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Open 2012: Fear and loathing in Royal Lytham

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Rob Hodgetts | 07:00 UK time, Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Remember Car-nasty? Royal Lytham could become Royal Loathe 'em by the end of this week. The Open is back on the Fylde coast for the first time since David Duval won in 2001, and the early signs are that a monster lies in wait.

The thick rough, made more lush by the soggy British summer, has already been dubbed "unplayable" in parts by Tiger Woods, while defending champion Darren Clarke said players spraying the ball around this week might as well go home now.

Carnoustie earned its Car-nasty moniker during the gruesome Open of 1999 when tough weather and a brutal set-up made a mockery of the world's best players. Nineteen-year-old Spanish sensation Sergio Garcia was in tears in his mother's arms after shooting 89 and 83 in the first two rounds.

Lytham is not long by modern standards - it has been stretched by 181 yards to 7,086 yards and reduced from a par 71 to a par 70. But 206 bunkers scattered over a tight, bouncy seaside links with plenty of subtle undulations makes for a tough test. Playing out sideways or backwards may sometimes be the best way forward. And that is before you factor in a forecast of heavy rain and stiff winds, at least for the first part of the week.

"Before this year it was considered to be up there with Carnoustie as the most difficult of the Open Championship venues," Lytham's head pro of 25 years, Eddie Birchenough told me. "I suspect the fact we've got a few holes lengthened, a new seventh hole and rough up to your armpits, it might just make us the toughest of the lot."

Tiger Woods steers clear of the bunkers at Royal Lytham. Photo: Getty

The likelihood is that up to 200,000 fans will help trample down much of the deep stuff, while the rain will have doused the fire in the fast-running fairways.

BBC golf commentator Ken Brown thinks the rough may just play into Woods's hands, given he has more power than most to escape. Masters champion Bubba Watson says having the right attitude is crucial. "It's whoever can control their mind and not get frustrated about the weather and the situation," he said.

The front nine is where scores will need to be made as the inward holes will offer few opportunities to avenge earlier mistakes.

"The course looks absolutely immaculate but it's a huge challenge," added Birchenough.

"Our former greenkeeper, the late Jimmy MacDonald, used to say on a typical links course you play nine holes out and nine holes back, whereas at Lytham you play 13 out and five back. We've got holes that play to their full length, nothing plays short here.

"If we get a cross wind, with the fairways being only 25 yards wide, it's going to be very hard to hit the fairway and stop the ball on it. They'll have to play a shot to keep it out of the rough, using the wind as a barrier to bounce the ball off."

Birchenough will retire at the end of this year - "to play golf here and travel until I die" - having presided at three previous Opens as the Lytham pro.

The only shot he says he has seen in that time, given work commitments, was Ballesteros's chip onto the 18th on the Monday (after rain washed out Saturday's play) to seal his second Open title ahead of Nick Price and Nick Faldo in 1988.

"Seve loved this place, obviously. He was always very courteous and kind when he was here," said Birchenough.

He also tells a story of Tom Lehman wandering into his pro shop before the 1996 Open, hoping to pick up a few tips on how to play Lytham.

"He asked, 'how do I win here?'" recalls Birchenough. "I said, 'keep it on the short grass." Lehman took the advice on board and duly won the Claret Jug.

"He was a very nice man and very grateful - when he made the official video afterwards he mentioned that," added Birchenough.

"That Open was one of the great moments here. Talk about pride for the club. It was like a vicars' tea party without the church. The media dubbed it the 'friendly Open' and I don't think a club could get a better recommendation than that. The players enjoyed it, the staff enjoyed it, everyone was friendly and helpful and the weather was super. It was a fantastic week."

Five years later, the enigma that is Duval joined the list of Lytham champions, a man who appeared almost robot-like and emotionless before delivering the most humble and gracious of winning speeches. It made the decline that followed all the more cruel for a man who seemed destined to go head-to-head throughout his career with Woods.

