Carnoustie won't be a card-killer, R&A execs say
Even tournament officials believe the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie was tougher than it should have been. Thanks to favorable weather that is producing less rough, they say, the famous links should play easier this year.
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (PA) -- The men who run the Open Championship have insisted that it is not their intention to make the world's greatest golfers suffer at Carnoustie in July like they did in 1999.
"We are not seeking carnage," said Royal and Ancient Club Chief Executive Peter Dawson. "We are seeking an arena where the players can display their skills to the best effect."
But before anybody starts to think that this summer will see birdies and eagles galore on the Scottish links -- dubbed "Car-nasty" eight years ago -- there are still some chilling facts.
At 7,421 yards, the course will play 60 yards longer than last time. That makes it the longest in Open history -- just 24 yards shorter than Augusta National was for the Masters a month ago and only 140 yards less than the major record set by Medinah for last year's PGA Championship.
"Carnoustie deserves its reputation as the toughest course we use," said Dawson. And Martin Kippax, chairman of the championship committee, stated: "The players understand what Carnoustie is. Everybody knows what a severe test it is."
What is likely to reduce the number of criticisms in 10 weeks' time, though, is that the forecast of a hot summer and less than average rainfall should reduce the amount of rough.
In 1999 it was some of the fiercest ever seen, with the 156-strong field finishing the week an amazing 3,746 strokes over par.
Jean Van de Velde's horrendous closing triple-bogey 7 -- the drama for which the championship is most remembered for, of course -- meant that the winning score of 6 over par was the highest in the Open since 1947 and the highest in any major since 1963.
Not surprisingly, Paul Lawrie did not mind one little bit. He was the one who capitalized on Van de Velde's self-destruction, winning a playoff that also featured Justin Leonard.
But Tiger Woods shot 10 over par and yet still finished as high as 10th, while Sergio Garcia, who a month later was to run Woods so close at the 1999 PGA Championship, had rounds of 89 and 83 to crash out on 30 over par.
Compatriot Seve Ballesteros shot 80-86, two more former champions in Sandy Lyle and Tony Jacklin failed to break 80 in either round as well. Defending champion Mark O'Meara opened with an 83, the same as Paul McGinley; Vijay Singh signed for an 84 on day two and first-round leader Rod Pampling amazingly missed the cut when he followed up his level-par 71 with an 86.
Head Greenkeeper John Philp found himself under attack -- there were accusations of fertilizer being applied to toughen things up even more -- but he is still on the job.
"Nature dictates. You get what you get," he said Tuesday. "It's unlikely to be the same conditions. I don't think it will be anything like as severe. All the attention went on the difficulty of the rough in 1999, but a lot of players commented about the quality of the surfaces too and were very complimentary."
While trees have been removed between the seventh and 14th fairways, other holes have been toughened up.
The third will play 16 yards longer at 358 yards, has been made into more of a left-to-right dogleg and there is an area of rough mounding in the center of the fairway.
The long sixth, named Hogan's Alley, sees different bunkering. And the par-4 12th and 18th have been stretched by 20 and 12 yards, respectively, to 499 yards, and rough and mounding has gone in right of the 17th fairway.
"Every player I have spoken to is excited. I've been getting no sense that 1999 was too hard and they won't be coming back," Dawson said. "What lessons there were to be learnt have been learnt."
Lawrie, exempt until he is 66 by virtue of winning eight years ago, will be back to try for a repeat, but Van de Velde has to qualify first.
The three majors in America do all issue special invitations from time to time, but Dawson confirmed that the Open's stance is unchanged -- however good a storyline it would be to have Van de Velde returning.
"It's not fair to anyone else. It won't happen. It's just not possible," he stated. "The Open is a major championship and we have never issued an invitation in the modern era. People earn their way in."
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