TIGER WOODS labelled sections of the Lytham rough "almost unplayable" after his first practice round yesterday and declared that he had never seen rough "so thick and dense".
With rain and wind forecast for the rest of the week, the 141st Open seems destined to be high scoring.
The former world No 1 spent more than five hours plotting a way round this tight links course. And as soon as he saw the condition of the knee-high cabbage lining the fairways he decided on his game plan: short grass only.
"Oh my God," said Woods, when asked about the penalty for errant driving. "It's just that you can't get out of it. The bottom six inches is so lush. The wispy stuff, we've always faced that at every Open. But that bottom six inches; in some places it's almost unplayable."
The memory of Carnoustie, 1999, will inevitably be evoked. On that occasion players were forced to chop out sideways when they were just a few feet off the snake-like fairways. When Woods arrived for his 8.50am tee-off time -- having landed at Blackpool airport at 7.30am -- the whisper was that Stuart Appleby had lost two balls in the rough when only 20 feet off the fairway. Within a few minutes Woods could understand why.
"I've never seen rough this high. Or thick, or dense," he told one American journalist during his round. The course was lit up by sunshine yesterday, but still the gusts made the 7,086-yard layout a formidable challenge.
"I did a lot of work out here today because come the next few days you probably won't be able to get in any," said Woods, who played on his own, accompanied by members of his management team and his caddie, Joe LaCava.
"You have to make a decision on the tee what you're going to do. With certain winds you can clear them (the bunkers) and other winds you can't."
There are 206 bunkers at Lytham and obviously the imperative is to avoid the sand. Yet Woods revealed that the rain-soaked -- and in some case rain-filled -- traps could be more penal than usual.
"Probably the biggest difference (since 2001) are the bunker conditions," said Woods, who finished 25th the last time the Open was here 11 years ago. "A lot of them had standing water in them so it will be interesting to see how much more water they can take."
Woods was hardly alone in his assessment. "It is brutal in places," said Paul Casey.
Meanwhile, Keegan Bradley, the USPGA champion, didn't dare venture off the fairway.
"I tried not to hit any out of the rough today but I will the rest of the week," said Bradley. "It's very spotty. One foot to the left, you are hitting in to the green; another foot and you are chipping out to the fairway. It's a flip of the coin whether you're going to get a good lie or not. Hopefully, I have some luck stored up."
In fairness to the Royal & Ancient and the Lytham greenstaff, the sustained rain in England's 'summer' has meant that juicy rough and saturated bunkers are inevitable.
Otherwise, the condition of the course is impeccable. After two days of sunshine, the greens have already firmed up.Drive
"We weren't even finding ball marks on them," said Bradley. "The forecast is for a lot of rain but it seems like it only takes a day and it dries out."
That puts a greater premium on the tee-shots. "You simply have to drive it well here," said Bradley.
Darren Clarke, the defending champion, was an hour-and-a-half quicker for his practice round than Woods. The Dungannon man played under the shrewd eye of Pete Cowen, who has coached the last two winners of the Open.
"Par would have been a good score today," said Cowen. "Yes, you can score on the front nine where the players have the prevailing wind at their backs. But then, if you do manage to get to two-under, you have to protect it coming back into the wind. It's a proper test." Bradley concurred. "I've never played a course where the first nine holes are pretty much downwind and the last nine are straight in," he said.
Despite all the obstacles presenting themselves between Woods and a 15th major, he claimed to have enjoyed his first day at what he calls "my favourite major".
The galleries were sizeable without being distracting and the sunlight was a welcome surprise after all the downpours.
"It was nice out there," said Woods. "But it'll be interesting to see when the rain arrives if (the wind) will be coming from a different direction." Interesting could be the very least of it.