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SPORTS EXTRA / SPECIAL SECTION: British Open

This Is No Mickey Mouse Course

Golf: Carnoustie figures to challenge the world's best players, but Woods feels up to it.

July 15, 1999|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — In the first round of the 1968 British Open at Carnoustie, John Morgan failed to break 90. But that wasn't the worst thing that happened to him that day. That came when he was searching for his golf ball in the rough and a rat bit him.

That's really all you need to know about Carnoustie, now that the British Open has returned here for the first time in 24 years.

If the course doesn't bite you, then something else out there certainly will.

If it's not a rodent, then it's the flagstick-bending, tent-whipping wind that whirls around the place and sounds remarkably like a cement mixer.

If it's not the wind, then it's temperatures colder than a bogey.

And don't even think about the rain.

Add it up and you've got one beast of a place. How hard is Carnoustie?

"The hardest course I've ever played," Bernhard Langer said.

Colin Montgomerie said that if the wind blows hard--and it's expected to do just that in time for today's first round--then there are going to be some scores in the 90s.

Tiger Woods is regarded by many as the player with the best chance at escaping Carnoustie with the least amount of pain. Woods is a combined 44 under par in his last four tournaments--three of them victories and the other a tie for a third at the U.S. Open.

Woods shot 15 under to win the Deutsche Bank SAP Open on the European PGA Tour, won the Memorial at 15 under, tied for third at Pinehurst at one over and then shot 15 under to win the Motorola Western Open.

At this point, you would have to say there is no shortage of confidence in the Woods camp.

For instance, he did not hesitate when asked if there was a weakness in his game right now.

"Not really," Woods said.

It could be that Woods is getting closer to making the British Open his second major championship to accompany the Masters title that he won in 1997, his first full year as a pro. Last year at Royal Birkdale, Woods opened with a 65, then closed with a 66 to miss a Mark O'Meara-Brian Watts playoff by one shot.

"I think this is a championship that everybody wants to win because it has the best field in the world," he said. "And I like it best out of all the other majors because the conditions change so much."

In addition to the conditions, Carnoustie itself demands some attention. Not only is it 7,361 yards long--the longest course in the British Open rotation--and not only is it a par 71, it features some very nasty rough and it's also extremely tight.

Montgomerie, who won last week at Loch Lomond with a closing 64, made note of the par-five No. 6 that measures 578 yards. The longest hole on the course, it has a layup area that is only 11 yards wide.

"If it does blow here, somebody is going to win, obviously, but at the same time it will be no fun," he said.

The landing area at the 479-yard No. 12 is only 15 yards wide and Per-Ulrik Johansson says that is too narrow.

"It is ridiculous," Johansson said.

After playing several practice rounds, Vijay Singh is feeling good about his chances, which is the opposite of how he felt after his first time around Carnoustie.

"I thought it was almost impossible," he said.

Nick Faldo, who won the British Open in 1987, 1990 and 1992, said Carnoustie's reputation is intact. In his opinion, there is only one type of player that the course favors.

"The course is tough, very narrow," he said. "Everything we all know about Carnoustie. Experience doesn't mean a thing if you can't hit it straight first. You've got to hit it down the middle of each fairway. And it's long as well. You've got to hit driver. And it's narrow. It's pretty serious out there."

Actually, that's just how it ought to be. The British Open should be serious . . . also demanding, confounding, difficult, cold, windy, rainy and totally entertaining. You've got bunkers you need a rope ladder to escape from and you've got fairways you can only walk down single file.

You've got rats in the rough and a Tiger in the field. And when it's over, you just may have scores in the 90s and a winner in his 20s.

Is Woods or David Duval ready to take over? Is 19-year-old Spaniard Sergio Garcia the real deal? Or will Carnoustie beat everybody?

We soon will find out. The answers, as well as a whole bunch of golf balls, are going to be blowing in the wind.

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