TURNBERRY, Scotland — Walking up to the 15th green at Turnberry, his ball safely in the middle of the green, Tiger Woods turned to his left and pointed to a spot a few yards off the putting surface.
“Is this where Watson made the putt?” he asked Monday morning.
Indeed, it was the spot from which Tom Watson holed a putt from some 60 feet for birdie in the final round of the 1977 British Open, pulling into a tie with Jack Nicklaus and ultimately helping him to a one-shot victory in one of the great duels in major championship history.
Two holes later, as grey clouds began gathering at sea over the Ailsa Craig, a gust came up over the dunes.
Woods then asked about the time Greg Norman shot 63 at Turnberry in such conditions in 1986, which some believe was the best of the 23 scores at 63 in any major.
Woods is hardly a history buff, certainly not in the same league as Ben Crenshaw from another generation, or Geoff Ogilvy from this one.
He does have a working knowledge of where he is playing, however, which is why his thoughts on Turnberry sounded ominous.
“It’s a lot more difficult than people are letting on,” he said after his second practice round.
Turnberry has the least amount of history of any British Open venue, a links course gutted by the Royal Air Force Coastal Command, which used it as an air base during World War II.
Not until 1977 did it host its first British Open, and the 138th edition of golf’s oldest championship will be only the fourth visit to Turnberry. Even so, the scores stand out. Watson set a record when he won at 268 in 1977.
Nick Price matched that score in 1994. In blustery conditions, Norman won at 280.
“Sorry, I just don’t see 12 under winning,” Paul Goydos said. “Maybe that’s just me.”
Turnberry has been lengthened significantly, and a wet spring has created lush conditions, which can be fearsome for those who can’t seem to keep it straight off the tee.
Colin Montgomerie told of a tournament for club members within the last few week in which 480 golf balls were lost in the rough.
“Except for Carnoustie in 1999, it’s as good as any of them,” Rod Pampling said with a chuckle, referring to the history he made 10 years ago when he went from the first-round lead to missing the cut.
Pampling only got into the British Open on Sunday when no one from Loch Lomond qualified for the one spot available, and it went to him as the next alternate.
He drove down to this tiny golf town about an hour south of Glasgow and played his first practice round.
The rough got his attention, but he found it to be fair.
“This is right there with the best of them,” he said. “If you get yourself out of shape, you’re in big trouble. But you’ve got to hit a pretty bad shot. You can lose a golf ball.”
Pampling did just that on the 16th hole, waiting for a gust off the Firth of Clyde to push his ball toward the fairway. It never happened, and while the ball landed only a few yards from the marshals, it was never found.
“I know where not to go,” Pampling said.
But he realized this was the place to be, especially on a pleasant day of stunning sights.
The lighthouse is the signature landmark at Turnberry, perched along the rocks at a bend in the shore, reminiscent of the stretch at Pebble Beach from the fifth hole until the coast straightens at the ninth.
Josh Geary and Mark Brown walked up the 10th fairway and turned back toward the water.
Monday was a time to gaze, with patches of sunshine and clouds, enough light in the morning to shine on the far corner of the Ailsa Craig, the 340-metre mass of island that rises out of the sea.
The rain came in the afternoon, and more is expected throughout the week.
“They can say what they want about the weather,” Pampling said. “They won’t know until Thursday.”
Woods returns after missing the British Open last year with knee surgery. This is the first time since 2004 that the world’s No. 1 player has been without a major title in his possession. He’ll play with Japanese sensation Ryo Ishikawa and England’s Lee Westwood.
Mike Weir of Bright’s Grove, Ont.. plays with Ben Curtis and England’s Ross Fisher.
Calgary’s Stephen Ames is in the next group with Tim Clark and Charles Howell III.