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GOLF THOMAS BONK

British Open Figures to Be Hard

June 20, 2002|THOMAS BONK

So now the Tiger Woods bandwagon packs up and heads to Scotland, where the third stage of the Tour de Slam takes place at stuffy, straight-laced and hard-as-a-rock Muirfield.

Woods probably is going to play only once before the July 18-21 British Open--the Western Open at Cog Hill near Chicago, two weeks before--and that should give him plenty of time to figure out how to do battle with Muirfield and come out on top again.

The early line on Muirfield is that the weather conditions have been near perfect, which means the Royal and Ancient is going to get the kind of setup it dearly wants: high rough, hard fairways with some run to them and even harder greens.

In other words, just the way Muirfield is supposed to play.

If the fairways are hard, then balls are going to run like crazy and that means they could wind up in the rough or in one of the 148 bunkers. Then if you mix in some wind, it's easy to see that keeping the ball in play is going to be the biggest task for Woods, and for everyone else, for that matter.

This is the first time the British Open has been played at Muirfield since 1992, when Nick Faldo won his second title there and his third Open Championship in all. Little has changed in the 10 years, although the par-three fourth has been lengthened 33 yards to 213 yards and the par-three 13th is 32 yards longer and now plays 191 yards.

The course measures 7,034 yards with a par of 71.

"I think the players will find the usual perception of Muirfield that is fair," said Peter Dawson, secretary of the Royal and Ancient.

But is it going to be fairer for Woods? All you really need to know is that it was Jack Nicklaus' favorite course and, with the same kind of length, domination and focus, Woods is more like Nicklaus in his prime than anyone.

Trevino on Tiger

Meanwhile, the player who stopped Nicklaus at Muirfield in 1972, after Nicklaus won the Masters and the U.S. Open, doesn't think anyone can stop Woods. Lee Trevino says Woods can adjust to anything.

And don't tell Trevino that Woods isn't a shotmaker.

"Evidently they haven't been watching Tiger hook it around trees and come out of rough and hit high shots and low shots and chip shots and bunker shots. What, are you kidding me? He's the best shotmaker out there. Name me a player who can hit more shots than Tiger Woods right now. Not a shotmaker? Not his strength? Tiger can hit any shot."

Muirfield can be handled, Trevino said.

"I don't think any course is difficult for Tiger, as strong as he is. The one thing that people keep forgetting is how dedicated he is. When you have the most talent and you're the strongest and you're the most dedicated, it doesn't surprise me what he's done.

"He hits the ball so high, like Nicklaus, it doesn't matter if the greens are soft or hard. The wind does blow a bit, but I don't think it will hurt you because the course isn't right on top of the water.

"If they catch a hard, dry course with a tremendous amount of rough, it's very dangerous. But the way [Tiger] hits a two-iron, I mean, he can roll it 300 yards. He may not hit any woods there."

Trevino, who beat Nicklaus by one shot in the 1972 Open at Muirfield, says he never was intimidated by Nicklaus and instead established him as his target.

"Tiger is setting the bar now. Can you reach it? First, you have to jump up and touch it. I could touch it when Jack set it. A lot of these guys can't touch that bar Tiger is setting right now."

History Lesson

We know that Nicklaus is the last person to win the Masters and the U.S. Open in the same year, but it's interesting that when he did it in 1972, he three-putted the final hole at Pebble Beach and won by three shots.

Woods, of course, three-putted the final hole at Bethpage Black and won by three shots. And while Muirfield is next for Woods, it was also next for Nicklaus 30 years ago.

Open Closed

No one can be any more pleased than Woods that the U.S. Open is over. Actually, there were plenty of winners and losers all over the Black Course at Bethpage State Park, so let's check the final statistics.

Winner: Woods, obviously. He missed a day of practice the week before the tournament and stayed in bed all day in Orlando, Fla. But once he got on the course it was a different story. He led or was tied for the lead the last 67 holes and if that's not domination, nothing is. At 26, he's now four years ahead of Nicklaus' pace of winning an eighth major.

Loser: Sergio Garcia. Subtitled: How to go from hero to chump in two days. Consider how the yells from the crowd changed from "Go, Sergio!" to 'Hit the damn ball!" If his incessant waggling while he has an iron in his hands wasn't irritating enough, then the obscene gesture he made to the crowd, his club-tossing and ball-slamming and his childish complaint that Woods gets all the breaks get the nod. Paired with Woods for the final round, he was a nonfactor and got steamrollered.

Winner: NBC. With an 8.9 national Nielsen rating Sunday, the Open was watched by a record 55 million over the weekend.

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