Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's tee time at Brit Open

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LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- 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 have some 300 yards left to the green.

The key to this British Open is to get off to a good start, not just on Thursday, 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 1.6 kilometres 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 players can hit well short of the bunkers for a longer shot to the green, because they might not be able to reach the green.

"It's a tee-shot golf course," said Graeme McDowell, 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."

Next to the 206 bunkers, the number getting the most attention at this major is 15 -- the number of players who have won the last 15 majors. An even greater sign of parity is that the last nine major champions had never won a major before.

The streak could go to 16 if the betting favourite -- Woods -- were to win his fourth claret jug and get back on track in his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus's record 18 majors. Or the 16th different major champion could be No. 1 or No. 3 in the world ranking. Those guys would be Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.

Along with the hazards are the elements, which tend to play a big role in links golf.

The Royal & Ancient puts out an update three times a day on the weather, and the only thing that can be trusted is the small print at the bottom: "This forecast may be amended at any time."

-- The Associate Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 19, 2012 D6

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