Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Rough shaping up to be big trouble at British Open


LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — In the buildup to the British Open, where the weather is always a story line, the fight was on to negotiate a way through the acres of rain-soaked high grass.

There were knotty fescue tufts and sodden dunes. Cloudy skies produced a succession of storms that brought mud and backbreaking struggle for those caught in the saturated environment.

And that was just in the packed grass parking lots surrounding the golf course, where extricating a stuck car became a secondary sport to the main event, which begins today.

Tournament officials said they were bringing in specially designed portable pathways to facilitate movement in the busy parking lots. No such devices were planned to help golfers who find their balls as implacably trapped in the high growth beside the 18 holes of the Royal Lytham & St. Annes golf club.

"As we always say with the rough, we leave it to nature, and nature this year has given us the thick stuff," said Peter Dawson, chief executive of the Royal & Ancient, which runs the British Open.

That would be an understatement. In practice rounds, golfers had to invent strategies for not only the thigh-high, wispy native grass customary at links courses but also a 3- to 4-inch deep sublayer of more dense turf that has flourished in Britain's record soggy weather this summer.

Tiger Woods, going for his 15th major championship and fourth British Open title, made headlines in Britain on Monday after he called the rough in some places "almost unplayable." The newspapers focused on the "unplayable" part and turned it into his assessment of the whole course.

What Woods said when asked about the rough after a Sunday practice round, reported, was "It's just that you can't get out of it. The bottom 6 inches is so lush. The wispy stuff, we've always faced that at every British Open. But that bottom 6 inches, in some places it's almost unplayable."

Rory McIlroy has a similar feeling; "You can hit out of the long but thin grass. The stuff below it presents many more problems, including finding the ball in the first place."

Beyond acknowledging that the rough is especially rough, those running the championship are not very concerned about the conditions. As with the U.S. Open, the philosophy seems to be: If a player cannot hit it straight, he will score high.

"The champion on Sunday I doubt will have won from the rough," Dawson said. "I think he'll be winning from the short grass, so there's a premium on hitting fairways this week, obviously. But if you stray a long way off the fairways, you're going to be penalized."

Some players have remarked the fairways have been narrowed, but Dawson denied that.

In general, the mood about the playing conditions has improved in the past few days as the weather forecast has brightened dramatically. Last weekend, when most of the field arrived, it appeared they would be playing in their rain suits for at least three of the four days. But Wednesday afternoon brought bright sun, and the forecast was for generally dry weather until at least Sunday. But forecasts in this part of the world are notoriously erratic.

Besides, wind is in the forecast, and with more than 200 bunkers on the course, wind can blow a well-struck tee shot into hazards that can be escaped only with a sideways or backward shot.

"If we get a typical wind, it's going to take a lot of precision, or a lot of patience, to get through the day, or both," said Luke Donald, the world's top-ranked player. "The wind can humble anyone."

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