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'Wonderful': Tiger Woods heaps praise on Royal Portrush and considers his chances of Open success

Tiger Woods has spoken very favourably about the challenge awaiting the field in this week's Open Championship.
Tiger Woods has spoken very favourably about the challenge awaiting the field in this week's Open Championship.
US golfer Tiger Woods takes part in a press conference at The 148th Open golf Championship at Royal Portrush golf club in Northern Ireland on July 16, 2019. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USEANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images
US golfer Tiger Woods takes part in a press conference at The 148th Open golf Championship at Royal Portrush golf club in Northern Ireland on July 16, 2019. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USEANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images
US golfer Tiger Woods takes part in a press conference at The 148th Open golf Championship at Royal Portrush golf club in Northern Ireland on July 16, 2019. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USEANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images
US golfer Tiger Woods takes part in a press conference at The 148th Open golf Championship at Royal Portrush golf club in Northern Ireland on July 16, 2019. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USEANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images
Tiger Woods took to the course early on Wednesday morning alongside putting coach Matt Killen.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

With The Open Championship rolling back into town for the first time in 68 years, Northern Ireland was always going to have an extra spring in its golfing step this week.

But even with two days still to go until the tournament tees off, already the Portrush feathers will be well and truly puffed up.

And with good reason, too.

It's not every day that - potentially - the greatest golfer of all time is tripping over himself to whisper sweet nothings in your course's proverbial ear.

That's exactly what Tiger Woods was doing when he faced the press after getting his first ever tantalising taste of Royal Portrush.

"It's an unbelievable golf course," said the reigning Masters champion.

"It's amazing that (The Open) hasn't been here in such a long period of time. This is just a wonderful golf course.

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"It can play so many different ways. It depends on the wind, what it does.

"Some of the bunkers here, you wonder why in the hell is it there. And then a switch in wind and all of a sudden it's in play.

"The difference for me (to other Open venues) is that the ball seems to repel around the greens a lot. You're going to have a lot of bump and run chips or slow putts up the hills."

It's that enthralling topography of the Dunluce Links, the undulations almost every fairway and around almost every green, that's absolutely key.

That is essentially what makes the course so special, the 18 holes carved out in harmony with the dunes.

But more than that it could well be, Tiger argues, the key aspect in deciding who will be crowned Champion Golfer of the Year come Sunday afternoon.

"When you come to an Open, it's set up for anyone," he explained.

"Anyone can roll the ball on the ground. It opens up the field. The only difference is when you come over here, it's understanding how to play on the ground. It's a very different game. It opens up for anyone to win.

"Quite a few guys have put in 1-irons and 2-irons into the golf bag to try and drive the golf ball. It's not overly long and even the long holes, you can still utilise the ground and run the ball up, two putt from 40 feet and move on.

"The PGA (Championship) was set up so that it was more advantageous to bomb it. The guys who hit it long were up there.

"(The Open) allows the players that don't hit the ball very far to run the ball out there.

"There is an art to playing links golf. Here, 152 yards could be a bump and run wedge, chipped six iron, a lot of different things."

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Tiger Woods took to the course early on Wednesday morning alongside putting coach Matt Killen.

If he's right, and a 59-year-old Tom Watson's run to second in the 2009 Open suggests he is, it could bode well for a 42-year-old Woods who admits he can't 'bomb' the ball as far as he did in his pomp.

"My game's not quite as sharp as I'd like it," he admitted. "My touch round the greens is right where I need it but I need to shape the ball a little bit better especially with the rain coming and the winds changing.

"I'm going to have to be able to cut the ball, draw the ball, hit at different heights and move it all around.

"Today it was a good range session. I need another one tomorrow. And hopefully that will be enough to be ready."

That should, at least, give Wednesday's Woods watchers just a little bit of golf as he also hinted at taking some time away from the course to see some of the north coast's sights.

Knowing our beloved coast, there's little doubt he'll be just as impressed with that as he has been with the course itself.

"The people have been absolutely fantastic," he continued. "They're so respectful. We used to come over here all the time and fish with the late Payne Stewart and O'Meara and I. We used to go fishing all around Ireland and play golf and enjoy coming over here and playing.

"I've never been this far north. Royal County Down is the furthest north I've ever been. This is new to me."

Wednesday's break doesn't mean Tiger will be taking his mind totally off his Thursday tee-time, 3.10pm alongside Ryder Cup buddy Patrick Reed and Matt Wallace.

"I've seen enough of the course to understand I'm still going to need to do more homework on my yardage book on where to miss in the correct spots," he said.

"I just think this venue is so great. Everyone that's played it has always enjoyed it and I can understand why. It's straight forward.

"It's a little bit tricky here and there but overall it's a wonderful links golf course."

We know, Tiger. We know.

And come Sunday afternoon, so will the entire world.

What have the rest of the Americans said about Royal Portrush?

US Open champ Gary Woodland:  "The golf course is phenomenal. Obviously the views are spectacular. It's in unbelievable condition. It's very lush, very green, I would say, compared to last year it was so firm and fast. This one a little softer, I would say, right now. And if the rain comes in we'll see what happens."

Justin Thomas: "I love it. I mean, this is only my fourth Open, but I would say it's my favorite venue that I've been to thus far. It's a beautiful, beautiful course. I'm sure the weather has something to do with that, it's definitely helped. But I feel that it's just a great test of golf. It has a little bit of everything. You're going to have some holes with some short irons, some holes with some long irons, great variety on the par-3s, but an opportunity for different setups. But obviously barring the conditions, which is something you never know can happen, I think it's just a tremendous golf course."

Dustin Johnson:  "I think it's a really good golf course. It's in good shape. I think it's playing very, very fair, but it's quite difficult. Obviously depending on the weather. But even with no wind it still requires you to hit real quality golf shots if you want to shoot a good score. I like the golf course because, depending on the wind, you're going to hit a lot of different clubs on every hole, depending on the wind direction. You have options. You can kind of challenge it and get it down it there if you're driving it well or you can leave it back and play it a little longer hole."

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