"Duval, he was a super fella," said Birchenough. "We had seen this guy on TV for years wandering around hiding behind dark glasses, but once he took them off there was a man underneath. Another superbly courteous southern gentleman. I spent a bit of time with him after he won and he didn't know where he was. He eyes were glazed, he'd just given that wonderful winner's speech and he was just seven miles high."

So with all his experience and thousands of rounds under his belt at Royal Lytham, what sort of player does he think the 2012 Open champion will be?

"I don't think we'll get a winner who just drives well or just putts well or plays his irons well," said Birchenough. "If you look back at the past champions you would think he must be a straight driver, but Seve won here twice so that's not the case. You'd think they must be a long hitter, but Duval or Lehman were not that long.

"It'll be a fine player who goes for four days without going in a bunker. The bunker faces around the greens are very steep so a sand shot that elevates the ball almost vertically is a necessity just to escape.

"You have just got to have all your shots working for you, find the fairways, find the greens. And then putt like God."

Eddie Birchenough's guide to Royal Lytham's infamous final five:

The 14th, par four, 444 yards
A long par four. The prevailing wind (from the south west) is from the left and the fairway slopes left to right with bunkers down the right. The green slopes front to back with out of bounds five paces from the right edge. It's tough.

The 15th, par four, 462 yards
Almost into the prevailing wind with a very tightly bunkered drive area. If you find the fairway you've then got a shot over the line of cross bunkers to a green you can't really see - maybe just the top half of the flag. It's always difficult to be absolutely sure of the yardage.

The 16th, par four, 336 yards
A short par four famous for Seve's "car park" shot in 1979. It's been tightened up a bit and the fairway is very narrow. It will be interesting to see if, with a wind from the south, anyone takes it on with a driver. I've seen it driven, but it is very tightly bunkered and if you get into one you're not guaranteed a three and will probably be very happy with a four.

The 17th, par four, 453 yards
Probably our signature hole. Bobby Jones made it famous when he found the green from a fairway bunker on his way to victory in 1926. It's a dogleg right to left, needing a drive short of the cross bunkers coming from the left. Then it's a semi blind shot over a ridge of dunes to a green where you can only see the top half of the flag. Some trees have been taken down on the left of the fairway, which makes the green look much further left than it is. Visually it is quite a tricky hole to come to terms with. Again, very well bunkered around the green.

The 18th, par four, 413 yards
The graveyard of so many would-be Open champion's hopes. Two successive lines of bunkers run left to right diagonally across the fairway - a formidable final hurdle. I remember Tony Jacklin's drive in 1969 - there was a collective sigh of relief when he found the fairway. The green is long - about 40 yards - so clubbing has to be good for the second shot. It's well bunkered on both sides and is a real amphitheatre which will induce the nerves with 9000 people packed into the stands. A very good finishing hole.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    What's the betting Westwood, Donald and all these hyped players choke again.

  • Comment number 2.

    Who are the 'local' golfers who know this course well and will be playing at the Open? I see Rory McIlroy has some previous good form here....

  • Comment number 3.

    Duval to win it!!!

  • Comment number 4.

    Mcilroy has been there since end of last week practising, although he seems to be more interested in being a celebrity now.he might be worth a punt along with Garcia,Molinari and Harrington

  • Comment number 5.

    Excellent Blog.
    it would be very interesting to hear from Don247 and jeffkenna.

  • Comment number 6.

    Another lottery major to be won by a one-hit-wonder unknown then?

  • Comment number 7.

    Very enjoyable read. Eddie Birchenoughs last two sentences did make me smile.

    The Open is such an enjoyable tournament and will hopefully reward the pure golfers of the game.

    Molinari has a chance with his straight hitting but he bottled it at Castle Stuart I can't imagine that mentality suddenly changing when one of the worlds greats are breathing down his neck.

    TW will be hitting 2 irons and 3 woods so will have a chance a la Hoylake.

