Turnberry, Scotland The sea breeze in his face was not nearly as important to Tiger Woods as finding the best route around three pot bunkers on the 10th hole at Turnberry.
He aimed his tee shot to the right, on the high side of two bunkers, then pulled his 3-wood just enough that the ball bounded along the links until it stopped rolling just three yards short of the sand.
This was OK.
“That’s the whole idea,” Woods said. “Some of these holes sucker you into trying to take it over the bunkers.”
A bold tee shot would leave a shorter approach into the green, perhaps a greater chance at birdie.
“But can you do that over four days?” Woods replied.
He doesn’t appear willing to take that chance.
Woods has captured the British Open three times on two links courses. He won his first claret jug at St. Andrews in 2000, a victory as much famous for his career Grand Slam as his four rounds without once playing out of the bunker.
His most recent victory was three years ago at Hoylake, where Woods hit driver only one time in 72 holes. He chose that week to play mainly long irons and the occasional 3-wood off the tee, anything to keep him short of the bunkers.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been able to reach the green from a bunker,” Woods said. “It’s a one-shot penalty. Even if you can advance it 60 yards, you still have a 6-iron left to the green.”
Turnberry is a far different venue. The strategy is no different.
Woods makes his return to the British Open, missing golf’s oldest championship last year while in the early stages of recovering from knee surgery that kept him out for eight months.
He had never seen Turnberry until arriving Sunday, and he played the last of his three practice rounds Tuesday morning beneath a mixture of clouds and sunshine, fickle weather that likely will continue for the week.
Three days should be enough time to cram for this test, just as it was for Hoylake.
What he has learned, as have the players who were not at Turnberry in 1994 when it last hosted the British Open, is that it is more important that ever to keep the ball in play. Beyond the fairways is grass so thick it might be difficult to get the ball back into play, if it can be found.
Even so, the bunkers stand out as the threat.
Masters champion Angel Cabrera is among the big hitters in golf, and he spoke of caution.
“I think I’m going to be playing short of the bunkers pretty much all week,” Cabrera said. “That will be my strategy.”
He is not alone.
Padraig Harrington will be going after a third straight British Open — no one has done that since Peter Thomson in 1954-56 — and he tuned up for Turnberry the way he did his previous two victories, by playing links golf in Ireland and winning the Irish PGA.
Harrington is no stranger to this brand of golf. He says there’s no secret to succeeding.
“My whole links golfing life, I’ve avoided the bunkers at all costs,” he said. “Bunkers are like water hazards on a links course. You’re chipping out. Avoid at all costs.”
Adding to the dilemma at Turnberry, however, is the high grass from a wet spring.
Harrington does not mind hitting a longer club in the green, for even if he misses the putting surface, he figures he can save par. With so much thick ground around some of these greens, however, the challenge never ends.
Be aggressive off the tee?
Lay back off the tee to avoid bunkers and take your chances with a tougher shot to the green?
One more piece of this puzzle is the bowl shape of about half the greens, allowing the ball to feed toward the hole.
“There will be birdies made this week from the fairway, assuming you’ve got a reasonable shot in there,” Harrington said. “The penalty will be missing the fairways. The guy who drives it well this week has a big advantage, much more this week than on any links golf course I’ve seen in a long time.”
He had his share of misses last year at Royal Birkdale, although Harrington was practically flawless when it mattered. He shot 32 on the back nine to pull away from Greg Norman and Ian Poulter.
That final hour is about the only part of the British Open that Woods watched last year. He was three weeks removed from reconstructive surgery, limited to hobbling from the bed to the couch and back again.