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Bunker mentality approved

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- It's the most famous course of all, but it can be a real pussycat. The last time everyone was here (2000), Tiger went 19 under and won by eight strokes.

A quick aside: Someone might go 19 under, but whoever it is won't win by eight strokes. A lot's changed in golf during the last five years. There are people from every continent who can win now.

The conditions then were hot and dry, which is exactly what we've got right now. That's right. I can't feed you the usual British Open wind/rain one-liners, not when the temps are in the high 20s (Celsius; that's high 80s to you Fahrenheit folk) and the locals are sweltering. Right now, St. Andrews lies here, defenseless. Sort of.

For one thing, St. Andrews always will have its bunkers.

''This golf course," said Mr. Woods, ''is kind of funny. You play along here, and you think, 'What is a bunker here for?' And all of a sudden the wind switches and you go, 'Oh, there it is.' And I think that's the beauty of playing here. You always kind of discover some new bunkers, just because the wind conditions change."

Five years ago, Tiger went 67-66-67-69--269 without landing in one of the bunkers. There were no sideways or backward outs for him.

''Well, there are a lot of them to hit, and that's some pretty stellar play," points out Phil Mickelson. ''He won the tournament, but I don't think it's because he missed bunkers. I think he missed bunkers because he was playing so well and had such control of his golf ball. You have to avoid them. You may as well put water there. It's a one-shot penalty if you go in."

''Two factors about 2000," counters Woods. ''I hit it well and I got lucky a few times. There's absolutely no doubt about that, because I probably should have been in three or five bunkers, easily. Just off the tee shots alone. It happened to hop over a bunker and catch a side and kick left or right of it. Little things like that."

One further log on the bunker fire from One Who Knows: ''The strategy of this golf course is respect for the bunkers," said Nick Faldo, whose three Open championships include a triumph here in 1990. ''When I won, I hit it in one. And that's the whole key to this place. You have to respect them."

OK, you get the idea about the bunkers. The other defense mechanism that does not include reliance intervention from the elements is the greens, specifically the pin placements. ''It will be interesting to see how tough they'll put the pins, over the knobs or on the corners," said Woods. But that's true of just about every course, isn't it? Sunday pin placements are always Topic A.

Anyway, the forecast calls for generally clear skies, with perhaps some weekend showers. We may have to trot out those ''St. Andrews Desert Classic" references that were so prevalent last time.

With or without wind, it's still St. Andrews, where it all began, almost six centuries ago.

As far as Open Championships are concerned, this is the 134th, and the 27th to be contested here. And, as they've done since 1873, they'll be playing for the Claret Jug (that, plus 720,000 British pounds).

The Claret Jug (actual name: the Golf Championship Trophy) is actually the second Open bauble in question. The original prize was a jewel-encrusted accessory known as the Challenge Belt, which was commissioned by the Earl of Eglinton, a chap said to have great interest in medieval pageantry. But the Challenge Belt was replaced by the Claret Jug in 1873. The first man to win it was Tom Kidd, but the first name on it was Tom Morris Jr., the 1872 winner. The original Claret Jug remains on permanent display inside the Royal & Ancient Golf Clubhouse. This year's winner will receive a replica, and there are three other replicas in circulation.

Winners of the Claret Jug include some of the great names in golf. For example: Harry Vardon (6), Walter Hagen (4), Bobby Jones (a three-time winner known here as ''Mr. R.T. Jones"), Gene Sarazen, Henry Cotton (3), Sam Snead, Bobby Locke (4), Ben Hogan, Peter Thomson (5), Gary Player (a 47-time participant who won three times), Arnold Palmer (back-to-back winner in '61 and '62), Jack Nicklaus (3), Lee Trevino (back-to-back winner in '71 and '72), Tom Watson (5), and Faldo (3). Throw in Greg Norman (2), Tiger, and Ernie Els, and that's a pretty good All-Star team. (In the no-comment category, John Daly won in 1995).

Some Americans hate it. They come once, have problems making the requisite adjustments, and never return. Others embrace links golf and embark on a career-long love affair with what people over here always refer to as ''The Open." (Think ''The Game.") They plug into the Tradition. They bond with the galleries.

You've got to deal with humps and bumps and weird greens, strange vegetation and, normally, wind and rain. It can get a bit over the top, Exhibit A being the Saturday at Muirfield in '02, when Tiger shot an 81 and still beat Colin Montgomerie by three strokes in a mini-gale. (FYI: Monty had shot a 64 only the day before).

In the end, it's just golf, only on a somewhat different landscape. ''Look how [Tom] Watson used to come over here and kill us, simply because he knew exactly what he was doing," said Faldo. ''That's the simple secret. You've just got to be able to adapt to lies and bounce and wind and trajectory, all those sorts of things."

See, boys? It's easy. Just adapt. And stay out of the bunkers.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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