Category Archives: tournaments

We Visit the U. S. Senior Women’s Amateur

The U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur is being played in Portland this week. The final match is scheduled to begin in less than an hour from this posting.

I went to see it yesterday with one of my golfing buddies. The tournament is being played at the Waverly Country Club, a private course located in SE Portland on the east bank of the Willamette River. It’s one of those clubs that you can’t just pay the membership fee and first month’s dues and you’re set to go. Rather if they want you to be member, they’ll let you know.

So I figured the only way I would ever get to prowl the grounds is if there was a tournament there. Fortunately, the USGA likes this course. They sometimes have local qualifying for the U.S.Open on it. Fairways are narrow (the word “ribbon” comes to mind and is accurate), there are numerous deep bunkers, the lay of the land is hilly–level lies in the fairway are hard to find, and the greens–ridges, slopes, you could get seasick walking on them.

We saw the morning quarterfinal matches, and I swear we were the only people out there who were not relatives of the competitors or involved in some way with the tournament. Only four groups on the entire course.

And it was quiet. Real quiet. Just golf balls being hit. No talking. All business.

We saw some outstanding shots, and some beaner shots. But this we did see: straight shots. Maybe off line sometimes, but straight flight. Balls coming into the green right at the pin. Short game OK, putting outstanding. Players taking their time picking their shot, but once they had it, it was get the club, set up, and swing, all in a rhythm oozing confidence and competence.

Every one of the eight players had a swing that was flowing, graceful, smooth, and to the point. And without an ounce of “hit.” It was all swing, and that’s my biggest golfing takeaway from the day.

When the morning matches were over, we left and had lunch nearby. I had a cup of curried corn soup and a summer risotto. Then home. What an outing.

2017 Open Championship Preview

This coming week, Royal Birkdale Golf Club will host the 146th Open Championship. The tournament has been played there nine time previously.

Royal Birkdale

The first time was in 1954, when Peter Thompson won his first Open Championship victory. He won again there in 1965, for his fifth and last. Arnold Palmer’s win in 1961 was instrumental in returning the Championship to center stage in the golfing world.

Padraig Harrington won the previous visit, in 2008, at three over par, defending the title he won in 2007 at Carnoustie. 2008 was the tournament that aging Greg Norman contended until late on the final day.

In 1998, Mark O’Meara won his the second major championship of the year here, but the big news was 17-year-old amateur Justin Rose finishing in a tie for 4th place. Rose turned pro shortly hereafter.

The course will play at 7,137 yards, par 70 (34-36). At one time, four of the last six holes were over 500 yards, and par was 34-38 = 72.

The fairways are flat ribbons tucked in between dunes. There are cut narrow for championship golf. Nothing other than a straight tee shot will do.

Greens are fairly flat and accept accurate approaches well. They have to be hit, though. Missing will put the ball in a nasty pot bunker or into willow scrub that rings most every green.

Most of the holes are laid out to present a crosswind. While not hard by the ocean, the course is still only a few hundred yards off the Irish Sea. Wind will be a big factor.

One hole to watch is the 346-yard 5th. It has a drivable length, but the risks of trying to cut the corner are great.

The 15th hole has a plaque on the spot where Arnold Palmer played a spectacular shot out of heavy rough with a 6-iron from 140 yards to save his par in the final round. Palmer eventually won by one stroke over Dai Rees.

Another notable hole is the 16th, regarded as the signature hole of the course. The player must find the fairway after a long carry, and an approach the is just a little bit off line will find one of five deep pot bunkers.

The U.S. Open is the major I would like most to say I had won (wish!), but the Open championship is the most fun to watch.

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Tuesday 7-18: Phil Mickelson will not have a driver in his bag this week because of the narrow fairways. He plans to use a “hot” 3-wood and a second “driving” 3-iron. There’s also a 64* wedge in there.

2016 PGA Championship Preview

This year’s PGA returns to the Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, site of 15 USGA championships and this the second PGA.

Official website.

The club was founded in 1895 on the site of farmland once owned by Baltus Roll. The original course was plowed up when architect A.W. Tillinghast was hired to build a second course. The Upper and Lower courses were the result.

