December 21, 2014

Elyria
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Crazy Carnoustie

Weather vagaries one more concern for field to ponder

Doug Ferguson
The Associated Press
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — It was wicked one minute, wonderful the next.
The rain and wind were so strong Monday morning at Carnoustie that Tiger Woods and Rod Pampling didn’t even bother with umbrellas, and Woods took off his glove when he lost feeling in his ring finger. By the afternoon, Henrik Stenson sat on the side of the practice range trying to decide which sunglasses to wear.
“It can turn in a hurry,” Chad Campbell said. “We saw it today.”
Sweaters gave way to short sleeves.
Coffee sales slowed as fans queued up at the ice cream stand.
The weather is often the best defense in links golf, and it’s what makes the British Open so unique. Along with being brutal, it can change without notice, and sometimes having the good end of the draw can matter as much as raw talent.
But it has been on somewhat of a holiday since Woods’ bid for the calendar Grand Slam in 2002 ended in a blast of arctic wind and stinging rain at Muirfield that sent him to an 81, still his highest score as a professional.
Sure, there has been the occasional rain and a wee breeze, but nothing nasty.
Charles Howell III didn’t play his first British Open until 2003 and has never really experienced a miserable day on the links. Monday was the first full day of practice for many players, and presented with the opportunity, Howell didn’t want to miss it.
“I didn’t play that year at Muirfield, and I don’t know how it compared,” Howell said. “I just wanted to play it and see. And it was really rough. It was very rough.”
He played Carnoustie on Sunday and hit a 4-iron to the fourth fairway and a 7-iron to the green. One day later, hands stuffed in his pockets as he practiced alone, Howell hit a driver and a 3-iron to reach the green at the 412-yard hole.
No telling how Mother Nature will behave when the British Open begins Thursday, or the rest of the week.
Woods, Pampling, Howell, Brett Quigley and Robert Karlsson were among those who left nothing to chance. Woods was on the first tee at 6 a.m., his typical starting time during practice rounds at the British Open.
Once he made the turn, he must have wondered why he bothered.
“One good thing about today is he’s playing in a rain jacket,” swing coach Hank Haney said. “He hasn’t done that all year.
The round was quiet and quick. The harder the wind blew, the more the rain blew sideways, the more fun they seemed to have.
“Good thing we’re playing today,” caddie Steve Williams said. “It could be worse tomorrow.”
No one bothered practicing putts or chips around the greens because the green was too soft, and some of them had puddles on the edges. Woods was duly impressed when Pampling hit driver off the deck for his second shot (on a par 4), and doubled over in laughter when Pampling hit a 2-iron to the 176-yard 13th hole that didn’t clear a bunker 150 yards in front of them.
But the joke was on Woods at the 14th, a par 5 at 514 yards known for the Spectacle bunkers some 65 yards in front of the greens that players usually can carry easily. But not on this day.
Woods hit driver in the fairway and hit 2-iron short of the Spectacles, just left in a sparse patch of rough. He swung hard and watched his third shot over the bunkers, and stopped in his tracks when he arrived at the green and found his ball a few yards from the green.
“I didn’t get there,” Woods said incredulously. “With a 4-iron!”
Even more stunning was the yardage he had with that 4-iron — 112 yards to the front, 128 yards to the hole.
At this point it became a quest, not just to finish the round, but neither wanting to yield anything to par. This became an impossibility, especially since Pampling hit 3-wood short of the green on the next hole. The day earlier, it was a 3-wood and a 7-iron.
Memories of Muirfield for Woods?
“Muirfield, by far, was worse than this,” he said. “Do you realize it was 34 degrees that day?”
This wasn’t exactly Florida in summer, yet another reason that Haney found it valuable for his star pupil to face the elements. Woods was grinding like it was the tournament and he celebrated as if he had won when his driver — yes, driver — barely reached the green on the par-3 16th, traveling some 225 yards.
“That’s what I’m talking about, baby,” he said.
Alas, his hopes of finishing with pars were finished on the 18th, a 499-yard hole playing into the full strength of the wind. Woods tried to find a way, hitting 2-iron to the adjacent 17th fairway, then another 2-iron to clear the Barry Burn. It went a tad too far and disappeared into the rough.
“He ain’t making par from there,” Pampling said.
They were long gone when the rain stopped and fog rolled in, perhaps napping when the sun burst out from behind the clouds and the British Open looked as it has the last four years.
Phil Mickelson, a runner-up at Loch Lomond on Sunday, arrived late in afternoon wearing shorts and flip-flops. Campbell, who heard the rain pelting his window when he first woke up, headed out for a practice round with the sun casting shadows all around him.
Could any good have come out of a three-hour struggle against Mother Nature?
“You never know what you might get around here,” Woods said.
Peter Thomson would tend to agree with that. The five-time British Open champion is the last player to win the claret jug three straight times, and he believes Woods can do more than join him.
“He has a chance to win eight in a row,” Thomson said.
“I’m serious about that,” Thomson said. “I think there’s nobody that can beat Tiger when he’s playing his best. Now, the only thing he’s got against him this year is the weather, just like the weather gets him at Muirfield in 2002. The weather is very unsettling.”
Woods might now be a little more prepared this time.

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Tiger Woods practices in rainy, cold conditions Monday at Carnoustie. A few hours later it was sunny and warm.