HOYLAKE, England -- The beauty of the British Open rota is that it allows players -- and fans -- to become acclimated with its courses, allowing them to develop a familiarity with a venue that doesn’t necessarily expire after four rounds. Players tend to cling to old yardages books specifically to re-cycle local knowledge already learned in hopes it can pay dividends in a future visit.
Yet when it comes to this week’s return trip to Royal Liverpool, eight years removed from the R&A’s last visit, the carryover from one Open Championship to the next is less clear. A record heat wave in 2006 left the Hoylake links an even lighter shade of brown than club members are accustom for July.
With that in mind, rather than similarities from years past, here are the five biggest differences we’ll see this week at Hoylake.
1. Course conditions.
The safest bet in all of England is that, unlike Tiger Woods in 2006, this year’s winner of the claret jug will hit his driver more than once this week. Ask almost any player present in 2006 the biggest difference between then and now and they’ll offer a variation on the same theme.
“Well,” chimed Darren Clarke, “the course is actually green.”
Lush is the way other players described it, the irony being that U.S. Open host Pinehurst No. 2 might feel more like a links course than Hoylake by week’s end.
What does it specifically mean? A softer course, which at 7,312 yards is only 54 yards longer than in 2006, will no doubt cause players to be more aggressive off the tee. Although perhaps not as aggressive as you might think. Hoylake’s narrow fairways make strategy off the tee a key element. Given the firm conditions in 2006, there little reason to risk using driver. This year, though, the option comes into play and actually might create a dilemma for players as the tournament gets under way.
"On some downwind holes there's a chance to hit it over some bunkers [with driver]," said Adam Scott, "and I'll try and do that and take advantage of driving the ball well if I am. But if not, I'll be trying to stay out of the bunkers because they’re an instant penalty."
2. Brits contending.
Another storyline from 2006 was the poor play of the British contingent in the field. European Ryder Cup players Ian Poulter, Colin Montgomerie and David Howell all missed the cut while Luke Donald and Paul Casey finished a disappointing T-35 and 71st respectively. Entering Sunday’s final round, only Greg Owen was in the top 10 and he dropped out with a closing 75, leaving now forgotten Anthony Wall as the low Brit at T-11, 10 back of Woods.
A repeat of that performance would be hard to imagine if for no other reason than the current form of Justin Rose, last week’s Scottish Open winner and among the betting favorites this week. Donald, Howell Casey and Poulter are all also back looking for redemption (although a cyst in Poulter’s wrist might give pause to those interested in dropping a few pounds on him this week). Toss in Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, both enjoying solid 2014 seasons, and it would seem there are plenty of potential contenders from the British Isles.
3. The 18th green.
Woods’ emotional embrace of caddie Steve Williams upon winning the 2006 Open title shortly after the death of Tiger’s father is among that event’s most memorable moments. The scene around the final hole should be even grander this year. The R&A is boasting this as the first horseshoe grandstand in its history, with roughly 7,000 seats available (see below). All told the R&A anticipates roughly 200,000 spectators for the week. The only venue that gets more on the rota is St. Andrews.
4. Cell phones.
When Hoylake hosted in 2006, it was the first time the course had held the Open since 1967. Excited fans all seemed to want to chronicle the event, most specifically the impressive performance of Woods, by snapping pictures with cell phones throughout the tournament. Several times during Saturday and Sunday round fans were admonished for their cellphone use, to the point where the Monday after the championship the R&A announced it would restrict their use at future Opens.
Flash forward to 2014 and there is any interesting development. While the rules prohibit fans from using cell phones to take photos, the use of mobile devices has been encouraged with a complimentary Wifi network spread around the course that provide access strictly The Open App for spectators to follow the action.
5. Sergio Garcia’s dress.
A canary yellow hat, shirt and pants on Sunday, with the white belt tossed in, made the Spaniard easy pickings for the fashion police, and Garcia’s case wasn’t improved by the site for a closing 73.
Still, you could make an argument that Garcia was ahead of his time, given the bright outfits that players commonly sport these days. Even so, a more toned down look is on Garcia’s agenda, with a modest blue shirt and black pants as part of his Sunday script.