This year’s PGA will be played on the Lower Course, which is shaped something like a dumbbell. After a tight cluster formed by the first four holes, the 5th and 6th take off to connect another cluster of holes, 7 though 16. The 17th and 18th lead straight back to the clubhouse parallel to 5 and 6.

Two holes of note on the course, which will play to 7,462 yards, are the 4th and the 17th.

Baltusrol 4th hole

4th hole, Baltusrol

Robert Trent Jones toughened up the course for the 1954 U.S. Open. Members thought he had made the 4th hole too tough. So Jones went to the 4th tee with club pro Johnny Farrell, the club president, and the chairman of the Open committee. After the first three had hit, Jones teed up, hit on, and the ball rolled in for a hole-in-one. “As you can see, gentlemen,” Jones said, “this hole is not too tough.”

The par-3 hole plays at 196 yards this week.

Baltusrol 17th hole

17th hole, Baltusrol

The 17th hole is likely (I don’t have the data) the longest hole in major championship golf, at 650 yards, uphill at the end. A series of cross-bunkers challenge the second shot, which can be carried only following a long tee shot. Most golfers will lay up short of them. Reaching the green in two will be possible, but who besides the likes of Dustin, Bubba, or Tony Finau might try it?

In general, the course is straightforward. Hit fairways, hit greens, and you’ll be all right. The greens have subtle breaks, a little here, a little there, but are not easy.

The bunkers come in many shapes and depths, are not too plentiful (see Oakmont), but seem always to be in the right place.

The first three major championships of the year all have their devoted followers who say their favorite is the best one. Hardly anyone says that about the PGA. But it’s played on top-quality courses, it has arguably the best field of the four majors, and it has a strong list of past champions.

Maybe the mark against it is that it also has a longer list of what’s-this-guy-doing-winning-a major champions in modern times than any of the others.

Who will win? I know Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson will get a lot of support in the press. The easy way to write an article like that is to be a front-runner.

I’m going to pick Bubba Watson. If it were the U.S. Open being played here, forget it. But it’s not the U.S. Open, it’s the PGA, and the course will more forgiving, the kind Bubba needs to win on. It’s long and so is Bubba.

There’s the limb I’m out on. Make your pick, watch, then rest up for Olympic Golf in two weeks.

2016 Open Championship Preview

The oldest and most respected major championship in golf begins this week at the Royal Troon Golf Club, on the west coast of Scotland in the town of Troon, which is near no place you’ve ever heard of unless you live in Scotland. But that’s what Google Maps is for, so do look it up.

See the official Open Championship website.

This the 145th Open Championship, and the 9th at Troon. The last three winners here have been unexpected champions, Todd Hamilton in 2004, Justin Leonard in 1997, and Mark Calcavecchia in 1989. Tom Watson and Tom Weiskopf won before that, but Arnold Palmer defending his title here in 1962 played a large role in elevating the status of the tournament such that American players began to regard this trip abroad in July as a requirement.

The links course will play at 7,190 yards to par 71. It is designed in an out and in style, with the 9th green and the 10th tee located at the farthest points on the course from the clubhouse.

The 6th hole, at 601 yards, is the longest hole in Open championship golf. Two holes later comes one of the shortest, the par-3 8th, called “Postage Stamp,” because of the very small green, at a mere 123 yards.

Like the 7th at Pebble Beach, the 12th at Augusta, and the 17th at TPC Sawgrass, this hole is a simple short iron in length, but watch that landing! Deep bunkers surround the tiny green, and shots that are a hair off will roll into one. It would take no effort at all to walk off the green with a 5 without having hit a bad shot — just not enough good ones.

Royal Troon eighth hole

8th Hole — Postage Stamp

Overall, the first three holes are unchallenging, providing players with a comfortable warm-up. The next three holes feature two par fives surrounding a demanding par 3. Holes 7 and 10 run through a series of sandhills, and then begins the test. From 11 to the finish, excepting perhaps the 12th, a golfer is taken to the limits of his or her technical skills and composure.