    Would love it to beGarcias year though!!!

  • Comment number 8.

    6. At 08:20 17th Jul 2012, nffc_1978 wrote:
    Another lottery major to be won by a one-hit-wonder unknown then?
    -------------------
    Does it matter? whoever put's the best 4 rounds together wins...regardless of their status/ranking etc... make's it exciting!
    No predictions from me but I'd love to see Donald win one!

  • Comment number 9.

    As the BBC's own weather forecast for the area says sunny, dry and winds of 10mph for the first three days, I suspect this is journalists needing to file a story on something or other.

    The only thing which will be difficult is playing in shorts and t-shirts. You need to be a Newcastle Utd supporter to do that this week......

  • Comment number 10.

    What is all the fuss about? All golf courses have hazards, e.g. water on the 18th at Torrey Pines, water around the green at Sawgrass,sand traps every where. If as Tiger says the rough is unplayable then treat it as a hazard and don't go in it. You know there is water at Torrey Pines and even if you just miss and roll in it penalises you. So don't moan about drifting in to the rough this week. Our course has unbelievable rough at the moment but guess what we still play and enjoy it. So lets enjoy the Open , it is a great course with great players and a great event. Also well done for not putting the top ranked three players in the world out together in the first two rounds , its like putting the top four 100m runners in the same first round heat in the Olympics when they could all qualify but ...totally daft. Those who buy tickets to a golf event are passionate about the game and every single player in these top events is worth watching...shots of the day are often from players not in the 'special' groups.

  • Comment number 11.

    Personally, I love the fact that the Open produces different winners, sometimes from outside the 'mainstream'. The art of being an excellent professional player in many sports is down to adaptability and strength of character, not just being a robot playing the same courses. When Spain complained of the pitch not being flat enough in the first game of the Euros I thought the same...if you're that good, you should be able to win on anything. Noting that the very best players have done...Nicklaus, Woods, Player, Watson, Palmer, Hogan, Snead...

  • Comment number 12.

    I reckon els has a chance at winning and Harrington. Both straight off the tee and have experienced heads to win in these conditions. As far as the rough being brutal here. Yes it is, but what do they expect?? The winner gets 900k for gods sake! Why should it be made easy for them??

  • Comment number 13.

    Just to add to Suel...well said...it would be nice to see the groups and tee-times drawn out of a hat for the majors...it's not like smaller events where you need to attract the viewers, people are going to watch anyway.

  • Comment number 14.

    #11,

    Don't forget Ben Curtis, Todd Hamilton, etc....

  • Comment number 15.

    Our open championship clearly divides opinion. For those who deem it a lottery, I challenge this on the basis that this was how golf was originally designed to play. It was never meant to be target golf, it is a test of an individual's skill, touch, patience and resilience given the range of shots required. The problem is that the majority of the top players have so perfected their target golf, they cannot see the incentive to re-model aspects of their game to be confident when playing links golf which provides so many different challenges. This was the very point that McIlroy made after last years open, a foolish remark, but honest nonetheless. This is why I admire Woods, he gets on with the challenge respecting the origin of the game. Those who are not prepared to properly embrace what our open is all about and develop the skills to play links golf will remain incomplete packages.

  • Comment number 16.

    Never let the truth get in the way of a good story - what Tiger actually said was 'it's a fair test of golf, but the rough in unplayable in places' - how did that become ' the course is unplayable'?

  • Comment number 17.

    Lee Slattery anyone.....

  • Comment number 18.

    There isn't a course in the world that doesn't have areas of rough that are unplayable. The difference here is that it Is a Major so there's probably more of it. At my club the other week the green keeper was getting grief cos of some of the rough and he said. " I can't cut it down in this weather, if you don't like it don't hit into it" Nuff said

  • Comment number 19.

    Rjaggar - while I would never argue with my esteemed employer, it is currently smashing it down and there is 25mm forecast for Wednesday.

