The Open: Champion Darren Clarke braced for ‘brutal’ title defence as Tiger Woods describes Royal Lytham rough as ‘almost unplayable’
DEFENDING Open champion Darren Clarke described the rough at Royal Lytham and St Annes as “brutal”.
The Northern Irishman said the long, lush grass was a problem in certain areas and predicted some players would lose balls this week.
His comments followed similar remarks made by Tiger Woods, a three-time winner of the Claret Jug, who described the rough as “inescapable” after his practice round yesterday.
Championship organisers the R&A insist, however, the course is in the best possible condition it can be. “There are a few patches out there where it’s just absolutely brutal,” said Clarke. “The grass is a little bit thicker than what you normally find on a links golf course. It’s really, really tough. If you start spraying the ball around this week, you might as well go home.
“Obviously, if you start missing the fairways you’re really going to struggle, so it’s a big challenge. There’s a really huge premium on accuracy this week. There’s no chance coming out of this rough at all. There could be some lost balls in there, even with spotters and everything.”
When asked about the testing conditions, Woods said: “Oh my God. It’s just that you can’t get out of it. The bottom six inches is so lush.
“The wispy stuff, we’ve always faced that at every British Open. But that bottom six inches, in some places it’s almost unplayable. I’ve never seen the rough this high or thick and dense.”
The R&A blamed unprecedented weather conditions for hampering preparations over the last few months and claim they have canvassed opinion from several professionals who are satisfied with the course.
“The feedback we have had from a large enough body of players to be satisfied that they represent the field is that it is fair and well set up,” said R&A communications director Malcolm Booth. “A large number of players have expressed how pleased they are with the course set-up, which seems to be very positive.
“The weather we have had, unprecedented in this country, means there has been a lot of moisture and rain which, combined with at least some summer heat, has led the rough to be very thick in places. That in itself is not unprecedented at an Open Championship – Muirfield in particular gets very thick rough – so we are pleased with the course set-up.
“The fairways are suitably scaled to allow a generous landing area if you are hitting the right club off the tee. The weather will keep the fairways softer too, so things aren’t going to be kicking off fairways with quite the force they would have been doing at Hoylake in 2006.”
Booth said there had been no alterations to the course as a result of the bad weather and they did not plan to make any at this late stage. He was also confident the non-golf areas would stand up to the weather, although he admitted more heavy rainfall would put a strain on the course inside and outside the ropes. “I believe it is set up the same way and I don’t think, with the feedback we’ve had, there is any need to make any changes,” he added.
Clarke is intent on making a few changes to his game. While the popular Norhern Irishman has fully savoured the triumph of his first major championship, he hasn’t done much on the course since that magical week at Royal St George’s. He didn’t even make it to the weekend at the last three majors, missing the cut at both the PGA Championship and the Masters, then withdrawing from the US Open with an injury. He hasn’t finished higher than 17th at any event.
“I don’t know if it’s because of winning the Open championship or not, but I’ve certainly fallen into a little bit of a trap of trying to play better, and trying too hard as opposed to just going and playing,” Clarke conceded. “I got a little caught up and tried too hard. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of our game. You get success at the highest level, and it just creates some more. I want to win again and I want to win bigger and better tournaments. There is none better than the Open championship, but I want to win the big tournaments. I just pushed myself too hard to do that.”
He’s hopeful of turning things around this week and considers his game well-suited to dealing with the pernickety British weather, which has been downright nasty most of the summer.
Howling winds? Driving rain? Bring it on, he said. “I grew up in it,” Clarke said. “I played a lot of links golf at home in Ireland, and we haven’t always had good weather over there. The course is going to play really tough this week. It’s quite narrow. The rough is very, very penal, and we’re forecasted for some rough weather. But that’s the Open championship. That’s what we expect, and that’s what we’re going to get.
“If conditions are tough, that doesn’t particularly bother me. That’s fine.”
No matter the weather, his first priority is getting his game in order. The victory at Royal St. George’s was attributed largely to a steady putter. Clarke hasn’t been able to maintain his magic touch on the greens, though it’s hardly his only flaw. “My whole game has been very, very average,” Clark said.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west