5 Things You Need to Know about The Open Championship

When the wind is blowing it’s the toughest course in Great Britain. When the wind is not blowing – it’s still the toughest. It’s Carnoustie Golf Links, host of The Open Championship this week, and this par-71, 7,402-yard track is nasty from start to finish. Long, narrow fairways, merciless pot bunkers, and the fresh hell that awaits every player on the 18th hole makes Carnoustie the most fearsome course in The Open rotation. This is the eighth time Carnoustie is hosting The Open, with the last three championships decided in a playoff thanks to late-round calamity. Here are five things you need to know about the 147th Open Championship.

Birdies-eye view of No.18 at Carnoustie


Inside the Field
Fifty-two groups of three players will tee it up at Carnoustie, including every player in the top-80 of the OWGR. Defending champion Jordan Spieth arrives in good form, and goes out early with Justin Rose and Kiradech Aphibarnrat. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson makes his first start since the U.S. Open and plays with Alex Noren and Charley Hoffman. Tiger Woods makes his third appearance at Carnoustie, and is grouped with Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama. While Jon  Rahm can take over the top ranking in the world with a win, and is grouped with Rickie Fowler and Chris Wood.

No Perfect Strategy
Every hole at Carnoustie presents its own unique challenge and there’s no one perfect strategy to guide players through the course. Some players will lay up short of the fairway bunkers off the tee, but that leaves them with longer iron shots into the greens. Others will challenge the bunkers attempting to carry them, so they’re left with a short iron or wedge into the greens. The fairways are a bigger wildcard this year because of the dry Scottish summer – which has made them brown and burned. With fairways running even faster than the greens, controlling your ball on the ground will be even more challenging than normal. On the other hand, the burnt out rough will make it easier to put spin on the ball and thinner fescue will be less punishing, which will give at least some players reason to consider being more aggressive with the driver.

Interesting bunker layout on 14 at Carnoustie


Holes that Will Inflict the Most Hurt (Part 1)
The 580-yard, par-5, 6th hole is the only par-5 on the front-9 and plays into a prevailing wind with two bunkers centered in the middle of the fairway. Avoiding these bunkers is crucial if you’re going to score on No. 6. This hole was nicknamed “Hogan’s Alley” after Ben Hogan decided to avoid the bunkers completely by hitting left of them and taking on the OB fence just 20-yards to the left. Hogan’s strategy was successful as he won the 1953 Open in his first and only appearance at Carnoustie.

Gary Player and Tom Watson both made eagle on the 513-yard, par-5, 14th hole in their respective victories here in 1968 and 1975. More often, however, this hole nicknamed “Spectacles” (after the round, side-by-side bunkers just short of the green) will inflict more pain than it delivers pleasure. A blind tee shot is the first obstacle players will contend with. After that, it’s either a long iron to carry Spectacles or the decision to lay up but leave yourself with a blind third shot. This decision can be momentous.

Holes that Inflict the Most Hurt (Part 2)
The 460-yard, par-4, 17th hole is nicknamed the “Island” because the part of the fairway where most drives land is surrounded by a loop of the “Barry Burn.” The fairway narrows considerably from 220 to 170 yards out, giving some players reason to consider laying up off the tee. The risk then being a much longer second shot which is complicated and made more frightening by prevailing winds blowing directly into the shot.

Carnoustie’s feared water hazard on the 487-yard, par-4, 18th hole – nicknamed Barry Burn – has claimed its share of victims over the years. The snaking ribbon of water bit Padraig Harrington in 2007 when he hit two balls into the water, forcing him to get up-and-down for a dramatic double-bogey and force a playoff with Sergio Garcia. Eight years earlier in one of those “stuff legends are made of” moments, Jean Van de Velde threw away a three-stroke lead and The Open championship with a triple-bogey seven on No. 18 that led to him losing in a playoff to Paul Lawrie.

Carnasty
Carnage and collapse have contributed to Carnoustie’s reputation as the toughest test in The Open rotation. However, it was 1999 in particular that led to the Carnasty nickname. The R&A let things get out of hand when the rough grew to knee-high lengths on narrow fairways and areas of the greens actually had rough growing in some spots. Player descriptions on how difficult the course played were almost as comical as the calamity itself. “I feel like I just fought a war,” Hal Sutton said after an opening round of 73. “Trying to hit the fairway is like driving the ball through the doorway of my hotel,” Greg Norman said. Nothing might have described it better, however, than seeing a then-rookie Sergio Garcia crying in complete exasperation.

Winner Prediction
Since 2010 no one has led in more rounds in a major championship than Rory McIlroy, and in two of his last three starts at The Open he’s finished T5 and T4. Hitting the ball long onto hard, bouncing fairways is a difficult task, and when the winds are howling that can become almost impossible. However, players who can shape their shots and take the wind out of play will have the best chance to win here, and few do that better than McIlroy. If Rory can stay patient and take what Carnoustie gives him, he’ll find himself back in the winner’s circle at the same place where he made his major debut in 2007.