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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.�
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.
Attendez. 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 tee."
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.
Please don't 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.
Attendez. Sergio has hit into a bunker and bogeyed the last. There will be a playoff.