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British Open at Lytham requires a good start

July 19, 2012

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— It’s rare to see Tiger Woods hit iron off the tee on a par 5, except in links golf, and especially at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

With a stiff breeze in his face on the 598-yard 11th hole, he most likely could not reach the green in two. The idea was to be able to get there in three shots, which meant staying out of trouble off the tee. His low bullet of a shot stopped 10 paces short of feeding into a pot bunker. If the shot had gone much longer, Woods might have had to blast out sideways, and still had some 300 yards left to the green.

The key to this British Open is to get off to a good start — not just today, but on every hole.

“At most PGA Tour events, the shorter the shot, the more important it is,” Geoff Ogilvy said. “This one, the longer the shot the more important it is.”

The tired adage of “drive for show, putt for dough” doesn’t necessarily apply at Lytham.

“The easy part is around the greens,” Ben Curtis said. “The hard part is off the tee.”

Royal Lytham is the shortest course on the Open rotation over the last decade, and it’s on the smallest piece of property, tucked a mile or so away from the Irish Sea and surrounded by homes and a railway. The challenge comes from 206 bunkers, and thick grass from a wet spring that should keep the spotters busy looking for balls.

The powerful hitters can hit over the bunkers, as long as they avoid the next set of traps. But it’s not so simple to think that players can hit well short of the bunkers for a longer shot into the green, because they might not be able to reach the green.

“It’s a tee-shot golf course,” Graeme McDowell said, who grew up on Royal Portrush and knows a thing or two about links golf. “The second shots are not particularly taxing. There’s not a lot of trouble around the greens. There are bunkers, but not a lot of heavy rough. You’ve got to position yourself off the tee to give yourself a chance. You’ve got to keep it out of the bunkers. It’s a good test. I don’t think you can hide on this golf course.”

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