Creativity is set to be key in the battle for the Claret Jug in the 147th Open Championship, which gets underway at Carnoustie on Thursday.
Staging the world’s oldest major for the eighth time, the Angus course is a different test this time around to when it was dubbed ‘Car-nasty’ in 1999.
It’s running so fast, in fact, following the recent dry spell that players have been getting close to the Barry Burn in front of the 18th green in practice rounds.
Few players have excelled better in such conditions in this event in the past than Tiger Woods, who loves the challenge of a firm golf course.
On fairways that were burnt to a crisp at Royal Liverpool in 2006, he negotiated his way around without hitting a single driver as he claimed the last of three wins in the Claret Jug event.
“I think it’s just understanding how to play the golf course and how to play these kind of conditions,” said Woods of this week’s similar test. “I think trajectory means a lot.
“This course can be played so many different ways and what is going to be the real interesting test is how we’re going to manage our way around the golf course.
“There’s not a lot of opportunities to hit the driver just because the ball is going to be rolling 80 yards. It’s just hard to keep the ball in play. Even hitting sometimes 4 and 5 irons, they’ve been running 50, 60 yards.
“It’s going to be an interesting test to see which clubs we’re going to be using off the tees, and a lot of it is dependent on which way the wind blows.
“So the whole idea of these practise rounds is just to get a good feel for what I’m going to do, and then adjust accordingly based on wind.”
Woods, who first played here as an amateur in the 1995 Scottish Open, is making his return to golf’s oldest major after a three-year absence, which was caused by chronic back trouble.
The last of his 14 major wins was in the 2008 US Open, but he’s certainly not given up hope of adding to that haul and believes this event might offer his best chance.
“As far as long term, certainly, I would say ‘yes’ because of the fact that you don’t have to be long to play on a links-style golf course,” he said.
“And look what Tom [Watson] did at Turnberry at 59, I believe he was. So it’s possible. Greg [Norman] was there at Birkdale, I think about 54-ish. It certainly can be done.
“You get to places like Augusta National, where it’s just a big ballpark, and the golf course outgrows you, unfortunately. That’s just the way it goes.
“But links-style golf course, you can roll the ball. I hit a 3 iron here earlier this week that went down there to 330. Well, even if I get a little bit older, I can still chase some wood or long club down there and hit the ball the same distance.
“So distance becomes a moot point on a links style golf course. But creativity plays such an important role, and you’ve got guys like Tom playing late in his career, doing well. There’s a reason why he won five of these – very creative and hit all the shots.”
Woods is out in the opening two rounds in Angus with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and Russell Knox – the first time the Scot will have played with the former world No.1.
“I was shocked, to be honest,” admitted 33-year-old Knox of his marquee group. “It’ll be fun. I have never played with him. I’ve played with Matsuyama a few times but never Tiger.
“It has been an amazing couple of weeks for me: almost winning a tournament, winning a tournament (the Irish Open), contending at the Scottish Open and then get to play with your hero.
“I watched him win the Masters in ‘97 when I was about 12. He is the reason why I played golf probably. Just watching him dominate for years.
“I’ve played in his tournament (the Hero World Challenge) in the Bahamas, which was great, but to play with him is amazing, to play with him at a major even more amazing, to play with him in a major in my own country is even more amazing. It’s pretty cool.”
Knox, one of five Scots in the field, added: “I always thought he would come back but I never thought my career would be fully complete if I didn’t get to play with him.
“Hopefully I have a long way to go but at the darkest times for Tiger with injuries and whatnot I didn’t think I’d ever get to play with him.
“This is a dream come true. I had a poster of him on my wall. He changed the game for everyone, including myself. He is more than capable of winning this tournament by ten shots. Everyone has seen he has come back just as good and he will win tournaments; he might not win this week but he might – you never know.”
FIVE TO WATCH AT CARNOUSTIE
It’s 20 years since the Englishman finished fourth in this event as an amateur and he’s in with a great chance of becoming the seventh player in the last nine years to claim the Claret Jug a week after playing in the Scottish Open.
The South African became the first player to card a 62 in a men’s major in the third round at Royal Birkdale 12 months ago. He’s also a former Dunhill Links winner and landing his first major title here at the weekemd would be no surprise whatsoever.
If he can handle the circus of playing with Tiger Woods in the opening two rounds – and that won’t be easy – the Invernesian could get himself in the mix for the third Sunday in a row as he bids to emulate Paul Lawrie’s win here in 1999.
This week’s course is a lot different to the one he carded a course-record 62 in the Dunhill Links last October but last month’s US Open runner-up at Shinnecock Hills could be in with a strong shout of going one better here.
Having knocked at the door a few times, it can only be a matter of time, surely, before the American lands his major breakthrough and he will have been encouraged for this title tilt by a strong showing in last week’s Scottish Open at Gullane.