All links finally lead to real thing: Royal Troon

British Open takes stage in classic major drama

Golf

July 11, 2004|By Ed Sherman | Ed Sherman,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

It's the British Open, part two, this week.

This year, the majors, in reality, are the Masters and three British opens. The U.S. Open was played at Shinnecock Hills and the PGA Championship is set for August at Whistling Straits - both links-style courses, reminiscent of the kind of layouts made famous in the "auld country."

In the middle is the actual British Open, which will begin Thursday at Royal Troon in Scotland. This is the real deal, as the game makes its annual return to its roots.

Unlike next month's tournament in Kohler, Wis., you won't find bratwurst in Troon. You probably won't find ice in your drinks, either.

The format of the course, though, will be familiar. The players got a taste of links conditions last month at Shinnecock. While the U.S. Golf Association's setup was criticized for being over the top, there will be a carryover effect.

"I think it does help the preparation," Mike Weir said. "It helps everybody who plays at the U.S. Open going into the British because both are very firm and fast. You're playing a lot of bump-and-run shots, so it definitely helps."

PGA Tour player Jerry Kelly thinks visually the experience at Shinnecock will aid the players at Royal Troon off the tee.

"No question," Kelly said. "Royal Troon is a great golf course. You have to pay attention off the tee. At Shinnecock, you had to pay attention off the tee. You have to shape it the correct way. [Drives were] running through into the rough at Shinnecock. [They're] going to run into some unplayable bunkers at Royal Troon.

"You have to have your lines and distances down at both courses."

There are actually two courses at Royal Troon. The front nine is relatively short and usually plays downwind. Tiger Woods said it might be the easiest of any nine in a major.

But the back nine might be the toughest. It plays longer than the front and usually against the wind. Troon head pro Brian Anderson said gusts could make those holes play 40 to 50 yards longer than indicated on the card.

The key then is to have birdies in your pocket before you hit 10.

"If you're even-par after the front nine, you think you've lost something," Davis Love III said. "If you're even-par on the back, you think you did pretty well. It's something you have to do, but you try not to think about it."

The hole that will get the most attention will be the shortest. The famed No. 8 is appropriately named Postage Stamp. At 123 yards, the green is only 420 square feet. Playing into the wind, the tiny target is surrounded by high fescue grass and five treacherous bunkers.

Woods is well aware of what happens if you miss the stamp. He made a triple-bogey 6 on the hole during the final round of the 1997 Open.

Woods, though, is a fan of Royal Troon. He owns the course record with a 64 in the third round of that '97 tournament. He returns trying to end his streak of eight majors without a title.

Woods also will try to extend the run of Americans winning the last five opens at Royal Troon dating to Arnold Palmer in 1962. Justin Leonard won the title during the last visit there, in 1997, after Mark Calcavecchia (1989), Tom Watson (1982) and Tom Weiskopf (1973).

The players are anxious to experience links golf at Troon. Expectations are that the course will be tough, but fair, unlike, they say, Shinnecock Hills.

"It's not as tricked-up as the other three majors," Love said. "Sure, there have been years where they have gone over the top a little bit, but they play more of a traditional-style game. If they go to St. Andrews and guys shoot 15 under, they don't worry about it. They say, `Hey, we played St. Andrews and it's the way everybody else played it.' "

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

British Open

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: Royal Troon Golf Course; Troon, Scotland

Length: 7,175 yards

Par: 71

Television: Thur.-Fri., 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m., TNT; Sat., 7-9 a.m., TNT; 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m., chs. 2, 7; Sun. 6-8 a.m., TNT; 8 a.m.-1:30 p.m., chs. 2, 7.

Defending champion: Ben Curtis

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