The course was, without coincidence, built next to a rail line. Expect to see trains race by as players play the 11th hole, with the tee and green right next to the rack. Something like Chambers Bay last year.

As the course is separated from the Firth of Clyde by only a thin strip of sand dunes, the wind plays a prominent role, coming generally from the northwest. It will be behind the players going out, and against them coming in.

Who will win? It’s easy to pick the popular stars, but I’m going with Branden Grace. He has won twice this year, once on the European Tour and once on the PGA tour. He has three top five finishes in major championships since 2015. A victory here should not be a surprise.

Because of the Olympic Games, the PGA Championship will be played only two weeks after this one, at Baltusrol Golf Club on New Jersey. A golfer who gets hot and stays hot could win both!

2016 U. S. Open Preview

It’s time. The United States Open, the greatest tournament of the year, the one that is hardest to win, will be played this weekend on the hardest golf course in America — Oakmont Golf Course, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I went to Oakmont six years ago to see the U.S. Women’s Open, won by Paula Creamer. All I can say, is, this course is scary. Just walking around it and comparing it to any of the tracks I play or have been on — this course is different. It has size, it has intensity. Either you hit a good shot or you pay a price, and there isn’t a lot of room for hitting good shots.

Oakmont Golf Course third hole

Third fairway (right) and Church Pews. The rake in the bunker indicates scale.

You can read my brief hole-by-hole course description here.

Oakmont Golf Course

(Click to enlarge)

Two things a player must do to have a chance to win: put the ball in the fairway off tee, and keep the ball below the hole on the putting green. In 2007, Angel Cabrerra won with a score of five over par, so don’t expect any low scores this week.

Oakmont means bunkers. I counted 174 in the aerial photo. That’s quite enough. The Church Pews count as one, by the way. Hopefully, hitting the ball to avoid bunkers would put the ball in the right place for your next shot. In many cases, avoiding the bunkers is enough, and you will worry about your next shot when you get there. From most of the fairway bunkers, a shot onto the green is not possible.

Because of the layout of many greens, there is only a small landing area for approaches that will leave the ball on the green, no matter where the pin is. For example, on #3, there is a narrow spot behind a false front, and in front of a slope that will send the ball off the green down to a collect area behind the green, that has to be hit without leaving the player with a touchy up and down. Playing to the back of the 18th green can find your putt running all the way to the front of the green if you aren’t thinking.

As for the famous Oakmont rough: When I was there in 2010, I bent down and ran my fingers through it. No problem. I wasn’t that thick, either. I asked one of the marshals, a club member, about it. He said, the catch is the blades of grass are thick. You can run your fingers though it easily enough, but a golf club coming through it high speed gets grabbed and brought to a screeching halt. I’m sure the rough will be thicker for the men than it was for the ladies in 2010.

The tan thread-like markings you see on the aerial view of the course are drainage ditches. The play as water hazards. You would rather be in a bunker than one of those. One ditch that will come directly into play runs along the leftist of the ninth fairway as players are hitting into a blind fairway.

We could write a book about the greens. They are very fast, but true. In most cases, keeping the ball below the hole is a must because putts coming from above will be hard to stop close to the cup. Contours on some greens might find a player starting a putt away from the hole so th green can turn to back around. Augusta on steroids.

Who will win? Normally I like to pick Phil Mickelson, a sentimental favorite, but he has no chance here. Jim Furyk, a straight shooter, he missed the title by just a few shots in 2007, but he’s coming off rehab, so count him out.

Among the guys who have the stuff to win a U.S. Open, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, and Rickie Fowler are all driving accurately this year. Jordan Spieth has a two-way miss off the tee that would be disastrous at Oakmont if he doesn’t fix it.

Kuchar is pretty high in Strokes Gained/Putting, too. Spieth and Jason Day are right at the top in that category, so if they can contain their tee shots, they should be in it.

[Tuesday] Oops, I forgot to say who’s going to win: Brooks Koepka.

Last year, Chambers Bay had guys playing pinball, and lots of times the course’s quirks separated the players as much as their skill did. At Oakmont, no good shot is penalized, and no bad shot is rewarded. You do it, or you don’t.

