 a.m. ET).