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British Open won’t be ‘friendly’

Tournament figures to offer a stiff challenge

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LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — When Tom Lehman won his only major championship at the British Open five years ago, the best defense Royal Lytham & St. Annes had to offer were the deep bunkers that litter the course.

A lingering drought had left the rough so wispy that even a long but wild hitting amateur named Tiger Woods managed to find his way around with a 66 in the second round.

"I don't recall ever being worried about hitting the ball in the rough," Lehman said. "If you hit it in there, it was pretty easy to get it out."

Lehman didn't even need to hit a ball off the fairway in his first full practice round Monday to find out what a difference five years can make. Just looking at rough that grows waist high in some areas was enough to see that things indeed had changed.

Instead of the pale, thin blades that grew in 1996, there is now deep rough lining the fairways. This grass not only looks treacherous, it is.

"It has that greenish-brown look to it, which says it all," Lehman said. "When it's all brown, that's going to be wispy, dry stuff. When the bottom is green, the ball is going to burrow in there, and it's not going to be friendly."

Friendly may not be the word players attach this week to Royal Lytham & St. Annes, which figures to offer a stiffer challenge than it did in 1996. The British Open itself will have a far different look than a year ago, when Woods romped to a win at St. Andrews.

Woods never found a bunker in four days last year over an Old Course that played benign in light winds and with no rough. If he escapes the sand again at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, it might be such a feat that it will merit a plaque like the one for Bobby Jones for an iron from the sand that helped him win the 1926 Open.

Fourteen bunkers have either been added or reopened since 1996, bringing the total to 196. That means each hole averages about 11 bunkers.

Worse yet, some have been deepened, with imposing sod walls that can swallow a golf ball or force players to play out sideways or, in some cases, backward.

Lehman had just finished putting on the eighth green Monday when he turned to look at one of the bunkers.

"I bet it's 10 feet," he said.

Not willing to venture in there himself, Lehman asked for volunteers in the gallery to step into the bunker so he could get a better idea. One man who announced he was 6-foot-1 took him up on the offer, and his head was 3 feet from the top.

At St. Andrews, Woods was able to blast tee shots past many of the fairway bunkers. He'll have a tougher time this week on a course that rewards accuracy more than length.

"There's bunkers for everybody," Lehman said. "I don't care how long or short you are. You have to deal with bunkers somewhere."

Lehman, of course, has fond memories here, where he opened with a pair of 67s and then took command of the tournament with a 64 in the third round.

It is his only major championship win, though in the days before Woods began to dominate the majors, he thought he'd have more.

Lehman believes his game can be just as good as when he won.

"My good is just as good, but my bad is worse," Lehman said. "Therefore my confidence isn't quite as high as it was then. At that time I expected to play well every time I teed it up."

Woods, of course, feels that way now. Perhaps so does Retief Goosen, who followed his U.S. Open win by taking the Scottish Open on Sunday.

With Woods faltering in the U.S. Open and having trouble with his game, others are suddenly in contention again.