Tiger's Hoylake template
Tiger Woods is back but will his 2006 blueprint for Royal Liverpool translate to the Open Championship test of 2014?
Reeling from his father’s death and his first weekend off in a major at the US Open a month later, Woods arrived at Hoylake for the 135th Open in somber spirit. But from the depths of that claw clipping at Winged Foot, Tiger summoned up a links land clinic at the seaside gem in northwest England.
Then 30, the world No.1 withdrew his driver just once and steered his famed two-iron “stinger” over or around every one of Hoylake’s penal fairway bunkers.
Royal Liverpool had been dismantled with an 18 under score of 270, leaving Woods two clear of compatriot Chris DiMarco and eight better than the previous Open record set by Argentine Roberto De Vincenzo in 1967.
But that was then and this is very different now. Quite aside from the fact Woods has played just once since back surgery (missing the cut at his own Quicken Loads National tournament at Congressional) and hasn’t won a major since the 2008 US Open, Hoylake is also set to be a different beast.
Even if Woods doesn’t contend, will his iron-willed command of strategy and execution be copied by his 2014 rivals?
Six continuous weeks of temperatures peaking in the early 30s left Royal Liverpool’s fairways hard-baked in 2006, falsely luring the long boomers into thinking they could overpower the par 72 course, save for the grand chess master Woods.
But eight years on a relatively wet April and May will ensure Hoylake’s rough is more ropy than wispy. There’s been a combined 54 yards added to the 7528 yard test of 2006 as well including a noteworthy 27 yards on the seventh which significantly alters the angle of the tee shot on the now 480 yard par 4.
So will the long ballers – the Rory McIlroy’s, Bubba Watson’s and Dustin Johnson’s of this elite world – prosper? Maybe, but maybe not, says John Heggarty, Royal Liverpool’s head PGA Professional.
“I think this is going to be a really open championship,” Heggarty told Middle East Golfer with an emphasis on the lower case o.
“It was so fast in 2006 the players were running shots 80 yards short of the green but if you got on the wrong side of the fairway, it was very difficult to hold even wedges into the greens. Now if you find the semi rough, it’s going to be hard to hold the greens from there. It’s just going to be a different challenge.”
So maybe the likes of Martin Kaymer, Henrik Stenson or even Luke Donald, players with masterful control over their ball flight, will prosper, especially if that infamous Irish Sea breeze whips across the 145-year-old links?
“It will definitely suit the player that can control their ball flight. But I don’t think it is going to suit the long hitters any more than the shorter ones. The key thing remains keeping it out of the fairway bunkers but if you lay back, it makes for a longer approach. But with the length the players hit it now… who knows. I just think it is going to be a very open Open.”
So there you have it. It could be a long bomber or a sage hole-by-hole plotter. Golf’s greatest championship just sounds like it got even more intriguing. Roll
on Thursday. - Kent Gray is the Managing Editor of Middle East Golfer magazine.