Car-nasty really is a beast

By Brian Keogh

By the time I stood on the 18th green with my scorecard in tatters, I knew exactly how Jean van de Velde must have felt.

Carnoustie had jumped up and not just bitten me but swallowed me whole, chewed me up and spat me out on the banks of the Barry Burn.

I’d just finished with a six - one stroke less than the unfortunate Frenchman managed on the last when he famously removed his shoes and socks in that cringe-inducing finale to the 1999 Open at the course dubbed Car-Nasty.

But unlike Van de Velde, who still managed a 77, I’d shot a 93 on a 6,941-yard Championship course that is rated the toughest Open venue of them all.

No kidding.

Playing in beautiful sunshine with no more than a 15 mph breeze and almost no rough, I shuddered to think what I might have shot from the Championship tees.

When the game’s top players turn up for the Open from July 19-22, they will face the longest course in Open history at 7,421 yards - 60 yards longer than eight years ago and nearly 500 yards longer than the track that brought me to my knees.

Playing with three single-figure colleagues in the Open media day last Monday, I was quaking in my spikes after watching them successively top one into the burn and pull two more out of bounds at the 401 yard first.

But my paltry total of 25 stableford points off a handicap of 10 still left me in the top half of the ‘field’ as a four-handicapper took the top prize with a mere 31 points.

Martin Kippax, the chairman of the Royal and Ancient Club's championship committee, gleefully announced that the post golf dinner that the British and Irish press had once again failed "the Open Championship examination" with flying colours.

Where had I gone wrong, I wondered. I was one over par standing on the seventh tee and playing the best golf in years.

I’d narrowly missed birdie chances inside 12 feet at the third and fifth and successfully negotiated my way through Hogan’s Alley to par the par-five sixth.

Then I caught a fairway bunker at the 394-yard seventh and everything changed in a flash.

Taking two to get out, I visited more sand near the green and walked off with a triple bogey seven.

Visits to the gorse at the eighth and ninth cost me another four shots and while I turned in a still respectable 43, I came home in 50 blows and averaged a double bogey at each of the last four horrible, finishing holes.

How good must Ben Hogan have been to win the Open in his sole appearance at Carnoustie in 1953 with rounds of 73-71-70-68, I mused.

And how good must Paul Lawrie’s closing 67 have been in 1999, when he tied Van de Velde and Justin Leonard and went on to win the four-hole play-off.

No-one shot 93 in the Open eight years ago, though American Tom Gillis did manage a first round 90 before wisely withdrawing and Sergio Garcia ended up in tears after rounds of 89 and 83.

Padraig Harrington has every reason to fear Carnoustie, though he did shoot a 68 there en route to his second Dunhill Links victory last year.

In 1999 he went 77, 74, 74, 74 and said recently: "There is nowhere to hide really. It is the toughest track out there, certainly when they set it up difficult with the rough.

"You have to hit drivers between bunkers and that’s it. Or between bunkers and rough. Or between bunkers and out of bounds. And any time you hit it slightly into these bunkers, it is a penalty shot.

"Bob Torrance thinks that if you can play golf like Ben Hogan, you’d love Carnousite. But it is the beast at the end of the day, when they set it up for the tournament."

I was more like Hulk Hogan than Ben Hogan as I conspired to make a complete hash of the back nine.

A triple bogey at the par five 12th, which will be a 499-yard par-four in the Open, was only the start of an afternoon of pain and suffering.

Even the slightest mistake is punished severely and while I hit four perfect shots by my standards to birdie the famous par-five 14th, Carnoustie exacted its revenge at the finish.

The par-three 16th measures nearly 250 yards from the medal tees and is almost unreachable into the wind for the average player.

I gave myself little chance with a topped tee shot into the gorse for a triple bogey and then hooked one into more gorse at the 17th to drop two more shots.

Standing on the tee at the 444-yard 18th, I tried to imagine how Van de Velde must have felt when he stood on the same spot with a three-shot lead in 1999.

A six or under would have secured him the Claret Jug but he took seven and I could see how.

Determined not to end up in the Barry Burn or out of bounds left of the green, I decided to lay up with my second shot from 217 yards but my six-iron ran and ran, ending up in the water and I took six.

Despite my disappointment, I wondered what Van de Velde would have given for the same score.