Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson are all making some adjustments for the links style of golf this week. All three played the tune up event at the Scottish Open to test the waters and acclimate to the different method of play. World No. 1 Adam Scott chose to sit out last week, but he feels ready nonetheless.
"Had I not won in Aberdeen, I think this week would be a realistic opportunity," Justin Rose said, fresh off his Scottish Open victory.
He thinks winning improves his chances and admitted it gave him more confidence.
"This is the one that I holed the putt as a junior to win on the putting green through years of practice. Thousands of time I've won The Open Championship in my mind," he said. "So of course it would just be—I think when you're chasing Major championships, any of them will do. But if you're lucky enough to win this one, I think it would be incredibly special."
To improve his chances, he has a strategy that works for his game which includes killer iron play. Like a lot of professionals this week, he's making some adjustments in the golf bag.
"I've been working hard the last few weeks on a couple of areas in my golf bag," he explained. "TaylorMade have a new UDI club, it's a like a hybrid but more like an iron. There's a 1, 2 and 3-iron version of that. I used the 3-iron in Washington, I used the 2-iron last week, and this week I actually might use the 1-iron version. So I've been bouncing around with the top end of the bag."
He's also fiddling with wedges. Because he will add the 1,2, or 3-iron, he has to take out something. In his case, he will sacrifice a wedge.
"I've been adjusting the bounces and the loft in my wedges to accommodate," he added. "It's not an exact science playing links golf. So therefore, on the wedges side I'm a little bit more relaxed in terms of playing different lofts. It's more of the bounce that's more important to me."
Rory McIlroy will use driver and has put in a 2-iron for this week.
"I'll use it on the first two holes, definitely," he said about the 2-iron. "I might use it like four or five times during the round. I'll probably use a 2-iron just as much as I'll use the driver. I'll hit the driver four or five times and the 2-iron about the same."
He said he usually uses a 5-wood instead of the 2-iron, but because of the lay of the land, the expected conditions and the wind, the lower flight of the 2-iron will be better for him.
"I think that the driver, it is one of the best clubs in my bag and I do hit it well, and when I'm on, I can take advantage of that length and make golf courses pretty short for myself," he explained about his strategy. "Okay, maybe if they move the tees around one day you might want to have a go or lay back or whatever, but I wouldn't say I'm addicted to the length that I hit it. Yeah, I guess I hit it long off the tee, but not always straight. So I'd rather hit it 290, 300 in the fairway every time. That would make life much easier!"
He thinks the course is too soft to hit irons off all the tees.
"It's not as firm as it was back in '06."
Phil Mickelson says he feels better than he has in several years.
"Every day I have to start my day on a physio ball or on a TRX band and strengthen back and core and legs and so forth to make sure that I'm able to withstand the practice sessions that I'm about to have. At the end of the day I have to do the same thing," he explained about his routine. "But I feel better than I have in a long time."
What's giving him fits are his irons.
"I've struggled with is my short irons, which has always been a strength; I haven't been sharp," he admitted. "Last week ( at the Scottish Open) they started to come back—I saw kind of glimpses of my normal short iron play."
Typical Mickelson, he is upbeat going into the week, and he has additions to the bag especially for Royal Liverpool.
"I have two clubs that are specific to this tournament. It's a 2-iron and a 64 degree wedge that has very little bounce," he said. "Those two clubs I basically put away after this event, and I bring them back out in July again. But they've been very important and instrumental in my success here, 2- or 3-iron. This week it will be a 2-iron."
He said use of a driver or 3-wood is still up in the air.
"It will be very situational. I will carry a driver. I think there will be times when I use a driver, but it will be situational on the wind, pin placement and how I'm feeling at the given moment," he said.
The 3-wood club is similar to the one he had last year, but not identical.
"It performs every bit as well," he added. "I've been using the XHot 2. And this one has a little bit more loft and just gets up a little easier."
He said he will need the driver because of the approaches to the greens.
"We needed to come into some of these greens with an 8, 9-wedge downwind, because it was so firm," he explained. "I think it's going to allow us to be a little bit more conservative off the tee and a little bit more aggressive into the greens. That's my take. And the winning score, I think, will ultimately be fairly low, provided conditions, of course. If we get a strong wind, that all changes. If we get a strong wind and rain, that changes even more."
Adam Scott is going with the clubs that got him to the No. 1 position, including his 2-iron.
"I always played a 2-iron. I played a 1-iron as a kid," he said. "I experimented with the hybrids for a year, also. But I just felt that I had more versatility with a 2-iron. Now it's not a straight-bladed 2-iron. I've got a little help in the back of the club there. There's plenty of meat back there. But just off the tee I think it gives me the option to flight the ball a little better than the hybrids did, and I can still hit it up in the air into the green. But for here it's perfect. I don't have to do anything with it, other than swing."
Scott said that more important than changing clubs is adjusting to the different kind of play.
"That's why I find it valuable coming up the week before, because I feel I need to give myself a good week of really understanding, you know, a 2-iron might run out to 330 yards off a tee, and that I need to hit a 4-iron from 156 yards into a green, and actually hit it firm and not baby it up there. To get your head around that is really tough," he said. "A lot of it is feel, and you need a bit of time and you need to play, I think, to do that."
He said touch needed for links shots is something that can't be found on the range.
"You're not really paying attention to how far the ball is going on the range. You're looking at how straight it's going. It's a big adjustment," he said. ”I think the idea of playing the rounds is to have a real level of comfort on every tee that you step on. And then knowing what club it is instinctively without having to look at a yardage book and yards, to figure it out."
Whose approach will be the best one this week? We'll find out starting Thursday.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour, R&A or PGA of America.
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