The wind is the wild card at Troon
TROON, Scotland (AP) _ The British Open offers one constant. As steeped as it is in tradition, nothing stays the same. The weather makes certain of that.
Royal Troon has already been at least two different courses this week, giving players a taste of what to expect when the tournament gets going on Thursday.
The fickle wind off the Firth of Clyde threw a strange curve at the field on Tuesday when it blew from the opposite direction it usually comes from, making whatever information gathered likely to be useless.
``It probably made as much as 120 yards difference as you hit off the tee,″ Nick Price said after his practice round.
``So a hole like No. 13, you hit driver and you are hitting it 100 yards farther than you would when you are into the wind,″ he said. ``That’s a lot of clubs there. Probably seven or eight clubs in between.″
That’s the difference between hitting a 2-iron second shot or a wedge.
It is that kind of change in course conditions _ the kind of changes that can come up in the middle of a round _ that makes the British Open what Price calls ``the ultimate test in one’s strategies.″
Monday, Price hit a driver and a 2-iron into the 463-yard 11th hole. Tuesday, he hit ``a 3-wood and a pitch.″
On the west coast of Scotland, where all four seasons can occur on the same day, a longterm weather forecast is being able to say it can’t rain for at least 10 minutes because the sun is out. That makes predicting which Troon will show up on Thursday all but pointless.
And there lies the challenge _ and the beauty _ of the British Open.
``When the golf courses changes, everything changes,″ Greg Norman said.
Norman, Price and Colin Montgomerie _ who grew up within sight of the first tee at Troon _ are three players at peak form with the experience it takes to handle the changing conditions.
For no one is the return to Troon as poignant as for Montgomerie.
Second in the U.S. Open twice _ most recently last month _ and second in the PGA once, he has never been higher than eighth in the British Open and has missed the cut four of the last five years.
He hopes his local knowledge of the course where his father is the club secretary will count for a lot.
``I’ve played this course in all types of conditions,″ Montgomerie said. ``Obviously, I know my way around here.″
Price and Norman are two other players who can draw on years of experience playing British Open courses under British Open conditions.
``Twenty years ago this week was my first major championship,″ Norman said about the 1977 Open at Turnberry, just down the road.
``I remember Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson shooting it out down the stretch and I remember watching it on TV,″ he said about missing the cut for the final round.
In 1989, Norman - who won the British Open in 1986 and ’93 _ began the final round at Troon seven strokes behind but opened with birdies on the first six holes and closed with a 64 to make a three-way playoff won by Mark Calcavecchia.
``I’m very proud of that start,″ Norman said. ``I hope I’m remembered for that and not what happened in the playoff,″ when he ended quitting on the last hole after hitting his third shot out of bounds.
Price, who appears to have his game back to near the form that won two PGA Championships and the British Open in the early 1990s, looks at the positive side of his squandered opportunity at Troon in 1982 when he finished second after being three up with six holes to play.
``Maybe it was a blessing a little bit for me,″ he said, ``Just to have that lesson and what it takes to win an Open championship.″
Price has one other bit of motivation this year at Troon.
``I would like to win one more Open for Squeeky,″ he said about Jeff Medlen, his longtime caddie who died of leukemia last month.
To win, Price will have to outlast an extremely talented field that finds many of the top players in the world at peak form.
The top seven players in the World Ranking _ Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Norman, Montgomerie, Price, Tom Lehman and Steve Elkington have all won tournaments this year _ Woods, Els, Norman, Montgomerie and Lehman within the last month.
It is what the players _ not to mention the fans _ long for.
``To be pitted against the best, playing your best is what you dream of,″ Norman said. ``It would be idyllic if you had nine holes to go and the top 10 players in the world locked in within a stroke of each other.″
Then it would be a matter of defeating nature.