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THE BRITISH OPEN

Some of the nastiness is taken out of course

Carnoustie is said to be a much fairer test than 1999 as Woods goes for three in a row.

July 19, 2007|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND — For the modern sequel, Carnoustie returns as a fair and revered beast. It sheds its image as a profanity-prompting monstrosity. It culls glowing reviews:

"A wonderful golf course" -- Jim Furyk.

"In excellent shape" -- Colin Montgomerie.

"Extremely fair" -- Tiger Woods.

It widens its fairways from its previous horror chamber of a British Open in 1999. It makes the rough less penal, as if realizing that human beings don't like rough too penal. It leaves in its rear-view the great grouses of 1999, such as Sandy Lyle saying, "The golf course is a joke," or Tom Watson saying, "It's an unfair golf course," or Davis Love III saying, "Carnoustie got the champion it deserves" -- the anonymous Paul Lawrie.

This 136th British Open begins with people thinking it will prove so legitimate that it will get as its champion, well, Tiger Woods -- so that Woods will become the first player since Peter Thomson in 1954-56 to win three consecutive Opens.

It begins with Thomson saying of Woods, "He has a chance to win eight in row."

So, farce ebbs. Normalcy flows. Happiness settles upon the gumdrop village by the Firth of Tay on the east coast of Scotland, so very departed from 1999, when the course's impossibility forged a crapshoot, and the local greenskeeper became a villain, and first-round leader Rod Pampling missed the cut, and Woods said, "You could seriously injure yourself," and 19-year-old Sergio Garcia left teary in his mother's arms after 89-83.

The world's best players averaged 78 on that wretched first day, 76.82 for four days, and the whole thing found its farcical hilt when French thrill-seeker Jean Van de Velde led by three on the 72nd hole but made triple-bogey seven in a collapse embedded in memory banks everywhere.

Carnoustie is back, and it's "not like it was in '99," said Woods, whose 10-over-par placed him seventh. It's lengthened by about 60 yards, but "the fairways are a little wider than '99 and the rough isn't quite as penal as it was then," Furyk said.

It still has worrisome Barry Burn into which Van de Velde famously waded on No. 18, but it's "not as tough as it was in 1999," said the U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera, who finished one shot out of a three-man playoff that year.

It's still got fangs, but they're filed down some, and all is forgiven.

"I hadn't heard it explained," Padraig Harrington said, "but somebody said the other day, and it seemed quite a good point. Carnoustie hadn't held an Open for a long time" -- not between 1975 and 1999 -- "and they weren't sure how the golf course would hold up. They obviously went and erred on the side of, 'Let's make it as tough as Carnoustie is meant to be.'

"This time around, they have the experience of '99 and they know you can come out and play this course with no rough and it would still be a very difficult test. So they realize now that they have a very strong golf course in itself that doesn't really need anything extra put in it, it's already there."

Long keen at identifying greats -- Ben Hogan won in 1953, Gary Player in 1968, Watson in 1975 -- the sequel finds Carnoustie with its seventh Open, where if scores soar, blame the Scottish weather. Mean old Carnoustie takes on effusive respect, praised among the Scottish gems.

"Definitely the toughest of the whole lot" of links courses ... "Probably the best bunkered course that you'll find anywhere in the world." -- Ernie Els.

"Of all the courses on the Open rota, this is possibly the toughest of them all.... " -- Montgomerie.

"And the course is giving players a chance to separate themselves from other players because of the quality of shots that are being required.... " -- Phil Mickelson.

Only one voice in the mix seems to depart from the theory that Carnoustie needed reputation therapy after 1999. "This is an unbelievably fantastic course, it always has been and it always will be," said Lawrie, who, in the mosh pit of 1999, actually won.

Someone had to.

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