    TMA-DON - I didn't write Tiger said the course was unplayable, just parts of the rough, as he said himself.

    Alan - very good points.

    Golden Bear - what a great story that would be. (but to use that annoying Twitter hashtag habit - #nevergonnahappen)

  • Comment number 20.

    Paul Lawrie - won at Carnasty - playing well - could be a good tip for Royal Loath'em.

  • Comment number 21.

    The idea is to find the best player so those that can hit long and straight on this course should end up being one of the best.

    However as a fan you want to see birdies and eagles and long putts dropping in. This picks the crowd up and translates to the players who enjoy the moment. Players with shoulders slumped and depressed looks can translate back to the crowd.

    The rough does need to be marginally playable. Again the best golfers can produce moments of magic from difficult situations but if you make it impossible for everyone then how are you seeing the best golfers?

    The problem that Golf has had for about ten years is that they have tried to make courses so that Tiger won't win. The fact that for many of those ten years he was the best golfer in the world apparently had nothing to do with it.

    I agree with #6 - another unknown to win this year.

  • Comment number 22.

    Always look forward to our Open. One of the great sporting events of the year, which is well covered by the BBC. The course does look a brute!!This year will be no different to previous,the weather will play such an important part, and it will be in the lap of the gods which tee off times will get the advantage. Think that GMAC will have a good week, normally plays links courses superbly.

  • Comment number 23.

    In terms of who I can see playing well around here I'm expecting tiger to take a very professional and well plotted route around and be up there, I can see Luke Donald playing well and I expect a few older hands will be high up the leaderboard as the Open.

    I really don't think Rory, Bubba o Fowler are going to ahve too much fun mind as can't see them adapting to reign in there aggressive tendencies. That said given there all awesome talents watch one of them tear it up now!

  • Comment number 24.

    @ #15 Great comment.
    @ # 17, love him to, but doubtful sadly, more chance with #20 and Paul Lawrie.

    Personally I think Pod Harrington has the grit to grind out a result this week, which looks like that is what is going to be needed. We've all been there, bit of rain, lot of wind, fat one out of the rough whilst taking too much on or blading one out of the wet sand. EVERYONE is going to give shots back this week. Put your 3 wood away and knock down a 2-iron, take your bogey with a smile and move on to the next hole. +5 for a win??

    Picks:
    Harrington (mentally built like granite)
    Westwood (if his driving stays true to form and he has an ace with the putter) Woods (has all the tools and long enough with a 3-wood to leave driver alone)
    Lawrie (done it before)
    Dustin Johnson (great mentality and long enough to chew up the yards)
    Molinari (close recently, can he hold it together?)

    Sadly don't thin McIlroy has the game for this week right now, hope he can surprise.

  • Comment number 25.

    Very good article.

    On paper it looks a fine test of all areas of a golfers skills.

    Many of the comments here seem to consider either Tiger or europeans as the likely winner, as links golf is unfamiliar to many across the pond.

    I believe the current crop of young Americans have all the skills and weapons to tame this golf course. These guys will just play what is in front of them and find the best way to get round it. Under-estimated them at your peril, I hope a home-grown player will win, but I predict one of the young, classy US guys will stand up to the challenge. It's as much a mental test as anything and these guys seem to have no fear.

    One of the following:

    Jason Duffner
    Matt Kuchar
    Hunter Mahan
    Dustin Johnson
    Webb Simpson
    Bubba Watson
    Rickie Fowler
    Keegan Bradley

    I hope I'm wrong!

  • Comment number 26.

    The long rough is a result of the weather not the green keepers being vindictive. The course I play has more areas of really long thick rough than I've ever seen before. If you go in it you've very little chance of finding your ball never mind playing it! I'm sure the same is true on many courses up & down the land. The difference is during the open is much of it will get trampled down, therefore unfortunately a really wild shot will probably end up with a better lie than one which just drifts a bit far on the wind.

