I'm JeanVan¬†de Velde, and I can't believe my eyes. The soggy final round of the2007 Open Championship is on TV, and the cameras are showing Carnoustie's18th¬†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 theBarry Burn? Where's the knee-high rough that swallows golf balls without even ahint of a burp? Where are the swarms of African tsetse flies and the blindingsmoke from brush fires set by the R&A? When I famously blew my three-strokelead on the 72nd hole of the 1999 Open, the 18th was so tough that you needed ateam of Navy SEALs to get across the Burn. Paul Lawrie, who beat me and JustinLeonard in a four-hole playoff, celebrated by getting a tattoo: I BIRDIED THELAST AT CARNOUSTIE.¬†
And it wasn't only the 18th hole. The fairways at the '99 Open were 12 yardsacross at their widest point, the greens were overseeded with ornamentalcactus, and the par-3s had pot bunkers--between the tee markers! Only one guyequaled par in the first round, and that guy, Rod Pampling, shot 86 on Fridayand 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 gainthe playoff, I joined Paul and Justin at six-over-par 290. It was the highestwinning score in an Open since 1946, when Sam Snead won with the same number atSt.¬†Andrews.
But now it's 2007,it's Sunday afternoon, and I'm watching Padraig Harrington walk onto the 18thtee 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 by44 players--none of whom, I might add, had to hit out of rough geneticallyengineered to match the tensile strength of 30-gauge electrical wire. StewartCink shot a first-round 69 and said, "The course is playing about as easyas it's going to play." Paul McGinley, who shot two rounds in the 60s thisweek (nobody did that in '99), said, "It's playing soft. The bite in thecourse is gone."
Speaking just formyself and France, that bites. And what was I supposed to think yesterday whenSteve Stricker equaled the course record with a seven-under 64? "Thosegreens were so ridiculous, I mean hard," Steve said. I thought he wasmocking me and the other '99ers until I realized he was talking about thegreens at Oakmont during last month's U.S. Open. Carnoustie's greens, bycomparison, were as soft as a steak-and-kidney pie. "I've never seen alinks course where the fairways are so pure and the greens so good," SergioGarcía said after his first-round 65. "You could hit a five-iron, and itwasn'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 bounce100 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 anarcheologist couldn't get to in '99.
Attendez.Harrington has just driven into the burn, taken a drop, hit his third into theburn, 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 theCarnoustie greenkeeper in '99, and you couldn't pick up a newspaper withoutreading a headline like STOP WHINING, SAYS CARNASTY SUPER, or HOGAN WOULD HAVEHANDLED IT. "No one makes an arse of my course," Philp told reportersthen. "Players are too pampered now." When a writer from the Times ofLondon flushed him out last Thursday, Philp all but conceded that the R&Ahad ordered him to make Carnoustie a friendlier links, a place where you couldspread a blanket for lunch and let children run about. "There's no doubtthe course is easier," he told the Times. "The fairways are wider andthe rough isn't as dense. The players can definitely feel more comfy on thetee."
Right now thecameras are panning that little dune short of the burn where my ball ended upafter it hit the grandstand, and I guess there's rough there: about enough tomake a dinner salad. I had real rough to deal with on my third shot. That's whymy ball ended up in the burn. That's why I'm more famous today than Paul Lawrieor--at the risk of sounding immodest--Belgium.
Please don'tmisunderstand. I, Jean Van¬†de Velde, am not saying that Carnoustie iseasy. The bunkers have steep walls, and the burn has so many twists that itcomes into play more than once on some holes. So even at a tournament likethis, where spectators throw themselves in front of errant shots to spare Tigerand Sergio a bad lie, you see some big numbers. John Daly, who briefly held thefirst-round lead at five under, made seven bogeys, two doubles and a tripleover two rounds, and failed to make the cut. Tiger hit his first tee shot ofround¬†2 into the burn and made a double, and today he needed two tries toget out of a bathtub bunker on 15. Meanwhile, the 18th, a 499-yard par-4, hastaken its usual toll, sticking the field with 172 bogeys, 44¬†doubles and10 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 watchingSergio in the 18th fairway, and he needs a 4 to win. But it's not as if he hasto hit his three-iron out of a patch of herbes as wild as an Amazonian rainforest. Carnoustie is so tame now that an Argentine gar√ßon, Andres Romero, made10 birdies today and finished third. Richard Green, the Australian lefty,matched Stricker's course-record 64. Hunter Mahan, the former college star, andBen Curtis, the 2003 Open champion, shot 65s as easily as if they were orderingchips in the tented village. Scores like that were not possible in '99, whenthere were only nine rounds in the 60s.
Attendez. Sergiohas hit into a bunker and bogeyed the last. There will be a playoff.
Here's what I don'tunderstand. In April, a long and ponderous Augusta National setup quieted thecrowds in Amen Corner and produced Zach Johnson's winning score of 289,matching the highest ever at a Masters. At the U.S. Open, in June, a heavilyfortified Oakmont made minkeys of the field and a winner of Angel Cabrera atfive over par. It seemed inevitable, then, that Carnoustie would be the thirdleg of the No Red Numbers Slam. I was looking for a winning score of 10 over.As they say in Canada, quel dommage.
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I'm watching Padraig Harrington walk onto the 18th teewith a one-shot lead, and--SACRE BLEU!--HE'S NINE UNDER PAR!
ROBERT BECK (FURYK); JOHN BIEVER (WOODS, MICKELSON)
The Big Three (from left) tied for 12th (Furyk and Woods) and MC'd(Mickelson).
Last week the field averaged a Carnoustie-low 73.38--more than three strokesbetter than the '99 number.