ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) — An old friend showed up on the Old Course on Sunday.
A strong wind, the best defense in links golf, was largely missing the last two times the British Open came to St. Andrews, which explains how Tiger Woods won with a record score of 19-under 269 in 2000 and at 14-under 274 five years later.
Woods arrived after an overnight flight and found the Old Course much different than he remembered. By the middle of his round, when his tee shot at No. 11 wound up on the seventh green, the strongest recorded gust was just under 50 mph.
Standing on the 18th tee, the wind now at his back as he waited to drive the 357-yard hole with a 3-wood, he was asked if he had ever played St. Andrews in such conditions.
“Nobody can play St. Andrews like this,” Woods said.
And he was right.
Henrik Stenson looked whipped when he finished 18 holes about the time Woods was starting out. There were some greens that he couldn’t putt because the ball wouldn’t stay still. There were some shots from the fairway he couldn’t play for the same reason.
He blasted out of the Strath bunker on the par-3 11th some 20 feet past the hole. The wind blew the ball back toward him until it was off the green, but not in the bunker.
“The course needs a bit of wind,” Stenson said. “But this is too much for anybody on any day.”
Phil Mickelson, with a few extra days of practice at St. Andrews after missing the cut at Loch Lomond, went out early before the gusts reached their full strength. It was strong enough, however.
It was difficult to judge how far the ball was going, through the air and on the ground, and one of his tee shots on the seventh stopped only a few feet from a pot bunker. Once on the green, Mickelson removed his cap to keep it from blowing off his head and gazed back down the fairway toward the tee.
Standing behind the green was a marshal from St. Andrews, beaming at the conditions.
“If it stays like this,” the marshal said, “then it will be an interesting week.”
The forecast is for a week of inclement weather, which means different things to different people. There should be periods of rain, perhaps some sunshine, but that’s nothing new in this part of the world. And there is supposed to be a steady dose of wind, which remarkably had been missing.
It made a cameo appearance on Saturday in 2005, yet the week was relatively calm. And in 2000, the wind was largely a rumor. Go back five years earlier, however, and John Daly won in a playoff after finishing at 6-under 282.
The beauty of golf’s oldest championship is that the Royal & Ancient is never too bothered if the scores are too low. Whether the score is 19 under or even par, it salutes the winner and looks forward to the next year.
Even so, there was a glint in the eye of R&A chief executive Peter Dawson as he stood behind the 18th green when Woods finished his practice round, his hair blown in various directions, his jaw as square as ever.
“We like having a bit of wind, don’t we?” he said. “Just not like this.”
Dawson confirmed that conditions were too strong to play on a day like this, although he was pleased to hear that the highest gusts in the forecast were just under 30 – tough but manageable.
Several players, such as Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy, played practice rounds last week and might take it easy until the tournament begins Thursday. Others, like Woods, only arrived Sunday after an overnight flight and will spend the next three days getting reacquainted with the Old Course.
Woods was an amateur when he played St. Andrews for the first time since 1995, making the cut and finishing in a tie for 68th. So he has played in the wind on these links. He also played St. Andrews during the old Dunhill Cup, but doesn’t recall much wind.
“It was frozen,” Woods said.
That shouldn’t be an issue this week. The wind? As the marshal said, this could get interesting.
Scott Verplank, who lives outside Oklahoma City, found that to be the case. From right of the flag on the fourth green, he rapped a putt some 10 feet past the hole, waited, then watched the wind blow the ball past the hole, past his feet and 20 feet behind him.
On the 16th hole, Verplank hit a shot that was headed toward the grandstand when the wind took over. It moved enough left to hit a mound, then bounced left onto the green and the wind pushed it to 15 feet below the hole.
“Nah,” he said. “When it blows this hard, I don’t play.”