CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- The half-hour drive from Dundee to Carnoustie shortly after 5 a.m. for Thursday's first round of the Ricoh Women's British Open couldn't have been more beautiful. The sun, seemingly rising out of the North Sea, gave the blanket of fog hugging the gentle hills that roll toward the water's edge an almost mystical glow. There was not a bit of breeze, almost as if the east coast of Scotland had paused to catch its breath before play began. It needn't have bothered.
Photo by David Cannon, Getty Images
When Caroline Hedwall struck the first ball at 6:30, the local tourist bureau was in hog heaven or, more accurately around here, sheep serenity. The Women's British Open began in glorious weather. And then Scotland happened -- rain followed by more rain, interrupted by periods of rain. But not even that was enough to return a bafflingly benign set-up of Carnoustie into the Carnasty the men have known in their British Open.
Brittany Lincicome, who teed off early and played only a few holes in the wet stuff, birdied 12 and 13, eagled 14 and birdied 17 for an opening 67 capped with an incoming 32. Given the rain, it seemed unlikely anyone would beat that number, but Meena Lee played her entire round in the rain and still shot 65.
How is that possible? Well, there was no wind to speak of, but just look at the yardages the women are playing this week. Clearly, there was a concern by some that if weather rolled in the course could become embarrassingly difficult.
By contrast, the men played the U.S. Open at Oakmont CC in 2007 at 7,230 yards while it was 6,598 yards for the U.S. Women's Open last year. That's a more reasonable difference of 632 yards.
Carnoustie is almost 50 percent shorter for the women versus the men than Oakmont was. It showed in the scores on Thursday, and it could show in a lack of drama on Sunday.
No. 18, where Jean Van de Velde made triple bogey on Sunday in 1999 before losing a playoff for the silver claret jug and where Padraig Harrington made double bogey in 2007 before winning in a playoff, has had its teeth removed.
It's playing 100 yards shorter for the women -- 386 yards -- and long hitters have been using pitching wedge, or less, for their approach shot. "They put all the bunkers out of play, put the burns out of play," Yani Tseng said about No. 18.
Lincicome overwhelmed the par-5 holes on Thursday. She hit a 6-iron second shot into the 467-yard 14th hole and a 4-iron off the tee then 5-iron on the laughably short 433-yard par-5 17th for a two-putt birdie. Paula Creamer, not one of the longer hitters, made eagles on two par-5 holes -- Nos. 6 and 17 -- on her way to a 69.
Since very few players in the field had played Carnoustie before, most knew it only by its brutal reputation. What they have found has left them baffled. "I was kind of expecting it to be really quite difficult, and not that it's not difficult, but it's much more fair than what I was kind of expecting," Melissa Reid, a Ladies European Tour player from England, said diplomatically.
"I feel like the par 5s you can reach with mid-irons, and that's what I mean," Reid said, getting to what she really meant -- the course is way shorter than its reputation led her to think it would be. "I was kind of expecting you'd have to hit a really good 3-wood and then maybe you'd have a chance of getting on in two," she said.
John Philp, the greenkeeper here who took much heat for his set-up of the course in 1999, told the local media the women have been given "a watered-down version" of Carnoustie.
"That's his opinion," said Catriona Matthew, who won the Scottish Ladies here in the early 1990s. "I obviously didn't play here when the men played and it was kind of named 'Carnasty.' It'll still be a tough test. Like any links course, it depends on the wind."
There was no wind to speak of on Thursday, just the dull, dreary rain from mid morning to late afternoon. One of the many who had her way with the course -- more than three dozen would finish under par -- was Angela Stanford, who plays out of Shady Oaks CC in Fort Worth, Texas and was riding a little Ben Hogan mojo.
Hogan, a Shady Oaks guy, won the only British Open he played in 1953 at Carnoustie. The Wee Ice Mon, as the Scots called him, shot a lower score each round as he figured out the course, posting scores of 73-71-70 before closing with a 68 -- the score Stanford shot in the first round.
"Just being from Fort Worth and being a part of Shady Oaks and being able to call Shady Oaks home is really special," Stanford said. "It's an honor to get to represent them and to be here and to know that Mr. Hogan won here. It's cool."
When Hogan played here he won by a relatively drama-free four strokes. But the last two times the men played the Open Championship at Carnoustie, No. 18 was a key part of the outcome, the burn in front of the green making for a scary approach shot after a dangerous drive.
This year, for the women, someone trying to defend a lead -- like Van de Velde and Harrington were trying to do -- could very well be facing a drive and a wedge afterthought hole preceded by a par-5 that can be reached with two iron shots.
It seems the only thing left to turn Carnoustie into Carnasty will be wind. Certainly, the rain didn't do it. Right now, this great links is simply too short to be the challenge it should be. Is it too late to change that?
-- Ron Sirak