That’s how a U.S. Open should be, and that’s why Oakmont is its best venue. Enjoy this one.

U.S. Open official web site.

Pittsburgh weather this week

2016 Masters Preview

Every time I write about the Masters I get in trouble. One time at The Sand Trap I tried to defend my contention that the Masters does not deserve to be considered as a major championship. After politely brushing aside one irrelevant invective after another, the forum owner locked down the thread.

Last year, when I wrote in this space that Augusta could become obsolete within a decade or so, people at The Hackers Paradise responded as if I were advocating kicking stray dogs and knocking down old ladies.

I just don’t get it. For so many people this tournament sits at the right hand of their supreme being of choice. So if I haven’t stepped in a big enough cow pies already, let me move onto this year’s tournament and try to offend people in newer ways.

Right off the top, it does no good to predict a winner. Bubba Watson is halfway though Arnold Palmer’s run of winning four times in consecutive even-numbered years, but Bubba has too much competition now. And Bubba is not Arnold Palmer.

Jason Day? Probably not, especially if the tournament committee has the cajones to give him slow play penalties like they did to some kid from Asia three years ago.

But since they didn’t flinch when Tiger Woods took an illegal drop on the 15th hole several years ago, Jason can take all the time he wants to visualize his shot.

Jordan Spieth? He’s enough off his game right now that he can contend, but not quite get there.

Rickie Fowler? Really.

How about Phil? Will Tiger show up and try to play? Arnie won’t make a ceremonial first tee shot. Gary will hit one and then do 400 crunches on the spot. Jack will split the fairway without even trying hard.

But what I really want to talk about is the thuggery that lurks behind The Perfect Tournament.

We all know that the Committee puts up with no nonsense. Gary McCord and Jack Whitaker were bounced from the premises permanently after using phrases like “bikini wax” and “mob” on the air.

Then there is the tournament’s own brand of Sharia law.

Golf writer John Hawkins said he was almost removed from the premises once when he stood on a golf cart to try to see above the mob. Sorry, gathering of fans. Sorry, patrons. What he was removed from, physically, was the golf cart.

This month’s Golf Digest has a column by The Undercover Pro about all this. About players. Cell phones on the practice tee? “…it’s not worth the potential aggravation.”

His coach took a video of TUP’s swing with a Blackberry and spent the rest of the day enjoying the sights of downtown Augusta.

To make a long story short, TUP’s Dad tried to use his phone on premises to check on a credit card that had been declined. “…two guards [!] grab him by the shoulders and usher him out…into a small room and I have to go and get him…there’s no sense of sorry for any misunderstanding.”

Then there’s the killer finish. “Tons of players have stories just like mine, I’m sure. Nobody talks about them because life’s easier when those stories don’t get out.”

As long as I’m digging myself a hole here, I might as well dig all the way. I would love to see the numbers on how many people attending the tournament are ejected and for what transgressions. But that’s a more closely guarded secret than which Tour players have been fined for profanity.

What I would also like to see is, just once, for the USGA to set up the course in U.S. Open style and see how it would hold up. I mean, it no longer plays as it was designed, so why not? You know. Rough? Narrow fairways? Pins you don’t dare shoot at?

As for me, I’ll watch the final few hours of the broadcast on Sunday afternoon. Something historical could happen. But on the other days, I’m going to worship at the golf course of my choice, and it ain’t Augusta.

Can’t hardly wait for the U.S. Open in June.

2015 Open Championship Preview

The oldest championship in golf begins this Thursday on the Old Course St. Andrews (“Sinandrews”, to the locals).

The first Open Championship played here was in 1873, and won by Tom Kidd, who shot 91-88 to win by one. Twenty-six competitors teed up for the tournament that was done in one day.

The last time the OC was played here, Louis Oosthuizen won in a walk over Paul Casey.

This aerial photograph of the course shows the first green just beyond Swilcan Burn (lower right), with the 17th green just to to the left. The course runs between the white boundary lines that head toward the upper left of the photo.

home4

Golfing fans have seen this course so many times, it is about as familiar as Augusta National. There are a few things you might not know about it, however.

