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Tiger Woods said his Sunday practice round brought back memories of his first encounter with links golf. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Tiger Woods said his Sunday practice round brought back memories of his first encounter with links golf. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Carnoustie looks familiar, and much friendlier, so far

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Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly were among the players who got a sneak peek at Carnoustie on Sunday, and most liked the wider fairways and more forgiving rough. David Frost, however, thinks the set-up might be too easy.

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (AP) -- Tiger Woods hit putts with one hand and held his yardage book with the other, studying Carnoustie on Sunday as if he were seeing this links course for the first time in his life.

Considering what happened last time the Open Championship came here, it all looked so new.

Gone was the rough, so thick at its foundation that it was difficult to see the golf ball, much less hit it. The fairways were far more generous, nothing like Kapalua or a resort course, but certainly wider than the country lane that players faced in 1999.

Woods said it brought back memories of his first trip to Carnoustie -- not in the 1999 Open, but 1995 and 1996, when he played the Scottish Open at Carnoustie for his first taste of links golf.

"It looks really nice, really fair," Woods said.

Royal & Ancient Chief Executive Peter Dawson, who regretted how players lambasted the setup in '99, was among those to greet Woods when he finished his practice round. The conversation was private, but Dawson appeared to be pleased by what he heard.

It can't be considered a major without complaints, and certainly there was griping on a sunny, lazy afternoon along the North Sea.

"A bit too easy," David Frost said.

Frost played in the second-to-last group in the final round eight years ago, despite opening with an 80. He wound up in a tie for seventh, finishing at 10-over 294. He was among the few who found no problem with the tight fairways and rough on steroids.

He took far greater issue with a course where he could see his ball off the fairway even as he stood on the tee.

"I think the fairways are very wide and there's no rough," Frost said. "So, it's a little bit of a total opposite to what it was in '99."

Most players would celebrate this change.

"No, it's too lenient," Frost said. "I just think it should have been tighter."

It's probably a good thing Jean Van de Velde isn't around this week to see Carnoustie or he might really be haunted by throwing away the 1999 Open. With a mixture of bad decisions and bad luck, he took triple bogey on the final hole to fall into a three-man playoff that was won by Paul Lawrie.

It is difficult now to reconstruct the sad sequence that cost Van de Velde the claret jug.

His second shot caromed off the bleachers, back across Barry Burn and into rough so deep that the best he could do was chop it into the 6-foot wide burn. He took a drop in grass so mangled that he only managed to get it over the stream and into a bunker.

That would not have happened this week, because there's so such thing as mangled rough right of the 18th fairway, or hardly anywhere else at Carnoustie. In fact, the area in front of the burn is mown closely, not like the front of ponds at Augusta National, but close.

But it is noticeable only by those who were here in 1999.

Steve Stricker had the one of the 102 rounds in the 80s eight years ago, missing the cut. He played Sunday with Jerry Kelly, his pal from junior golf in Wisconsin, and was asked if Carnoustie looked familiar.

"Yeah, it does," he said. "Except for the rough and the width of the fairways."

He remembers narrow fairways that were 20 yards wide, and only a dozen paces between rough lines on some holes.

"The rough was very thick. You were having a hard time getting it to the green," Stricker said. "Now, the rough is not bad at all. You can actually aim at the rough on some of the holes."

But he wasn't calling it a pushover. Far from it.

Engaged in a friendly duel with Kelly, Stricker was down one playing the 18th, at 499 yards and into a slight breeze. He hit a good drive with a tiny draw that landed in the first cut, giving him a clean lie. From there, he had 237 yards to the hole and hit 3-wood that landed on the edge of out-of-bounds to the left of the green.

Even without tiny fairways and deep rough, the defense of Carnoustie and most links courses are bunkers and wind.

K.J. Choi, a two-time winner on the PGA TOUR this year, played Saturday and hit driver and wedge to the 18th. He played Sunday afternoon and hit a driver and a 5-wood to the green.

Choi's memories from 1999 include playing in the last round with Lawrie, whose brilliant 67 to make up a record 10-shot deficit was overlooked by Van de Velde's follies. And Choi remembers Carnoustie as being the toughest major he has ever played.

Not right now.

"You can hit the ball anywhere and find it," Choi said. "You can still see the ball."

Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen tied for 10th in 1999 at 11 over par, failing to break par any of the four rounds.

"Eleven over won't finish 10th this year," he said with a smile.

Goosen thrives on the toughest tests, but he fears the course set-up at majors have gone too far, and have taken some of the fun out of the game for players and spectators alike. Carnoustie was entertaining for all the wrong reasons in 1999.

"You have nothing silly like last time," he said. "The R&A did a great job."

And it apparently did nothing to lessen the test of Carnoustie, long considered the toughest links course in the world. Younger players like Charles Howell III and Sean O'Hair were still teenagers in 1999, watching the fiasco on television.

Both were pleasantly surprised to see that the rough was not nearly as bad. But what got their attention was the 7,421 yards of course, the flapping flags in what the Scots might consider only a wee breeze, and bunkers everywhere they looked.

"I wasn't here in '99," Howell said. "I thought it was tough."

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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