Carnoustie, Scotland — Jon Rahm had heard about a dry summer in Scotland. It didn’t really hit home until he checked into the Carnoustie Golf Hotel and caught his first glimpse of the course with a reputation as the toughest links in golf.
“I forgot the fact the R&A lets Mother Nature set up the course,” he said Sunday. “It wasn’t until I got to my hotel room when I looked out and said, ‘This is baked. This is brown.’ I’m just glad they water the greens.”
This is a different look than the previous two times the British Open came to Carnoustie.
The rough was dense, thick and crowded the narrow fairways in 1999. It was wet and long in 2007. It is bone dry this year, the grass brown on the fairways, almost the same color as the sand filling some of the divots. The ball is running forever.
Rahm said he still can see why the links has been nicknamed “Car-nasty.”
“But I think with this year’s setup — the lack of rain, the fairways being firm, the fescue not being thick at all — it almost seems like a completely different golf course from what I’m used to hearing,” he said.
Padraig Harrington got everyone’s attention Saturday when he tweeted that he hit into the Barry Burn again on the 18th hole.
“This time it was the one at the green, 457 yards away,” he tweeted. “The fairways are a tad fast.”
Harrington hit into the first burn in the final round in 2007, and then hit his next shot into the burn by the green. He salvaged a double bogey and wound up beating Sergio Garcia in a playoff.
The Irishman tried (and failed) to post video. His caddie, brother-in-law Ronan Flood, posted video of the swing, though not the ball bouncing along the turf and dropping into the 6-foot wide stream where Jean Van de Velde was so famously standing in the final round of 1999.
Brandt Snedeker tweeted that he hit one 427 yards on the 18th.
“Never seen an Open this firm,” he said.
That brings in a different set of dynamics for the Open, which starts Thursday. Controlling distance is never more difficult when players don’t know how far the ball is bouncing. Rahm was skeptical about Harrington’s tweet as he played the 18th on a warm, dry and breezy afternoon.
“It’s 360 yards to that bunker,” he said, pointing to the right. “No way the ball rolled 100 yards.”
But the Spaniard had no less appreciation for the roll. He played with Tommy Fleetwood, and Rahm said there were a couple of holes when Fleetwood opted for a 2-iron off the tee, and Rahm went with driver.
“Usually the difference between a driver and a 2-iron is 40, 50 yards,” he said.
“On this course, a couple of times when Tommy hit iron and I hit driver, it was a 100-plus. It’s a big difference.”
Tiger Woods, who spent Saturday at Wimbledon watching Serena Williams lose the championship match, showed up mid-afternoon at Carnoustie and belted a stinger off the first tee. It’s his first time playing the British Open since he missed the cut at St. Andrews. A three-time champion, Woods has seen courses in all conditions. He won at Hoylake in 2006 when it also was very brown and very fast. Woods hit only one driver that week.
Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, the top two players in the world ranking, also were practicing on a course where even the rough wasn’t too daunting. The grass was wispy, not deep enough where it would be tough to get to the green.
Rahm won the Irish last year, and he tied for fourth this year at Ballyliffin. He understands the key to his success is navigating the pot bunkers, which typically means playing smart and playing short of them.
For this year at Carnoustie, he was talking more about taking the bunkers out of play by going over them.
“I was pretty aggressive out there, just trying to take bunkers out play,” he said. “Because the fairways are so slippery that it’s tough to keep it in the fairway. If you can hit driver, you don’t need to hit fairways. If you hit half of them, you have a short club in, besides 13. Into the wind today, that was a long club.”
This could be one of those years when the fairways are faster than the greens.
“Tommy and I joked about that,” Rahm said. “On the second hole, we putted from 50 yards off the green. The browner spots really look fast than the green, or if not faster, just as fast. It gets to the green and it doesn’t bounce as much, just rolls, but it definitely slows down.”
Where: Carnoustie Golf Links, Scotland; 7,402 yards, par 71
Playoff (if necessary): Four holes, aggregate score
TV: Thursday and Friday, 1:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. (GC); Saturday, 4:30-7 a.m. (GC), 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. (NBC); Sunday, 4:30-7 a.m. (GC), 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (NBC)
2017 winner: Jordan Spieth
Last time at Carnoustie: Padraig Harrington won his first major in a playoff over Sergio Garcia after another calamitous finish. Harrington lost a one-shot lead on the final hole by hitting into Barry Burn twice and making double bogey, only for Garcia to make bogey on the 18th hole. In the four-hole playoff, Harrington make birdie and Garcia made bogey on the opening hole, and the Irishman made a conservative bogey on the last hole for a one-shot victory.
Open champions at Carnoustie: Tommy Armour (1931), Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007)