Van�de Velde, and I can't believe my eyes. The soggy final round of the
2007 Open Championship is on TV, and the cameras are showing Carnoustie's
18th�hole from every angle. Or at least they say it's the 18th hole.
Where's the boomerang board that smacks two-iron approaches backward across the
Barry Burn? Where's the knee-high rough that swallows golf balls without even a
hint of a burp? Where are the swarms of African tsetse flies and the blinding
smoke from brush fires set by the R&A? When I famously blew my three-stroke
lead on the 72nd hole of the 1999 Open, the 18th was so tough that you needed a
team of Navy SEALs to get across the Burn. Paul Lawrie, who beat me and Justin
Leonard in a four-hole playoff, celebrated by getting a tattoo: I BIRDIED THE
LAST AT CARNOUSTIE.�
And it wasn't only the 18th hole. The fairways at the '99 Open were 12 yards
across at their widest point, the greens were overseeded with ornamental
cactus, and the par-3s had pot bunkers--between the tee markers! Only one guy
equaled par in the first round, and that guy, Rod Pampling, shot 86 on Friday
and missed the cut by three strokes. The headline writers dubbed it carnasty,
and it was. When I jammed home my clutch putt for a triple-bogey�7 to gain
the playoff, I joined Paul and Justin at six-over-par 290. It was the highest
winning score in an Open since 1946, when Sam Snead won with the same number at
But now it's 2007,
it's Sunday afternoon, and I'm watching Padraig Harrington walk onto the 18th
tee with a one-shot lead, and--sacre bleu!--he's nine under par! What's more,
18 others are under par and my (almost) winning score is going to be beaten by
44 players--none of whom, I might add, had to hit out of rough genetically
engineered to match the tensile strength of 30-gauge electrical wire. Stewart
Cink shot a first-round 69 and said, "The course is playing about as easy
as it's going to play." Paul McGinley, who shot two rounds in the 60s this
week (nobody did that in '99), said, "It's playing soft. The bite in the
course is gone."
Speaking just for
myself and France, that bites. And what was I supposed to think yesterday when
Steve Stricker equaled the course record with a seven-under 64? "Those
greens were so ridiculous, I mean hard," Steve said. I thought he was
mocking me and the other '99ers until I realized he was talking about the
greens at Oakmont during last month's U.S. Open. Carnoustie's greens, by
comparison, were as soft as a steak-and-kidney pie. "I've never seen a
links course where the fairways are so pure and the greens so good," Sergio
Garc�a said after his first-round 65. "You could hit a five-iron, and it
wasn't going to release 15 yards."
Are you kidding me?
In '99 you'd hit a five-iron off the tee of a par-4 and watch the ball bounce
100 yards before disappearing into intermediate rough as thick as Boo Weekley.
"Unfair and ridiculous" is how Tiger Woods later described that setup.
But now it's 2007, and players are sticking their irons from lies that an
archeologist couldn't get to in '99.
Harrington has just driven into the burn, taken a drop, hit his third into the
burn, taken another drop and made double-bogey 6. Well . . . c'est la vie.
As I was saying,
I'm watching on television and wondering, Where is John Philp? He was the
Carnoustie greenkeeper in '99, and you couldn't pick up a newspaper without
reading a headline like STOP WHINING, SAYS CARNASTY SUPER, or HOGAN WOULD HAVE
HANDLED IT. "No one makes an arse of my course," Philp told reporters
then. "Players are too pampered now." When a writer from the Times of
London flushed him out last Thursday, Philp all but conceded that the R&A
had ordered him to make Carnoustie a friendlier links, a place where you could
spread a blanket for lunch and let children run about. "There's no doubt
the course is easier," he told the Times. "The fairways are wider and
the rough isn't as dense. The players can definitely feel more comfy on the
Right now the
cameras are panning that little dune short of the burn where my ball ended up
after it hit the grandstand, and I guess there's rough there: about enough to
make a dinner salad. I had real rough to deal with on my third shot. That's why
my ball ended up in the burn. That's why I'm more famous today than Paul Lawrie
or--at the risk of sounding immodest-- Belgium.
misunderstand. I, Jean Van�de Velde, am not saying that Carnoustie is
easy. The bunkers have steep walls, and the burn has so many twists that it
comes into play more than once on some holes. So even at a tournament like
this, where spectators throw themselves in front of errant shots to spare Tiger
and Sergio a bad lie, you see some big numbers. John Daly, who briefly held the
first-round lead at five under, made seven bogeys, two doubles and a triple
over two rounds, and failed to make the cut. Tiger hit his first tee shot of
round�2 into the burn and made a double, and today he needed two tries to
get out of a bathtub bunker on 15. Meanwhile, the 18th, a 499-yard par-4, has
taken its usual toll, sticking the field with 172 bogeys, 44�doubles and
10 others. (That's a term the R&A reserves for crack-ups, like mine in '99,
that are too lurid to label.)
So now I'm watching
Sergio in the 18th fairway, and he needs a 4 to win. But it's not as if he has
to hit his three-iron out of a patch of herbes as wild as an Amazonian rain
forest. Carnoustie is so tame now that an Argentine gar�on, Andres Romero, made
10 birdies today and finished third. Richard Green, the Australian lefty,
matched Stricker's course-record 64. Hunter Mahan, the former college star, and
Ben Curtis, the 2003 Open champion, shot 65s as easily as if they were ordering
chips in the tented village. Scores like that were not possible in '99, when
there were only nine rounds in the 60s.
has hit into a bunker and bogeyed the last. There will be a playoff.