There are seven double greens, 2/16 through 8/10. They are so large that it takes a truly awful shot to encroach the oncoming group. They can also present a golfer with the longest approach putts he will ever face.

Pay special attention to the 7/11 green, fronted by the Strath bunker, which is in play on the tee shot from #11 (below). It is easy to get into and hard to get out of.

ST ANDREWS, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 29:  The green on the par 3, 11th hole on the Old Course at St Andrews on August 29, 2009 in St Andrews, Scotland  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

The primary defenses of the course are its bunkers and the wind. Many of the bunkers cannot be seen until you find your ball in them.

The wind can change direction at any time. A wind in your face on the outgoing nine can easily turn around and be in your face coming home. The wind can also carry your ball onto the green, or lead it to one of the infuriating bunkers.

The place to make a score is the Loop, where the course hooks and turns back around, the 8th through the 11th holes. 8 and 11 are little par 3s, and the 9th and 10th are drivable par 4s. The short par-4 12th can be had, too.

Odd note: The course was designed to play in the reverse order from how it‘s played now, viz., 1st tee to 17th green, 18th tee to 16th green, etc. Someone said, the placement of the bunkers seems odd, but when you play the course “backward”, they all make perfect sense. Every year on the first Wednesday in September, the original routing is followed. See here for a fascinating analysis of the reverse course.

Personal note: I played this course in 1968, when you could walk right up to the starter’s shack, pay your fees, and wait for the group on the first to tee to go off and then it was your turn.

How did I do? I kind of got eaten alive, but had loads of fun.

On the first hole, I played a run-up into the green, an obvious shot just by looking at it. As I walked up the fairway, I saw this crack in the ground that gradually got wider. That didn’t give me a good feeling. Sure enough, my ball was in the Burn. “Now I know,” was small consolation.

I did, however, birdie the 17th, the Road Hole — 3-wood over the hotel, 3-iron onto the green, 20-footer. I thought at the time the hard shot was the tee shot. I didn’t know anything about the Road Hole bunker (and look how close it was to the pin that day!). I guess the Golf Gods didn’t want my ignorance to hurt me twice.

BobSA

I’ve given up predicting winners or even taking about who the front-runners are. Just enjoy the broadcast and be sure to set your clocks to wake up early on Sunday.

Oh, yes. Word is in the air that this could be the final OC for legendary starter Ivor Robson.

2015 U.S. Open Preview

In 1971, Alan Shepard hit a specially prepared 6-iron while on the moon. If you want to know what a golf course in the moon would look like, I give you Chambers Bay, site of this week’s U.S. Open.

Amidst sandy areas, dunes, and steep hills, you can actually find fairways, greens, and trees (well, just one tree).

Getting the ball around the course is not straightforward. The fairways, which instead of being shaped like elongated sausages, look more like ruptured appendixes, offer several lines of play depending how much of the fairway you want to bite into.

As for the greens, they are not the slightest bit simple. If the USGA miscalculates, a pin position could be anywhere from embarrassing to impossible.

CB-1-18-533x400

This photo shows the 1st and 18th fairways, with Puget Sound, Fox Island, and the Olympic Peninsula in the background.

Par will be 70, but it breaks down as 35-35 or 36-34 depending on whether the 1st and 18th are par 4s or par 5s (they will swap each day). Total yardage can vary between 7,200 to 7,600 yards.

Though it might not be apparent on television, there is an overall elevation difference from the highest and lowest spots on the course of over 300 feet.

Even though it is the Pacific Northwest, and Puget Sound, along which the course lies, is essentially an inland sea, there isn’t much rain or wind in June.

Trains run by the course affecting play on the entire 16th and 17th holes, and the tee shot in 18. These are not little commuter rains, but full-sized freight trains. Do not expect golfers to be allowed to wait the three or four minutes it takes for them to go by before hitting a shot.

In case you’ve ever wondered how hard a U.S. Open course is, the course rating this week is 77.3, and the slope rating is 145. That means if you shot 90, you could turn in a handicap differential of 9.9. Par is a +5.7 differential. But actually, I think it’s much harder than that.

