Jean van de Velde’s collapse has not been the only tale of woe to have emanated from the depths of Carnoustie’s Barry Burn in an Open Championship. Padraig Harrington’s ball also found that particular watery grave more than once.
The difference between the two men is van de Velde’s hopes of glory in golf’s oldest championship crumbled as a result, while Harrington went on to win its greatest prize.
In short, Carnoustie only becomes “Carnasty” if you let it get inside your head and that perhaps tells you something about the men who have conquered the famous links on Scotland’s North Sea coast. Tenacious to their gills, it has taken something special to win an Open there when all around have not had the mental strength to succeed.
When Harrington lifted the Claret Jug on the Open’s last visit in 2007, he did so coming from six strokes behind 54-hole leader Sergio Garcia at the start of the final round while double-bogeying the 72nd hole thanks to his visit to the Burn. That Garcia blew his chance to close the deal at the same hole, and then faltered during their play-off even when Harrington bogeyed the treacherous 18th all over again, says much about both men’s character in the white heat of sporting battle.
Harrington, by winning at Carnoustie, joined an honour roll there including fellow men of grit Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Tom Watson, not to mention Scotland’s own Paul Lawrie, who capitalised on van de Velde’s calamitous triple bogey in 1999.
This year’s return to the venue for the 147th Open Championship will challenge the world’s best golfers in a different way than previous stagings given the heatwave that has been experienced across these islands in the last two months. The fairways are parched and fiery this time around due to the lack of rain, while the rough is no longer the jungle that claimed the sanity of many in ’99, not least poor Rod Pampling, who led the tournament with an opening one-over-par 71 and then carded an 86 the next day to miss the halfway cut.
The dry spell leaves wind as this hallowed course’s best defence, but with the forecast predicting nothing more fierce than 10 miles per hour breeezes and a low risk of passing showers, Carnoustie may well be for the taking.
Phil Mickelson certainly thinks so, though last week, following a practice round at the course before he played in the Scottish Open at Gullane, he was hoping for some wind to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Mickelson emerged victorious at Muirfield in 2013 when an Open course was last this hard-baked, and he is trusting in a “low 1-iron” off the tee this week rather than driver, which, if he puts in his bag at all, will only be unleashed on Carnoustie’s two par-fives, the 580-yard sixth and 513-yard 14th.
“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,” Mickelson said of his initial visit last week.
“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’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. I’d expect to hit a lot of lower shots. I have kind of a low 1-iron that I’ve been putting in the bag … and it’s very low and gets on the ground quick. I’ll hit that on probably the last 10 holes, almost every hole.”
Mickelson was not saying it will be easy – he missed the cut here in 1999 and 2007 after all – and, as Harrington suggested this week, having a set strategy around Carnoustie can also backfire.
“Your strategy is that you’re going to (have to) be able to change your strategy. That is the goal. You’re going to stand there, and you think you’re going to hit 3-iron off the first hole, and your playing partner hits 3-iron in the bunker, and you’re going to have to change. You know you’re going to have to keep watching what’s going on around you and get a feel for the golf course. You just have to pay attention.”
As to who is best suited to Carnoustie, Harrington added: “I would be picking the guys who don’t necessarily hit it that long, don’t spin it that much, and who just will thread it between the bunkers, and they’ll end up playing a shorter course than some of the big hitters.”
A lot of links experience and a dollop of true grit will go down nicely as well.
Does anyone have those special ingredients to lift the Claret Jug this week?
Five who might challenge….
Tommy Fleetwood – 18/1
He’s the European number one, world number 10 and Carnoustie course record holder following a 63 last October at the Alfred Dunhill Links, though this week is a very different course to the one played then. He’s also coming off a US Open record-equalling 63 in testing conditions at Shinnecock Hills last month that earned him second behind Brooks Koepka.
Tiger Woods – 25/1
A three-time Open champion, whose 2006 victory at Birkdale was on a similarly fiery course. Playing his first Open since 2015 but, after four back surgeries, he looks to have finally turned a corner, shooting a 65 at the Players Championship and finishing fourth in his last start at the Quicken Loans National on the PGA Tour.
Francesco Molinari – 28/1
One of the hottest players in the world right now after winning on boths sides of the Atlantic this summer, at the BMW PGA Championship and the Quicken Loans National. Not a great Open record but with exquisite ball striking he is straight as a die off the tee and that is tailor made for Carnoustie’s narrow fairways.
Hideki Matsuyama – 40/1
The Japanese star has two WGC victories to his name and two top-20s in the majors this season, and was tied for sixth at Muirfield four years ago when the Open set-up was last this dry and firm. Matsuyama was also tied for 14th at Birkdale last season and the 26-year-old is knocking on the door of a breakthrough major victory.
Phil Mickelson – 50/1
Lefty will relish Carnoustie this week as he bids to put a controversial month behind him. The 2013 champion will tee off in similar conditions to the scene of his victory at Muirfield and also has two runner-up finishes, at Sandwich behind Darren Clarke in 2011 and Troon, after an epic duel with Henrik Stenson. A winner this year at the WGC-Mexico Championship.
*All odds correct at time of posting