Bunker Mentality

Woods, Westwood and Lawrie in card mix-up?

Bunker Mentality

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Tiger Woods wondering how he only shot 67

Lytham on Thursday witnessed a familiar sight: a proven Major champion, using every inch of his courage, conditioning, guts and downright luck to carve out a hell of a score that made him a contender, despite a shaky game that saw him spray the ball all over the course.

That's the exact sort of round that Bunker Mentality has witnessed Tiger Woods producing since 1997, the sort of round that won him 14 Majors from '97 to 2008.

In the first round at Lytham, however, that gritty performance came not from Woods but from Paul Lawrie.

The 1999 Open champion - whose 67 in horrendous conditions that year on a brutal course to end up in a play-off is one of the great unsung performances in golf - somehow walked off the course with a five-under-par 65 in his opening round. Yet he should have been struggling to shoot level par.

In what he described as "the most bizarre six holes of my life" at the start of his round Lawrie chipped in twice - one of which came from at least 30 yards - then drained a 50ft putt to save par. He cheerfully admitted later that he couldn't believe how he was three under instead of one over, but rode his luck and kept on sinking some great putts to end up tied a shot off the overnight lead.

It's the sort of thing Tiger Woods used to do regularly; typically, he'd then refuse to apologise for being lucky and instead focus on how he'd have been even better if two of his putts hadn't  lipped out.

Tiger Woods wasn't filling that gutsy, grinding role on Thursday, however: instead, he was playing the part of Lee Westwood. Woods produced a round of near-flawless ball striking which promised much as he rolled in a series of stunning early putts.

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Paul Lawrie of Scotland plays out of rough on 7th fairway at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the first round of the British Open Golf Champio
Then, in the classical Westwood mould, Woods's putter then dried up completely and he ended up with a three-under-par 67 that was probably the worst possible score he could ever have made given the standard of his tee-to-green golf.

As for Westwood? He played the role of Paul Lawrie (or at least the pre-2012 vintage Lawrie) with a scrappy and nondescript round that left him three over par and in danger of missing the cut.

Westwood hit just 10 greens and eight fairways, which could be his worst ball-striking round of the year; Woods, by contrast, hit 15 greens and 13 of the 14 fairways, while Lawrie managed just 11 greens and 10 fairways.

If you'd merely watched highlights of each man's approach play and then had to match anonymised scorecards to Woods, Westwood and Lawrie, you wouldn't have got close to guessing correctly who shot what. And when told the result, you'd have insisted that it must have been some sort of strange card mix-up.

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Adam Scott of Australia prepares to play out of the rough on the 18th hole at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the first round of the British
Woods and Lawrie aren't the only players who must have wondered how they walked up scoring what they did. Overnight leader Adam Scott will share their bafflement, and will join the rare band of players walking off a course after a round of 64 wondering what might have been.

The affable Aussie stood on the 18th tee on Thursday at seven under par, without a breath of wind to distract him, knowing that the combination of a generous fairway, soft green and a mere 413 yards to traverse should make a birdie a genuine possibility.

He was swinging beautifully, putting beautifully - and then the curse of Major championship golf's glass floor crept up to do the dirty on him.

A birdie would have given Scott a round of 62, which would have broken the record for the lowest ever round in a Major.

The record of 63 was first set by Johnny Miller with what probably remains the greatest 63 of the lot: a blistering final-round effort at Oakmont in 1973 which saw the swashbuckling youngster storm through to win the US Open title.

Since then a further 24 men have matched that mark in Majors, but bettering it has become an incredible mental block, almost the golfing equivalent of the four-minute mile beneath which it seems nobody can go.

Not that people haven't run close. Jack Nicklaus missed a three-footer for a 62 at the 1980 US Open at Baltusol, for example. Nick Price and Greg Norman both lipped out on the 18th at Augusta for 62s in 1986 and 1996 respectively, with Price's being an extravagant 'horseshoe' lipout which came straight back at him when it seemed certain to drop. At the 2010 Open at St Andrews Rory McIlroy hit a stunning shot to three feet on the infamous 17th  (despite the pin being tucked behind the bunker) that would have left him needing a par up the ridiculously easy 18th, but he somehow missed the putt and his Open imploded thereafter. And last year Steve Stricker lipped out his 10ft putt for a 62 in the first round of the US PGA.

Stricker claimed not to have thought about a 62 until later, but the way Scott's previously perfect swing suddenly deserted him as he hoiked the ball into deep rough suggests that he knew that history was on the cards.

Some top golfers have suggested that we won't ever see a 62 given how much effort the R&A, Augusta National, the USGA and US PGA put into setting up long, tough courses these days. And they've probably got a point.

Four years ago in one of the 'silly season' events at the end of the year - namely the Grand Slam of Golf, a four-man, two-day tournament in Hawaii featuring only the four Major winners of the year - Phil Mickelson shot a 59 to win despite hitting only seven fairways. Bomb it into the rough, gouge it out with a wedge and drain the putt - that's the way Lefty did it.

If he'd played that way at Lytham on Thursday, Lefty would have been struggling to break 80, let alone 60 - and he'd probably have been more likely to have broken one of his wedges, or his wrists, in the rough.

Chuck in the  unique pressure of a Major, and it really does seem like it'll be a long, long time before we see 62.

Then again, if Tiger gets his putter going on Friday it might take less than 24 hours.

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