Carnastie When an already tough course turned into a killer, everybody screamed bloody murder

July 26, 1999
July 26, 1999

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July 26, 1999


Carnastie When an already tough course turned into a killer, everybody screamed bloody murder

The Masters had rough, and the greens at the U.S. Open were a
bear, but the first two majors of 1999 were nothing compared to
the British Open at nasty Carnoustie. "Only 30 days ago we were
saying that Pinehurst was the hardest course we've ever played,"
said Colin Montgomerie. "Now we've changed our opinion."

This is an article from the July 26, 1999 issue Original Layout

The numbers were convincing. Not only did no one break par (71)
last week, but also just six players finished better than 10
over. Paul Lawrie's winning score of six over was the highest in
a major since Hale Irwin's seven over in the 1974 U.S. Open at
Winged Foot. And the cut came at 12 over, the highest since it
was +13 in '74 at Winged Foot.

Much of the carnage came on the 7,361-yard course's four
fearsome finishing holes and at the par-5 6th, a 579-yard brute
that had almost all the players second-guessing the setup. "I
wish I hadn't come," said Phil Mickelson, who was happy to flee
the scene of the crime after shooting 79-76.

Here's all you need to know about Carnoustie: Pretournament
favorite Sergio Garcia, defending champ Mark O'Meara and Rodney
Pampling, the first-round leader, were a combined 60 over par
after the two rounds. Garcia was so despondent during his
opening 89 that he considered walking off the course. O'Meara
had no offense in his title defense and shot an 83 last
Thursday. Pampling made history by becoming the only first-round
leader to miss the cut when he followed his 71 with a Maxwell
Smart (an 86).

Garcia's demise was the most stunning. The 19-year-old
wunderkind had been on a roll, winning the Irish Open and tying
for second at Loch Lomond in the weeks leading up to the Open.
He never had a chance at Carnoustie, triple-bogeying the opening
hole and doubling the 9th while going out in 44. He had four
more doubles on the back nine and bolted from the course in
tears after finishing. To his credit, he returned a couple of
hours later. "I felt as if I couldn't swing the club," he said.
"It crossed my mind to walk off, but my caddie said, 'Come on,
let's see if you can shoot 80,' but that was an impossibility."

Garcia learned the hard truth about Carnoustie: The course was
unplayable from the rough. He hit only five fairways in the
first round and was even par on those holes. He was 18 over on
the others. Garcia's short game failed him, too. He had an 83 on
Friday and took 69 putts in the first two rounds despite hitting
only 15 of 36 greens in regulation. "I will try to forget this,"
Garcia said when his Friday round was over. "It was not a good
experience. I don't feel embarrassed. I just don't care." Garcia
added that he did not intend to watch the rest of the Open on
TV, either. He had already seen enough.

O'Meara doubled the 2nd and 3rd holes on Thursday, added another
double at the 10th and tripled the 17th. "When you're defending
champion and shoot in the 80s, it's a little embarrassing," he
said. "I'm a professional golfer. I have pride. I knew I was
going to get a snowman score [in the 80s], I just didn't want a
dreaded caveman [in the 90s]."

Four things made Carnoustie tough: ridiculously narrow fairways;
ferocious rough; firm, fast greens; and, for the first three
days anyway, a steady 20- to 25-mph wind. Most of the complaints
were about the width of the fairways. The landing area for the
second shot at the controversial 6th, for example, was only nine
yards wide. "We don't call these fairways back in the States,"
said U.S. Open champ Payne Stewart, who came in 30th, "we call
'em walkways." Even Tom Watson, a five-time British Open winner,
spoke out against the setup. "Giving golfers a fairway 15 yards
wide is below the minimum by quite a bit," he said. "The USGA's
minimum is 23 yards. We have several fairways here close to 15
yards wide or less. That's unfair." After turning aside that
kind of criticism for days, Hugh Campbell, chairman of the Royal
& Ancient's championship committee, admitted on the weekend that
the fairways, which had been halved for the tournament, were
probably too narrow given the severity of the rough.

