Stars wary of 'Carnasty' surprise at Open Championship

Shane Lowry plays from the bunker during a practice round at Carnoustie

Tommy Fleetwood has heard about the Carnoustie horror stories of Opens past, Pádraig Harrington and Phil Mickelson have witnessed some of them, and they all agree that “Carnasty” is a more than fitting nickname for this week’s major championship venue.

The most famous victim of this grand old links looking out to the North Sea from Scotland’s east coast is the Frenchman Jean van de Velde, whose triple-bogey seven at the 72nd hole wiped out his three-stroke lead in 1999 and consigned him to the role of Open Championship footnote and sporting blooper reel regular as Scotland’s Paul Lawrie took advantage via a play-off.

Yet Carnoustie has dashed the aspirations of many more besides, particularly that week 19 years ago when its narrow fairways and thick rough wreaked havoc on the field and nobody scored under par in round one and 18-hole leader Rod Pampling of Australia followed his opening 71 with a second-round 86 to miss the cut.

I haven’t played, I’ve watched the last two Opens at Carnoustie on TV, and I know that this week is playing different to those,” European number one Fleetwood said yesterday, “and I know there’s been some horror stories on this golf course.

Tommy Fleetwood after his win in Gleneagles
Tommy Fleetwood after his win in Gleneagles

Harrington, who won here in 2007 for the first of his back-to-back Open success, had some scary moments at Carnoustie 11 years ago, twice finding the water of Barry Burn at the 18th. He not only survived to tell the tale but left with the Claret Jug after a play-off with Sergio Garcia.

“I do think this is the hardest (on The Open rotation), no doubt about it. I think you get — well, for starters, there’s… 13 par fours. You have three par threes, two par fives. So you’re not given a lot of options.

You’ve got all those par fours, in general, you’re going to have to hit shots between bunkers. I don’t know, there’s hardly a bunker on this course, as on any links course, that you can play to the green from. They’re all mini hazards; if you’re hitting in, you’re pitching out.

“Then you come to the end of the golf course. The last four holes can be brutish, at best. No matter how you’ve done in those first 14 holes, where you might have played well, and yes, you could have cemented, you could have a good score, you still have to get home to the clubhouse in those four holes. It’s a difficult stretch in golf, and to have them the last four holes of a championship really is what makes Carnoustie as tough as it is.”

Mickelson, who missed the cut in both his Open appearances at Carnoustie in 1999 and 2007, agrees with his fellow major champion about the tough examination that the 18h presents.

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson

“We all saw tragedy there and we know what it’s capable of. It’s one of the scariest because there’s so much trouble everywhere. You know, you have water right, you have water left, you have the rough, you have water short, out-of-bounds left is a major factor. There’s just a lot of trouble everywhere. That’s a tough hole.”

Carnoustie will play much firmer and faster this week than on its most recent visits but that will not lessen the challenge, though Mickelson, who won The Open at Muirfield in 2013 in similarly fiery conditions, has marvelled at the conditions this time around following this summer’s heatwave, having played a practice round last week.

“It was incredible. I was really excited with my time there because I think I got to see Carnoustie for its greatness, and it’s firm and fast, and the bunkers were in play and very hard to avoid.

“The first time I ever played it was ’99, and it was a rough week. The course wasn’t set-up its best, and this week it is. I think it will be one of the best Opens.

“I would say that when it’s windy, it really is an advantage for me because drivers are not necessary. In fact, they are not encouraged, because you get the ball up in the air.

A day like today where you can throw the ball up in the air and a lot of guys are hitting drivers, the ground isn’t as important. But when it gets windy like it was at Muirfield in 2013 and the ground was firm like it is this year at Carnoustie; in 2013, it’s very advantageous for me because I don’t have to hit drivers. I can hit long irons, and I can get the long irons on the ground as quick or quicker than anybody.

“I’m either going to carry a driver or that hot 3-wood, but there’s actually only two holes I plan on using it, both par fives (the sixth and 15th). I see me hitting a lot lower shots. I have kind of a low 1-iron that I’ve been putting in the bag… and it’s very low. Gets on the ground quick. I’ll hit that on probably the last 10 holes, almost every hole.”

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