CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — The Open is unpredictable, with everything from guessing which way the ball will bounce to predicting the weather to picking a winner all requiring some luck.
Even the players admit that if they say they know what’s coming or how they plan to approach the next four days, they’re lying.
“I think with links golf, you have to adapt,” Rory McIlroy said. “I think there’s not going to be one player in this field that has a game plan on Wednesday night and is going to stick to that game plan the whole way around for 72 holes. It’s just not going to happen with wind conditions, with pins.”
Tiger and slow starts
If Tiger Woods wants to break his long major championship drought — or even be in real contention for the first time since The Open at Muirfield in 2013 — he needs to stop an alarming trend. He has failed to break par in each of his past six opening rounds at PGA Tour events. But his early struggles extend far beyond this season. Woods, who is competing in his first Open since 2015, has been over par after Round 1 in each of his past seven major championships. The last time Woods broke par in the first round at a major was this event in 2014 at Royal Liverpool.
At the U.S. Open, Woods started his day with a perfect drive, then airmailed the first green with his second shot. By the time he was done, he wrote a triple-bogey 7 on his card. He never recovered and was gone before the weekend. At this year’s Masters, he opened with 73 and was never in the conversation as he continued his chase for major No. 15.
Still, and not surprisingly, Woods enters confident, especially given his performance at the Quicken Loans National three weeks ago. Woods tied for fourth at the event.
“I think that I’ve made a few adjustments, as you’ve seen so far,” he said. “I’ve changed putters. I’ve tweaked my swing a little bit since the West Coast swing. And everything’s gotten just a little bit better. I’ve put myself up there in contention a couple times. Just need to play some cleaner golf, and who knows?”
A different look for Rory
Rory McIlroy was open during his pre-tournament news conference, admitting that he needed to have more fun on the golf course, that most players will abandon any planned strategy once The Open begins and the elements present themselves, that the pressure of winning majors weighs on players as they get older. What he was most honest about was how much has changed — and how much he has changed — since he came to Carnoustie and won the silver medal as leading amateur in 2007.
“Looking back at the pictures, it is funny,” McIlroy said. “When I looked in the mirror back then, I didn’t think [the hair] was as big as it was. Anyway, we live and we learn.”
Place your bets
The local betting shops in and around Carnoustie have the standard fare: Place a wager on who will win The Open with some odds. But there are a few more interesting options should someone decide to wager a few British pounds. A sampling of the more intriguing ones on the board at local establishments Ladbrokes and William Hill:
Shoot in the 60s all four rounds: Tiger Woods 11-1; Rory McIlroy 9-1; Dustin Johnson 15-2; Jordan Spieth 10-1
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy both miss the cut: 14-1
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth all miss the cut: 70-1
Wire-to-wire winner: 12-1
Hole-in-one during the tournament: 5-6
Winning nationality: U.S. 6-5; European: 11-10; Rest of world: 4-1
Any Scottish player to win The Open: 40-1
A score of 59: 275-1
When the key players hit the course
For the entire list of scores and tee times, click here.
Why the place is called Car-Nasty
Woods called Carnoustie the most difficult of the courses in The Open rotation. It has been dubbed both “Car-Nasty” and “The Beast” because in the right conditions (or wrong, depending on your perspective), scores can balloon. Since 1960, this Open venue has produced two of the four highest scores in relation to par. Paul Lawrie won the 1999 championship — the year Jean Van de Velde melted down on the 72nd hole — with 6 over, which was the highest ever. In 1968, Gary Player won here with 1 over.
“It all depends on the wind,” Dustin Johnson said. “If it blows, it’s going to be tough.”
Even after a few days of practice, the field knows all that prep work could get tossed out the window Thursday.
For those seeking their first major
Looking for that first one? (That’s you, Rickie Fowler and Tommy Fleetwood.) Carnoustie might just be the right place. The past three times The Open has been held here, the winner was walking away with his first major. However, it might take a little extra work. All three first-time major winners who experienced that breakthrough moment at Carnoustie — Padraig Harrington (2007), Lawrie (1999), Tom Watson (1975) — did it in a playoff.
“There’s no really good reason why I couldn’t do it,” Fleetwood said.
One thing is almost certain, given the history of The Open and Carnoustie — it’ll be close.
It might all come down to a challenging closing stretch at Carnoustie.
“The last four holes can be brutish, at best,” Harrington said. “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.”