  • Comment number 27.

    I know everyone is talking about the "unfair" rough ... but the way I see it it's the same for all the players, if they hit it in the rough they'll lose a shot so tuff they shouldn't have hit it into the rough in the first place.. I fancy Westy to do well he's been very straight off the Tee's and his putting is improving...

  • Comment number 28.

    Tiger says the course hasn't been "tricked up". With the weather we've had was bound to result in (a) growth of the rough and (b) inability to cut it in places.

    Surprised nobody's mentioned Anders Hansen as possible winner. Can be dodgy in the final round, but he's a good record on links and other difficult courses. Also Mickelson, proven major winner and handled links/weather at RSTG last year. World's greatest short game might just come in handy.

  • Comment number 29.

    This talk about the rough is getting irritating. The fact is the inclement weather we have had for the past few months has provided ideal conditions to grow grass and the most un-ideal conditions to cut it back.

    I think you'll see similar conditions and similar statements from most courses around the country and their green staff. It is certainly the same at my home course (Crowborough Beacon), hit a stray one or even get a bounce from the wrong shaped shot onto the fairway and it's basically lost. Nothing unfair about it, it is what it is and is the same for everyone. Welcome to the links.

    I'll add to my list above, I think Ricky Fowler has a chance, he was extremely impressive last year at St Georges, fantastic skills developed to play the links game.

    Web Simpson I'd give him a shot if he was here this week. Gmac can't be discounted either.

  • Comment number 30.

    I still think Carnoustie is the toughest course by a mile. The finish is the hardest in golf, the Barry Burn comes into play on 16, 17 and 18th, crossing the burn no fewer than 5 times in that stretch. Danger lurks at Carnoustie like no other course on the Open rota. Even the fairways are hard to hit, so many fairways are on side-slopes or doglegs with bunkers covering both sides of the fairways. That's why I will always regard it the toughest course. However, ere's to a tough but fair test at Lytham.

  • Comment number 31.

    @ #26. I played Royal St Davids, Harlech on Sunday and the rough there was similar in parts i.e. unplayable. A couple of members said it was the toughest they had seen it and it's all down to the wet weather making maintenance more or less impossible. Had a stiff neck on Monday from all the time spent looking at the ground for balls.

    I remember playing Lytham in 96 the month after the Open and the long rough was very trampled. However, it was quite wispy but with the thickness of it this year, I'm not sure how much it would help. Simple but tru, keep it out of there!

  • Comment number 32.

    What about Lee Slattery - Local boy here when he turned pro. Always a potential upset on the cards at The Open !!!

  • Comment number 33.

    I think the heavy rain has done much to the rough at most courses, it's the talk of our club right now, wayward shots mean a ball hunt, wet shoes, and usually the lie from hell !! As a result there is a far more cautious approach from the members and a lot of course management. I guess it's the same story for the big boys, you play the course and respect it and the best will have the lowest card come Sunday.

  • Comment number 34.

    Who wrote the caption for the photo. It is indeed a tricky bunker shot given that it is not a bunker shot. On second thoughts this is symptomatic of most of the comments I have read on this year's Open.

  • Comment number 35.

    David Duval to win - only joking. Phil Mickelson shall win the Open this week.

  • Comment number 36.

    Moreparsplease

    Maybe Woods next shot was in the bunker after he swung too fast, looked up and thinned it across the floor into the sand ? I can do that so why cant he :-)

  • Comment number 37.

    Who cares who wins, The Open Championship is the best tournament in the world every year. I can't think of another reason to get up at 5:00 AM to watch golf and having stayed at and played at Royal Lytham I plan on getting up and watching every morning.

  • Comment number 38.

    Great comment Massachusetts but I cared when Tom Watson missed out a couple of years back, that would have been some fairy tale after playing so well for four days. The doors open this year but everyone has already written Rory off when he's been there for days practising, does he want to prove something this weekend ?