The course is too new to have the key holes identified, but the most picturesque one is the 15th, a par 3 that runs toward the Sound and has the course’s only tree perched behind the green.

Here’s a detailed look at the course, hole by hole, from a caddy at the course. Study his comments well to get the most out of watching the tournament.

There are some odd rule quirks that you, and especially Dustin Johnson, should pay attention to. Greens and fairways are made of the same grass, fine fescue, and cut to virtually the same height. It can be difficult to know if your ball is on the green or not.

At the 2010 U.S. Amateur, played here, the USGA put small white dots around the green to mark its limits. They haven’t decided if they will do that for the Open. When in doubt, call a rules official, though how he or she will know is a good question.

Sandy areas that are raked are hazards, while sandy areas that are not raked and contain vegetation are through the green. Sometimes both can be found in the same larger patch of sand. Again, call a rules official if in doubt.

Finally, players will be permitted to move stones that are in a bunker, according to a local rule the USGA will put in effect for the tournament.

I asked a friend of mine, Jim O’Donnell, a 9-handicapper who used to live in Seattle, if he had played the course and if so, did he have any comments I could use for this post.

Mr. O’Donnell wrote a guest post for this space on golf in Ireland a few years ago. He had played Chambers Bay, and here are a few of his thoughts:

“Accuracy and knowledge of the greens and approach areas will be required more than power. After I played some holes, I tried to determine again where a landing area for a successful shot should be. Alas, that doesn’t mean I could later execute that shot. The difference between an excellent approach and a disappointing one will be so fine that only someone in complete control of his ball striking will prosper.”

“For some greens, the undulations, ridges, and swales were a problem that only experience could mitigate. In that sense I agree with the USGA official [Mike Davis] who has stated that a cursory knowledge of the course will not suffice. There will be complaints about the greens.”

So who do I pick to win? The player with the best control of his irons will be hard to beat. That can be anyone who gets hot for four days. I will say this: the winning score will be over par, which means a player who is content to take what the course gives him will have a big advantage.

Masters Preview 2015

I have to tell you right off I am not a fan of the Masters. I don’t see it as a major championship. It’s a good tournament played on a beautiful course. But it is surviving on hype and history right now.

My preview this year is a reprint of a post I put up last year after the tournament was over. Because of that timing, what I had to say might not have gotten the attention it deserved. So here it is again: Augusta National is obsolete.

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Augusta National is a Depression-era course built when 250 yards was a respectable professional distance off the tee. Steel shafts were just being introduced and golf ball technology was still rudimentary. For decades, Augusta was a strategic test that matched the capabilities of the day’s best golfers.

augusta

Cracks started appearing when Jack Nicklaus arrived. He played 420-yard holes with a driver and a pitching wedge, not a driver and a 6-iron.

When Tiger Woods came along thirty years later, the course had to be “Tiger-proofed,” because his length overpowered the cozy design. Now, everyone hits the ball as far as he did fifteen years ago.

The latest insult was Bubba Watson, whose length mocks August’s most difficult holes. He plays the 485-yard 13th (pictured above) with a driver and a wedge. In ten years, there will be fistfuls of players who hit the ball as long as he does. What then?

The Augusta membership is proud of its course. It’s unique in the world and one of the world’s most challenging. The Masters has always been played there; it was meant to be played there. The Masters and August National are one and the same.

This puts the membership in a bind. There is no other place where their Masters can be held.

The USGA is rotating its championship to newer courses built to challenge today’s golfers, Merion East in 2013 notwithstanding. That course was tricked up beyond belief in order to stand up.

The R&A is doing its best to keep its legendary courses in the Open rotation, but cracks are showing up in that strategy, too. The Old Course at St. Andrews is nearing the same fate as Augusta — too short, and running out of room to add length for the sake for length, not for the sake of strategy.

The table has been turned on these ancient courses. Instead of challenging golfers, they are now being challenged by the golfers. Professional golfers will soon be dominating them no matter what is done.

It could easily be the case that in fifteen years Augusta National will have no more slack to give. Its only defenses would be the pin locations on its forbidding greens. The tournament could be won the by the golfer who has the fewest three-putt greens over the four days of competition. Tee to green strategy would be irrelevant. A sad fate.

