Tiger Woods expects a stern test this week in the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club in Lytham St. Annes, England. Not only will players have to contend with 206 deep bunkers, but the rough is thick and lush, and heavy rain this summer has resulted in less roll on the fairways.
"It's soft for a links course," Woods said Tuesday at his jam-packed pre-tournament press conference. "We're making ball marks, which is unusual."
Tiger arrived early Sunday morning from his home in Florida and has played three practice rounds. Wind is often a factor in links golf, and it has blown in two different directions. Given the softness of the fairways and challenge of avoiding the strategically placed bunkers, Woods must alter his game plan of using long irons off the tee. With heavy rain expected Wednesday, he said he will likely use more drivers and 3-woods, depending on the wind.
"The bunkers are staggered differently here," he said. "There's some forced carries where you have to force it and then stop it or try and skirt past them. You can't just either lay up or bomb over the top. There has to be some shape to shots. I think that's one of the reasons you've seen the list of champions here have all been just wonderful ball-strikers, because you have to be able to shape the golf ball both ways here."
Tiger is a fan of Royal Lytham. In 1996, he equaled the amateur scoring record and won low amateur by tying for 22nd and firing a 66 in the second round. In 2001, he tied for 25th as a professional.
Although the course has been lengthened to 7,086 yards and par has been reduced from 71 to 70, it still requires precise shot-making and patience.
"It tests us," Woods said. "It tests us a lot. There are a lot of different angles. You just have to plod your way around."
While the weather is expected to improve later in the week, Tiger estimated the greens are running about 10 on the Stimpmeter, slow by PGA Tour standards.
"I normally add lead tape to my putter when the greens are slow, but I feel I have a good feel for the greens and the pace, so I haven't done that this week," Woods said.
This marks the 11th time the Open Championship has been held at Royal Lytham, but the first since David Duval won here in 2001. Woods thinks the course belongs in the regular rotation and said the people have been friendly and supportive.
"The course is a little more confining than others we play," Tiger said. "There are not as many people, but they feel closer to you."
Royal Lytham is the only course in The Open Championship rotation that features a par-3 first hole. It measures 205 yards and is protected by nine bunkers.
"It is different because we have to be precise right out of the gate," Woods said. "You have to be on your game right away."
Should Tiger win and Luke Donald not finish in the top three, Woods would move up to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. It would also mark his 15th major title, something that has eluded him since the 2008 U.S. Open.
"First of all, I had to go through the process of getting healthy again," he said. "Being banged up and missing major championships because of it in a couple-year stretch wasn't a whole lot of fun. I missed four majors there just because I was injured. I figure if I'm healthy, then I can prepare properly for major championships and I can get myself there."
Woods has won a PGA Tour-best three tournaments this year. In the year's two previous majors, he tied for 40th at the Masters and tied for 21st at the U.S. Open, although he shared the 36-hole lead in the latter.
"I just try and put myself there," Tiger said. "I think that if I continue putting myself there enough times, then I'll win major championships."
Woods begins first-round play on Thursday at 4:42 a.m. ET with Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose.