Fri, Jul 18, 2003 - Page 22 News List

Royal St. George's a challenge

BRITISH OPEN Three days of practice rounds on the links just north of the English Channel are filled with tales of seemingly good shots taking big turns for the worse

AP , SANDWICH, ENGLAND

Japan's Shingo Katayama drives on the fairway on the first day of the British Open at Royal St. George's in Sandwich, England, yesterday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

No other major championship requires as much good fortune as the British Open.

On no other links is that more true than Royal St. George's.

Robert Allenby hit two tee shots on the 17th hole during a practice round, both drawing gently toward the middle of the fairway and landing in the same spot.

He found one of them in the left rough, the other in the right rough.

"Not even the best players in the world can keep it on every fairway -- no chance," Allenby said. "You need a lot of luck. And I hope I'm the one who gets lucky."

Kenny Perry posed over a 5-iron struck to the center of the 12th green, then watched it take a hard hop to the left and roll toward a pot bunker.

"Oh my gosh," Perry said. "That's not fair, is it?"

Colin Montgomerie read in the newspaper Wednesday that Greg Norman predicted only 20 percent of the players would be able to keep the ball in the first fairway.

Having played the previous afternoon, Monty could relate.

"I hit a shot down the left side with a bit of fade, which normally works," he said. "It missed the fairway on the right side. And the marshal said that was one of the good ones."

Three days of practice on the links just north of the English Channel are filled with tales of seemingly good shots taking a turn for the worse as soon as they land on the brown, brittle turf of Royal St. George's.

Those shots start counting on Thursday when Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and the rest of the field tee off in golf's oldest championship.

"Of all the Open courses, this could be the most penal," said Mark O'Meara, who has played all the British Open links in the modern rotation, and is one of only eight men to have competed three times at Royal St. George's.

"If the weather gets nasty, this course is brutal."

For once, the two most popular words at a major are not Tiger and Woods.

They have been replaced by "moon" to describe the lunarlike links, and ``bounces'' that will test the resolve of the world's best players.

"Not too often do you hit the ball down the middle and end up in the bunker or the rough," Woods said. "That's just the way it is. You understand you're hitting good shots, you're going to get bad bounces; hit marginal shots and get great bounces.

"You have to be very patient because of that."

Woods remains the betting favorite -- same as every major championship since he turned professional in 1996 -- even though he arrived at the British Open without a major trophy for the first time since the 1999 PGA Championship.

He is coming off a five-stroke victory in the Western Open, his fourth victory of the year. His practice rounds have been efficient, easy to do because he tees off before 6:30am each day and is gone by the time fans line up for a lunch of jellied eel or fish and chips.

A victory would allow Woods to join Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win the career Grand Slam at least twice.

Woods won the British Open three years ago at St. Andrews, where it was so dry and warm that the fairways were faster than the greens.

He is renowned for not hitting into a single bunker on the Old Course, a feat that will be difficult to repeat on a links with blind shots and warped fairways.

St. Andrews has subtle humps.

Royal St. George's has crevices.

"I thought I was on the moon," Perry said after playing the course for the first time. "I felt like I was on another planet -- which I am."

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