At this point in the essay, I am supposed to present my proposal for a way out of this jam: how to salvage a seemingly lost situation. I don’t think there is a fix. The hard fact is that Augusta National was designed to play at about 6,800 – 7,000 yards. It has been stretched beyond that about as far as it will go. When its current 7,400 yards is no longer enough, the course might have to be retired.

Retirement happens to everyone and everything. We have our heyday, we have our glory. The time comes when we are overtaken, and we must take a seat on the sideline for the next generation. The question is, will the Augusta membership be able to retire their course with dignity when the time comes, which it surely will?

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Tiger Woods announced he will play in this year’s Masters. I don’t expect him to be a factor, but I hope he doesn’t fall on his face. There are easier courses on which to start a comeback than August National.

2014 Open Championship Preview

We go back to Hoylake this year, formally known as Royal Liverpool. The Open Championship has been played here eleven times before, with these winners:

1897 – Harold Hilton
1902 – Sandy Herd
1907 – Arnaud Massy
1913 – J. H.Taylor
1924 – Walter Hagen
1930 – Bobby Jones
1936 – Alf Padgham
1947 – Fred Daly
1956 – Peter Thompson
1967 – Roberto De Vicenzo
2006 – Tiger Woods

The British Amateur has been played there eighteen times, most recently in 2000. Royal Liverpool hosted a British Women’s Open for the first time in 2012, won by Jiyai Shin.

The course appears flat and featureless at first glance, but subtlety is its middle name. It will seem like the wind is always coming from the wrong direction. Gentle mounds, called cops, line the fairways of several holes. They are meant to keep rolling balls from going out of bounds, but will not aid a poorly hit shot.

In the traditional course routing, hole 1 is the dogleg right that lines the driving range, which is lined by one of the cops. Going over the cops into the range is out of bounds. Golfers trying to cut the corner had better win the bet. The cop runs all the way past the green and is hard to the right of it, so hitting two balls OB on one hole is not unimaginable.

This hole will be played as number 3 for the Open, so the concluding hole can be the 551-yard 16th. The traditional 17th and 18th, being played this week as 1 and 2, are too tame to be concluding holes for an event of this caliber.

Every hole deserves its due in this blog, but of special note is the par-3 ninth (new routing), lined by a cops on the backside. Over the cops, OB.

The course winds out to the sea from 10-14, heading back inland on the short 15th (pictured). Then the test begins. Three long finishing holes, with par of 5, 4, 5, do the sorting out. Number 16 is easily reachable in two, but pot bunkers on the left front and tall grass ringing the rest of the green require a supremely accurate second to get on in two, with the wind likely to be against you.

royal-liverpool-13

Number 17 grazes the practice ground again (OB, remember?). Number 18 runs along the practice ground, turning right just beyond the landing area. A direct line to the pin flirts with OB. This hole could induce a contending golfer to attempt a dramatic all-or-nothing gamble in a last-chance effort to make up strokes. Roberto De Vicenzo did just that in 1967 to beat Jack Nicklaus for the title.

While the USGA loves drivable par 4s, there will be none at Hoylake. Also, the course is well-watered and lush. The strategy of teeing off with a 2-iron, which Tiger Woods used to such advantage in 2006 on a dried-out course, won’t work this year.

The players? Forget about Tiger. His decision to enter is questionable, both for his recovery from spine surgery, and for his re-entry into competitive golf. There is no question of him winning or even contending.

Most eyes are on Martin Kaymer, and that’s not just front-running. He has returned to the fade that worked so well for him, and his two victories in high-profile tournaments this year demonstrate his mental toughness.

But winning another big one is asking a lot from him. Consider the other golfers who have been playing well this year and are lurking around the victory stand.

Rickie Fowler has a first-class record in majors this year, finishing 5th at the Masters and 2nd at the U.S. Open. Keep an eye on Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Rose. Angel Cabrera just won a Tour event, and he knows how to win major titles, too.

For me, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship rank 1 and 1A. I never can decide which one is which, though. If these were the only two tournaments I was allowed to watch on television all year, I would be content.