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Thursday, July 15, 1999 Published at 20:57 GMT 21:57 UK

Taming the 'beast'

Carnoustie : The 'beast' that lies in wait for the top pros

The world's leading golfers share a common emotion ahead of the Open Championship's return to one of the world's toughest courses.

Gary Player and former winner Tom Watson talk about a tough test
Despite all of their experience, previous tournament wins and ability to withstand massive pressure, they are nearly all scared stiff.

The 7,361-yard, par-71 "beast of Carnoustie" has narrow fairways, high rough and big bunkers.

Tony Adamson with a detailed preview of the Open
But worst of all, a fierce wind blows straight off the Firth of Tay.

The weather forecasters predict it will gust to 20-25mph over the next two days, and get stronger by Sunday's final round.

[ image: Ernie Els: Believes organisers want an over-par score to win]
Ernie Els: Believes organisers want an over-par score to win
Meanwhile South African Ernie Els forecasts high scores, in possibly the toughest Open in history.

"This championship will be won with an over-par score," predicted the two-time US Open champion.

"I know what the Royal and Ancient are up to.

"They don't want an under-par win to win and they will get their way."

A number of leading players, particularly Americans, have declined to tackle the course's unique charms.

Fred Couples, Ben Crenshaw, John Daly, Steve Jones and Scott Hoch are all absentees.

Most have cited injuries or loss of form, and another US pro, Bill Glasson, pulled out on Wednesday with elbow trouble.

But the words of those who have made it to Tayside suggest that few are looking forward to the challenge.

"I have never seen fairways as penalising as this for a major championship," said Phil Mickelson.

"I think quite a few over par might be a very realistic winning score."

Stewart keeps smiling

Perhaps on the basis that if you cannot laugh you will cry, Payne Stewart was in a jokey mood.

"Those aren't fairways," exclaimed the US Open champion. "In America we call them walking paths."

But the organising Royal and Ancient club's secretary, Sir Michael Bonallack, is unrepetant.

"I think of this as a degree," he said. "It's not a common entrance exam."

[ image: Tiger Woods: Has played Carnoustie twice as an amateur]
Tiger Woods: Has played Carnoustie twice as an amateur
And not all the competitors from across the Atlantic fear the worst, with Tiger Woods' demonstrating why the bookies rate him as a 5-1 favourite.

"I love the bad weather. I've always loved it," said the 23-year-old world no 1.

"I will be able to hit a two-iron or 3-wood off the tee just as far as some of the guys can hit their drivers. I believe that is a tremendous advantage."

Scot Colin Montgomerie is hoping to lift Europe's spirits by finally scoring his first major win, to follow victory at Loch Lomond last week.

[ image: Colin Montgomerie is a strong local favourite]
Colin Montgomerie is a strong local favourite
Monty is second favourite to win the Claret Jug, although he has failed to make the cut three times over the past four years.

But defending champion Mark O'Meara tips the six-times European number one as one of his "four to follow" at Carnoustie.

"I know his record is pretty awful but I think he might sneak it," said O'Meara.

"He definitely has the talent, there is no question about that, and the fact that the fairways are the narrowest I have ever seen at an Open has got to favour him."

O'Meara's other contenders are Woods, David Duval and new teenage sensation Sergio Garcia.

[ image: Sergio Garcia: Teenage sensation]
Sergio Garcia: Teenage sensation
The 19-year-old Spaniard impressed when he completed a two-under par round of 69 around Carnoustie on Tuesday, although he has yet to prove himself in windy conditions.

Carnoustie has not hosted this tournament in 24 years but Sir Michael says it is unlikely to have to wait so long again.

"I'd be very surprised if we weren't back here very soon," he said.

"After Tom Watson won in 1975 we couldn't use it for years because the course wasn't in very good condition and there were no hotel facilities.

"But now these problems have been sorted out and everyone connected with the course has done a wonderful job getting it ready."

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