SHEFFIELD Ryder Cup player Matt Fitzpatrick believes his chances of a first major title will be boosted if Carnoustie turns into “Carnasty” again for this week’s Open Championship.
This nickname was inspired by the 1999 Open at the same venue when a combination of a severe course set-up and bad weather sent scores soaring.
The 156-strong field finished the week an amazing 3,746 over par and that is with 81 players completing only two rounds and two more, Americans Fred Funk and Tom Gillis, quitting after shooting 83 and 90 respectively on the opening day.
A 19-year-old Sergio Garcia, who had won the Irish Open a fortnight earlier, departed in tears in the arms of his mother after rounds of 89 and 83 left him last, with Paul Lawrie eventually winning in a play-off after finishing tied with Jean van de Velde and Justin Leonard on six over.
Lessons were learned when the Open returned to Carnoustie in 2007, but Fitzpatrick admits he is probably the only player who would like a repeat of 1999 and was also in favour of how the USGA set up Shinnecock Hills for last month’s US Open.
“In my ideal world I would love it to be like it was when they put all the fertiliser on the rough and it grew six foot high,” said 23-year-old Yorkshireman Fitzpatrick.
“I’m sure I’m the only one thinking that, but then I’m the one who thought the USGA did a great job in the US Open and I loved playing Shinnecock Hills the way it was. That’s obviously just me.”
Fitzpatrick’s best finish in a major is a tie for seventh in the Masters in 2016, with his next best a tie for 12th at Shinnecock Hills, where the USGA admitted they had gone “too far” with aspects of the course set-up after round three.
“When everything [in his game] is on any of the majors is a good chance to win, but for me personally it depends on how they set the courses up,” added the former US Amateur champion. You look at Erin Hills for the US Open two years ago and I never stood a chance. I hit 80 per cent of fairways and was still minus six in strokes gained driving.
“Whereas Shinnecock I felt was right up my street. It was tight off the tee, the greens were tricky, it required good putting and I feel like it’s much more my cup of tea.”
Fitzpatrick will play alongside Russell Henley for the first two days, having partnered the American when the duo made their debuts in the Open at Muirfield in 2013.
Meanwhile, Tommy Fleetwood says he will never forget being the poster boy of the Open Championship on home soil, but feels he is more deserving of being among the title favourites this time around.
Fleetwood used to sneak on to last year’s venue Royal Birkdale as a child, the 27-year-old from Southport admitting the course was “forbidden fruit” of which he had little experience despite living nearby.
This did not stop the hype and expectation building after he had finished fourth in the US Open a month earlier and, despite an opening 76, Fleetwood battled back to make his first cut in the Open, eventually finishing in a tie for 27th.
Twelve months on Fleetwood arrives at Carnoustie following an even better US Open display, the world No 10 agonisingly missing from eight feet for birdie on the 72nd hole to equal the all-time major record of 62 set by Branden Grace at Royal Birkdale.
Fleetwood’s 63 still matched the lowest score in US Open history and set a testing clubhouse target on two over par, with defending champion Brooks Koepka the only player able to beat it – by a single shot – thanks to a nerveless 68.
“Last year was just a very special experience,” Fleetwood said. “I didn’t get off to the start I wanted to, but the week as a whole just doesn’t happen to everybody.
“It’s not very often that you play an Open where you grow up and I was having a really good year, and it happened to be that I was kind of the face of an Open Championship, which was in my hometown. I think I was very lucky in that sense that I got to experience that and I’ll always have that. Last year I hadn’t made the cut in an Open before, but I was kind of one of the favourites to win it.
“There’s no really good reason why I couldn’t do it [this year]. It really doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past. The only thing they do is build your confidence and give you examples of what you can do.
“But the good thing about having results like the US Open is that it was more proof that I can finish 72 holes right up there. One shot is a quarter of a shot a round so it’s not that much at the end of the day.”
Fleetwood’s position among the tournament favourites is also a result of him holding the course record of 63 at Carnoustie, although that was set during the Dunhill Links Championship, a pro-am event played annually in October.
“It is a completely different course, I’ve never played it this firm or fast,” Fleetwood added. “Shots that you’ve hit have literally no relevance for a lot of it.
“The greens are still pretty receptive. It doesn’t do any harm to have played it for a few years and have a course record.
“But it’s a completely different challenge to what we normally face.”