Bombers or strategists: Who will have the right approach to taming Carnoustie?
They say that Carnoustie is the toughest test on the Open rota but, really, that all depends on Mother Nature.
Get it on a calm day after some rain has taken the fire out of the fairways and greens and the elite will post a procession of scores in the mid-60s.
Similarly, when the wind blows and the temperature drops at St Andrews, it suddenly becomes a challenge to match par, let alone beat it.
On the eve of the 147th Open Championship, the great unknown is whether a Carnoustie that continues to be baked by a long, hot, dry summer will be: a) rendered defenceless to 450-yard tee shots; or b) almost impossible to score well on because balls simply won’t stop until they trundle into bunkers or burns.
It’s the Carnoustie bombers against the links strategists.
The two-time US Open champion Brooks Koepka is leading the way for the Carnoustie bombers who refuse to be neutered by the links challenge this week.
“There are eight or nine drivers we hit,” he said. “It’s so burnt out, the rough’s not as thick as I expected it to be.
“I thought you would play the golf course with a lot of irons off the tee, lay back to the bunkers. But sometimes we can just take all the bunkers out by hitting driver.
“Especially with no rough, if you can get it within 40 yards of the green, why not? There’s no reason not to take advantage,” said Koepka.
It is likely that Dustin Johnson will have much the same idea.
It is true that Carnoustie does not have as many doglegs as many other Open venues. If a hole turns sharply at driving distance then drivers in these conditions are going to be running into trouble.
By my estimation, realistically, and depending on the wind, driver is an option this week for the likes of Koepka on the following holes: 2nd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 18th. All are straight holes.
Presuming the many bunkers are avoided, that is going to leave lots of second shots played from between 50 and 100 yards. Which is a lot of birdie chances. Except that, as anyone who is familiar with seaside golf knows, the half-pitch from an unfavourable angle, with bunkers and contours where you would like to land the ball, is no picnic.
Factor in a breeze at your back, some wispy rough and rock-hard surfaces and the limit of your ambitions can often be a corner of the green and a 50-foot putt. Get greedy and you will be short-sided in a bunker and suddenly struggling to save par.
Making the case for the links strategists is Shane Lowry, who knows a thing or two about seaside golf having grown up on Irish links and indeed won the Irish Open at Co Louth as an amateur. He has a very different idea to Koepka.
“I think it is going to play a lot harder than people are seeing in practice,” he told Irish Golf Desk.
“I think the greens are going to dry out and the golf course is like a runway out there. If you get the ball offline then you are going to get yourself in trouble.
“The guys who want to hit drivers everywhere – let them go ahead and if I’m wrong I’ll obviously eat my words at the end of the week.
“I think you need to get the ball in play, get the ball on the short grass and have control with your iron shots. From there, you can shoot a decent score,” said Lowry.
The player who perhaps best exemplifies the approach Lowry is suggesting is the veteran Bernhard Langer – his name has popped up in several betting previews.
His presence on the leaderboard may prove fanciful but there are many more experienced – if not quite veteran – campaigners who will try to execute a version of this strategy. Of the favourites, Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia among them. Less celebrated, but with impressive Open records over a sustained period, are the likes of Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink, Brandt Snedeker, Ian Poulter and Marc Leishman.
As for which camp Phil Mickelson, or Rory McIlroy for that matter, will fall in, that’s anyone’s guess.
Time will tell who has the right idea – the Carnoustie bombers or the links strategists. The answer, though, may not be as clear-cut as we expect.
If links golf separates itself from all other forms of the game in one way, it is in giving the player choices; in not being prescriptive.
What we are about to see over the coming days is the players being made to think. Their patience will be tested. All will miss fairways. All will be tempted by the prospect of a chip-and-putt birdie or a short iron in their hand to a par 5.
Ultimately, though, the ability to fashion pars while others are dropping shots might prove to be a more valuable asset on what looks set to be an Open Championship for the ages on the Angus coast.