LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – “I should’ve known it was coming,” Steve Stricker said about his driver, the head of which cracked in his practice round Tuesday.
PGA Tour pros are known to crack driver heads. It’s usually not a big deal, especially on a practice day. It’s the Open Championship, and Stricker’s equipment maker, Titleist, has a large van parked on the range through the weekend. But as many others have been auditioning Titleist’s newest driver, the 913, Stricker still was playing a Titleist 909 D3 driver that is two generations old. He has been carrying a 909 driver for four years. (Stricker has been testing the 913 but has yet to make a permanent switch.) He has a backup 909 driver, but this week he left it at home in Wisconsin.
So the Titleist equipment staff found a 909 D3 head with 8.5 degrees of loft in the company’s facility near London and had it shipped northwest to the Lancashire coast. The head was inserted on Stricker’s UST Proforce V2 86 shaft and was in Stricker’s bag on Wednesday. He said he wasn’t certain that he would use it when play begins Thursday.
“I’ve been working with the new one,” Stricker said, “and not sure if it might not be in the bag.”
Stricker started noticing issues with his driver two weeks ago at The Greenbrier Classic; he said his ball was going farther and was spinning less than usual. At the time, he thought it might be because of the higher altitude of the Blue Ridge Mountains. When a similar pattern recurred last week at the John Deere Classic, he knew that something strange was going on.
“The guys in the (equipment) trailer tell me that’s the telltale sign the driver has a problem,” Stricker said. “The new one I was hitting on the range was going pretty well, but that was on the range. I’ll try this for nine holes and see how it goes.”
And off he went to try it out.
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• WHAT’S THE FRENCH WORD FOR ‘MONSTER’?: Thomas Levet will be a commentator this week on French TV for the Open. In 2001, the last time the Open Championship was at Royal Lytham, the Frenchman was paired with Tiger Woods and Angel Cabrera.
As Levet looks at Royal Lytham in 2012, he says it’s not the same golf course as 11 years ago, when American David Duval won by three over Sweden’s Niclas Fasth.
“The golf course when we played, I used my driver only twice, because it was so hard that the 3-iron was going almost 290 yards,” Levet said Wednesday. “That’s what I got on my yardage book.”
Levet offered more examples of how differently the course is playing 11 years later.
“The second hole (in 2001), I hit 3-iron, 9-iron; this week, it’s going to be driver, 6-iron, probably, driver, 5-iron,” Levet said. “And some holes are becoming monsters. Like 15. It was two woods for some players (this year). Last time we played, it was like a nice 2-iron and second shot was an 8- or 9-iron.”
Levet thinks that hitting the fairways will be easier because of the damp conditions but more difficult to hit the greens because of the longer approach shots.
“I’m speaking about five clubs more on most of the holes,” Levet said. “So I don’t know how the scoring will be, but I think the players will have a tough task around the greens because with so many bunkers, you’re going to have to have bad lies. Since the bunkers are so small, you won’t have a swing.”
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• HURRY IT UP THERE, LADS: Slow play continues to be a hot-button topic in golf. At this year’s State of the Union by the R&A on Wednesday, Jim McArthur, chairman of the Championship Committee, addressed the topic by stating that the governing body intends to apply its pace-of-play policy stringently.
What that means exactly is unclear, though observers might think that the policy was always applied with the necessary vigor to make it effective. Or is it possible that McArthur’s statement was recognition that in the past, the R&A – as well as the U.S. Golf Association and the PGA Tour – has been unwilling to impose fully the necessary penalties (i.e., strokes)?
“We give each group a time schedule for each hole, and we monitor that very stringently,” McArthur said on the eve of the Open Championship. “And if a group is out of position with the game in front or over the time schedule, we initially start with words of encouragement to communicate with them and tell them that they are over the schedule or out of position. Thereafter, if they don’t respond to that, we then put them on to the clock and deal with them that way.”
Does that ultimately mean a stroke penalty? McArthur conceded that he could not remember imposing a stroke penalty for slow play at the Open Championship.
According to the time schedule, a three-ball is to play Thursday and Friday in four hours and 30 minutes. Two-balls on Saturday and Sunday will be allotted three hours and 45 minutes.
Of course, weather can affect the timetable, and wind is forecast this week. Deep rough throughout the course also will affect pace of play.
“We’ve obviously got to take into account the weather conditions and other mitigating circumstances,” McArthur said. “But we would have no hesitation if we felt the players were over time to take the appropriate action and to tell not only a group of players, but as we have allowed for in the policy to time individual players, if we felt that was appropriate.”
It would send a powerful message if a player or players were to be penalized for slow play, especially on a Sunday.
“We are intent on doing what we can to improve the pace of play in golf,” McArthur said. “I think we feel that particularly – maybe not so much at professional golf but certainly amateur golf – that slow play is, in some ways, if not killing the game, is killing the club membership because of the time it takes to play. And whatever we can do in our events …, we’re doing whatever we feel we can in the circumstances to contribute to improving the pace of play.”
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• WITHOUT KARLSSON, FIELD IS 156: The day started with 157 players in the field, but by mid-day Robert Karlsson withdrew and the 141st Open Championship was down to the standard 156. The first alternate was Ben Crane, but Crane didn’t make the trip to the UK.
According to agent Tommy Limbaugh of 4U Management, Crane was scheduled to be on the charter flight out of Silvis, Ill., after Sunday’s conclusion of the John Deere Classic, to Manchester, England. However, at the time 159 players were in the field, and Crane decided that having three of four players withdraw was unlikely, so he returned to his home in Portland, Ore.
When Crane got the news of Karlsson’s WD early Wednesday, he was unable to make flights work to get to the Royal Lytham in time and eventually asked to have his name removed from the reserve list.
The first alternate now is American Michael Thompson, who is onsite, and the second is Italian Matteo Manassero, who was not here at the time of Karlsson’s withdrawal.
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• FORECAST LOOKS GOOD: It’s the day before the 141st Open Championship and the weather is going to be a factor – surprise, surprise – with heavy rain and strong winds forecast for Wednesday at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club.
According to the Met Office forecast: From 7:00 to 13:00 GMT, there are chances of a few blustery showers developing late. Wind will be from the west to southwest at 20 to 25 mph, with gusts from 30 to 35 mph.
From 13:00 GMT to 19:00 GMT, there will be blustery showers with 1 to 2 mm of rain possible. The wind will be out of the west to southwest from 15 to 20 mph, with gusts to 25 mph.
The outlook for the first round Thursday looks much more promising, with forecasts calling for mostly dry conditions with sunny spells and only a 10 percent chance of a passing light shower.
The main issue for the players is the wind, which has been from the west/southwest on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It will change and blow from the northwest at 10 to 15 mph, with gusts of 20 mph and then moderating in the afternoon.
This effectively means that the players will see a completely different wind Thursday than they saw in their practice rounds.
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• WHAT ARE THE ODDS? The odds to win the Open Championship have not changed much overnight, with Tiger Woods still the favorite at 8-1, Rory McIlroy at 10-1, Lee Westwood at 12-1 and Luke Donald at 15-1.
Phil Mickelson has fallen from 25-1 to 30-1, and Adam Scott have moved from 40-1 to 30-1 on the eve of the Open Championship.
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• GOING LOW? The over/under on the winning score is 274.5, or 5.5 under Royal Lytham’s 72-hole par of 280. Recent winning scores: David Duval shot 274 to win in 2001; Tom Lehman returned 271 for the Claret Jug in 1996; and Seve Ballesteros posted 273 in 1988.