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At The Open Championship

At the Open Championship with Ernie Els ...

Seven years ago the course was as dry as a bone, very hard and fast-running. This year, with all the rain we’ve had, the course is looking a lot more green. The rough is incredibly lush, so that’s going to be a serious factor. The greens are looking, and putting, incredibly good. Obviously, that rain takes a little bit of the sting out of the course. That actually makes our life easier, because we can get the ball to stop on the greens and our tee shots don’t get away from us quite as much.

Of course, the weather can turn things around pretty fast and make even the easy holes play tough. I guess it would be very unusual if we didn’t have at least a few days where the wind really blows hard. As long as it’s not totally wild, I hope it does blow. That’s what links golf is all about, right?

So how does Troon play as a golf course? Well, in the best links traditions you’ve got a pair of nines that run pretty much parallel with one another - sandwiched between a railway line and the sea. Going out, the holes nearly always play downwind and this is where you’re looking to maybe pick up a couple of shots. Remember Greg Norman’s start in the final round in 1989 - he birdied the first six holes! I don’t see that happening again in a hurry. But those early holes are generous enough that you can hit some 3-woods and irons off the tee and there are some definite birdie opportunities. Actually, on the opening hole if the wind is strong enough you might even see some players have a go for the green with their tee shots. And the par-5 fourth hole is comfortably reachable in two.

I wouldn’t include the famous par-3 8th - the Postage Stamp - in the ‘birdie chance’ category, though. Okay, at just 123 yards it’s the shortest hole in championship golf but it’s the kind of hole where you don’t want to be too greedy. Admittedly if there’s no wind, you’re hitting only a pitching-wedge and it’s not that scary. But that’s rare. When it gets windy, as it nearly always is, man it’s going to cause some problems. Miss the green and that circle of pot bunkers (all five of them!) are deep and really awkward. Somewhere along the line this week you will see some players suffer on this hole, trust me on that one.

As soon as you turn for home, things get very serious. You’re looking at two really tough holes straight away, the 10th and 11th, both blind tee shots into narrow fairways, and into the teeth of the wind with out-of-bounds all the way down the right-hand side. In 1997, the 11th was the toughest hole all week. That doesn’t surprise me at all. A couple of fours at these two holes will make anyone happy.

There’s basically no let-up from there on in. As I said earlier, Troon is the kind of golf course where you want to try and make your score going out, then kind of hang on to your score on the way home. Things aren’t always that clear cut, obviously. But when you look at the card and see that the back nine is nearly 300 yards longer than the front nine, but the par is one less (35 compared to 36) you’ll know what I mean. And, of course, you’re playing into the wind coming home, so it plays even longer than the numbers suggest.

Just to give you a little taste, the last four holes measure 483 yards, 542, 222 and 457 - a mile of suffering for anyone who’s not hitting the ball solid and straight! That closing stretch is a great test of golf, which is exactly the way it should be in the world’s oldest and best championship. I can’t wait to get started.

As usual, I like to build-up to the start of the tournament, nice and steady. Everything is geared towards not doing so much that I waste a lot of mental and physical energy, but obviously doing enough so that I’m 100 per cent ready come Thursday morning. That’s where experience helps you a bit.

Anyway, enough talking. It’s time for action. Whether you’re coming to Royal Troon or just watching on television, I hope you enjoy the tournament. It really is a fantastic championship - the best in the world. And make sure you look out for my full Open recap next week.

Bye for now.

Ernie

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