The R&A denied, however, that the rough, which was knee-high
only a few steps off the fairway, had been fertilized and
watered in the weeks before the tournament, as 1985 Open champ
Sandy Lyle claimed. Said Stewart Cink, who failed to break 80 in
the opening two rounds, "It's one thing to hit bad shots that
turn out bad. It's another thing to hit damn good shots that
turn out bad ... over and over. I missed one fairway by four
feet and spent four minutes looking for the ball."

Although the greens were firm, like the fairways, they were no
more so than the greens at any British Open played on a links
course. Nevertheless, they frustrated the players who were
either unable or unwilling to hit run-up shots to them.

As for the wind...there is always wind at Carnoustie. By
Scottish standards what the players saw for the first three days
was nothing more than a wee breeze, and the final round was
played on an unusually calm day, when the wind never blew at
more than 5 mph.

The culprit, according to many of the players and even some
tournament officials, was Carnoustie superintendent John Philip.
The players thought Philip had it in for them after he was
quoted last week as saying, "Players are pampered nowadays. They
have their gurus all helping them, and they get their courtesy
cars taking them everywhere. There is an ego problem here. They
want a good payday with as little hassle as possible. Well,
sorry, Jimmy. This is the Open, the big exam."

Carnoustie's famed finishing holes lived up to their reputation
and added psychological insult to injury. The field played them
in nearly two over par. Andrew Coltart would have started the
final round two shots ahead of Jean Van de Velde instead of
seven back if he had played the four finishing holes in par.
"They are fantastically difficult holes," said Coltart, who
wound up 18th. "They were notorious before the Open, and they
will be after."

The 15th, a long, narrow par-4 of 472 yards, and the 16th, a
250-yard monster par-3, proved that downwind holes can be as
difficult as upwind holes. To hold the green on either, an
approach had to land short, but bumpy landing areas kicked shots
this way and that. Getting on the green was no guarantee of
success either. Lee Janzen made a quadruple-bogey 8 at 15 on
Saturday when he five-putted. He came in 70th.

Watson, returning to Carnoustie 24 years after his Open victory
there, said one of his goals was to make a score better than
bogey at the 16th, something he had never done. Watson missed
the cut by a shot but birdied 16 on Friday when he hit a
five-iron to within 12 feet. "We all feel 16 is too long," said
Montgomerie, who missed the green the first three days. "No one
likes the 16th."

The 17th was the second-toughest hole on the course, after the
12th, and produced 48 double bogeys or worse. Greg Norman played
his way into contention on Friday and was four under for his
round when he got to the 17th. His tee shot was three paces off
the fairway but in such snarly rough that on his second shot he
failed to move the ball, which was a common occurrence
throughout the week. Norman barely got the third shot back to
the fairway and then missed the green with his fourth and made a
7. On Saturday he drowned his tee shot in the burn and made
bogey. Barely one third of the field hit the 16th green in
regulation; only 29% hit the 17th.

The 18th, a downwind par-4 of 487 yards, was relatively tame by
comparison--until it rose up to claim Van de Velde and Justin
Leonard on Sunday. The main problem was stopping a ball on the
green, which is fronted by Barry Burn, so the wiry rough behind
the green got a workout all week.

Playing Carnoustie was about as enjoyable as getting a root
canal, as Billy Andrade can attest. Andrade had planned to wait
until he got back to the U.S. to have a bothersome tooth fixed
but was overwhelmed by pain on Thursday night. He was given a
shot of novocaine right before he teed off on Friday, but that
wore off after four holes. When he finished the round--he shot
84 and missed the cut--he rushed to a dentist for oral surgery.
The pain was so bad on the course, Andrade said, "that for about
three holes I wanted to scream."

At Carnoustie last week, he was not the only one.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER Leg it out Craig Parry took his chances, and a contorted stance, while playing out of a dry burn.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER Sixth sense The players howled about the nine-yard-wide landing area for second shots at the par-5 6th hole (far left).COLOR PHOTO: PAUL HACKETT/REUTERS Funny business Van de Velde was doing swimmingly until he took a dip and a triple bogey on the 72nd hole.
"I knew I was going to get a snowman score [in the 80s]," said
O'Meara, "I just didn't want a dreaded caveman [in the 90s]."
"They want a good payday with as little hassle as possible,"
said Philip. "Well, sorry, Jimmy. This is the Open, the big