  • Comment number 39.

    BBC lunchtime has just reported the Tiger 'says the course is unplayable'. Since Rob has denied that this is derived from his work just who is subverting serious commentary on the UKs most prestigious golfing event of the year? Can we get a spokesman to own up to this? Can we get a retraction from the talking heads at the BeeB or do we just suffer more lies and misrepresentation with stoic British good humour? After the Banks and BT it is all wearing a bit thin!

  • Comment number 40.

    Fair point Auntie Beeb we expect more from you than the cheap headlines you get in the tabloids !!

  • Comment number 41.

    I had a wander round the course in May 2011 to see what it was like. I reckoned, on a good day, I might break 120, that is why I work in an office. I really hope that if a European can't win it, then Ernie Els or Retief Goosen does.

  • Comment number 42.

    This is anyone's tournament for the taking. Such a hard course will require no little skill but also a fair share of luck and I see the big names maybe struggling again this year. Having said that Westwood should do well as he is so strong tee-to-green and Harrington looks on good form. It will be interesting to see how the rough plays in differing weather conditions although the forecast doesn't look too bad for the first couple of days.

    http://jedidiahgore.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/royal-lytham-and-st-annes-to-take-no.html

  • Comment number 43.

    Well I guess what little form guide there is should go with those who like links and play it well. Theres a few from the vaults who may be up there as Watson et al have prove before, then you have to go with the Irish boys who are natural linx players, Westy in his own back yard, Donald at longer odds.

    And then of course, that bloke whose won a few US Tour events, leads the Fed-Ex, has won it before and has all the shots to play the style he loves in a major he loves. Cant think of his name off hand....

  • Comment number 44.

    First of all great article and Eddie Birchenough is a really nice guy and excellent pro. Many a good tip been received. All the best for the future Eddie.

    This is THE OPEN. The most prestigious golf tournament in the world. Who ever wins it deserves it because they have thought about where to play and played the percentages. Yes the rough is brutal, yes there are 206 bunkers, if these were not here or on any open course, then you would have a field where any one can hit it anywhere and it wouldn't matter. The Open rewards good players for good play. .

  • Comment number 45.

    Can't wait for it to get going, my picks are Lee, Sergio & poulter

  • Comment number 46.

    Great article rob, it's interesting to hear from a number of reporters that the most impressive guy on the range yesterday was Tom Watson... Surely not another run at the Jug??

    http://carlothesportsman.wordpress.com/2012/07/15/2012-open-championship-preview/

  • Comment number 47.

    Local lad Lee Slattery isn't a bad shout, Matthew Baldwin also after a good showing at the scottish open, at least they won't moan aboaut the weather or tangly rough

  • Comment number 48.

    The majors are a true test of golfers - unlike a lot of the week in/week out tournaments where poor play isn't penalised as much.
    I hope the wind blows and we see really challenging conditions which will test the players to the full.
    Looking at the narrowness of the fairways - the driving accuracy stats have got to be a starting point for selecting the winner therefore i'm going with Graeme Mcdowell and Jim Furyk - however must have a very small bet at a very huge price on the straightest driver in the world - Adilson Da Silva (if only he could chip and put)

  • Comment number 49.

    David Duval was the only one who could be bothered to sign an autograph on practice day for me the year he won, and had a chat. Charming man, best winning speech I have ever heard. If only you could turn back time, love him to win again. Eddie's quotes in the main story were great, a gentleman too. Saw the course Sunday, brilliant set up by Paul Smith and his staff, these pro's are lucky fellas.

  • Comment number 50.

    Good old Jeev Milka, a birdie at the first, after watching his final round at Castle Stuart in tough conditions,I couldn't believe that 150/1 was still available yesterday,so I snapped up a bit of e/w!!

  • Comment number 51.

    I would love to see Jimenez take the jug. A man who has entertained consistantly without media adulation or hype.

 

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