LYTHAM ST ANNES (Reuters) - Expect low scores on the rain-softened Lytham links at the British Open this week, 1996 champion Tom Lehman said on Friday.
“If it stays like this they’re going to shoot the grass off the course,” the former world number one told Reuters after a two-over-par 72 in the second round for a five-over total of 145.
“It’s so soft. The back nine is much easier than usual,” he said in reference to the inward nine at the Lancashire links, which from the 14th hole onwards is known as “Murder Mile”.
“There’s just a whisper of wind. So you need to throw your shots right at the pins. It’s very unlinks-like.”
Fellow American and former top-ranked player Tiger Woods said after his opening 67 that he found the conditions unlike any he had ever played before in a British Open, the oldest of the four majors.
“We’re backing golf balls up. That’s something we just don’t see. On the first hole I hit a 5‑iron straight at it and it rolled out eight feet. I can’t remember the last time it does that on a links golf course,” Woods said.
Lehman was equally baffled by how the ball was behaving.
“As it stands right now the conditions are completely in favour of the player,” he said.
As with any links layout, however, weather is key and benign conditions can very quickly change to wreak havoc.
Although the back nine was less severe than usual with 11 millimetres of overnight rain which took organisers by surprise, Lehman said the unusual conditions played tricks on his mind.
“You expect shots that you hit to be good but the ball doesn’t bounce and you’re like ‘How does that happen?',” said the 2006 Ryder Cup captain.
“I hit a low six-iron to bounce it on to the 12th and it stops dead. It’s impossible,” he added, referring to the 196-yard par-three.
The front nine, usually largely downwind, was where Lehman really found the going difficult.
The 53-year-old hit a four iron into the 192-yard first hole, his approaches to the 472-yard second and 489-yard third required a three wood, he needed a three-iron on the 227-yard fifth and a rescue club on the 471-yard sixth.
“It was tough,” he said.
Englishman Richard Finch took 10 at the 422-yard par-four eighth hole and Lehman sympathised.
“I hit three-iron eight-iron yesterday. Today was driver six-iron. That tells you the difference.”
For all his problems, Lehman was smiling as he walked down the 18th fairway and he was rewarded with a birdie.
“Every time I look at that club house I think about ‘96 and my Dad being here so it’s all good memories. A lot of good things happened here.”
Lehman father Jim died in October 2009 and he knows the importance of having his family around him.
“We’ll ride a rollercoaster or something,” he said when asked what he would do with his wife and children this weekend if he does not make the cut.
“I‘m most disappointed with yesterday’s play. The way I played to shoot 73 was almost criminal and I‘m frustrated not to be here on the weekend,” Lehman said.