CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — As a skinny lad back in the day, Tiger Woods got his first taste of links golf at venerable Carnoustie. Not on the course, mind you, but on the practice round.
A student at the time at Stanford University, Woods quickly got an education in how to play the ball under the wind and on the ground of the ancient links. He was an amateur playing in the 1995 Scottish Open, but he was a kid at heart who fell in love with this style of golf on that first day at Carnoustie.
“It was one of the cooler things, just staying on the range and hitting the ball at the 100-meter sign. I was hitting 9-irons and 4-irons and 5-irons and just having a blast trying to hit that sign,” a smiling Woods said Tuesday at Carnoustie ahead of Thursday’s start of the 147th British Open.
“I remember my dad on the range with me saying, ‘Are you ever going to hit the ball past the 100-(meter) sign?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m just enjoying this. Are you kidding me? This is the best,’” Woods said.
It was a two-hour tutorial before he finally headed to the course, and on the second hole used his putter 120 yards from the hole.
“That was one of the cooler moments,” Woods said.
Since then, he’s had some big moments in the Open, winning at St. Andrews in 2000 and 2005 and at Hoylake in 2006. He’s back at Carnoustie for his third Open — he finished in a tie for seventh in 1999 and in a tie for 12th in 2007 — and his inner child has once again emerged.
“I’ve always loved playing links golf,” Woods said. “It’s my favorite type of golf. I enjoy this type of golf because it is creative and you have to use your mind. We’re not going to get the most perfect bounces. A certain shot that is hit where you think is a wonderful shot down the middle of the fairway could bounce some weird way. That’s just part of it.
“That’s the fun challenge of it.”
A warm and dry summer has turned Carnoustie brown and firm, with plenty of fire in the fairways and manageable wispy rough. It just adds to the challenge Woods relishes as he tries to win for the first time since 2013.
Since he first stepped onto the grounds on Sunday, Woods has been putting together the blueprint he’ll use to attack the course. He put a TaylorMade prototype 2-iron bent to 17 degrees in his bag because of the firm conditions. He and caddie Joe LaCava are still working on strategy off each tee, especially when Woods is hitting his 3-iron 335 yards as he did twice on Sunday.
While he’s still figuring out the pace of the greens, which are slightly slower than the normal speeds seen on the PGA Tour, Woods is confident in the mallet putter he first put into his bag in his last start, a tie for fourth in the Quicken Loans National three weeks ago.
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“I have putted a little bit better,” Woods said. “To be honest with you, I’ve struggled on slower greens throughout my entire career. It’s one of the reasons why I think I really like the fact that this putter has grooves in it so it does roll initially a little bit faster and a little bit more true. And it is a little bit hotter.”
Woods is making his 12th start of the year and has been in the hunt late on Sunday in five of the tournaments. He said he’s improved from start to start.
“My feels are much better than they were at the beginning of the year, and I feel like I have a better understanding of my game and my body and my swing, much more so than I did at Augusta,” Woods said. “That’s just going to come with a little bit more experience, and I think that I’ve made a few adjustments.
“I’ve changed putters. I’ve tweaked my swing a little bit since the West Coast swing. And everything’s gotten just a little bit better. I’ve put myself up there in contention a couple times.
“Just need to play some cleaner golf, and who knows?”