Golf: Layout, weather the real hurdles at 50th edition of Singapore Open

Golfers at the 18th hole of the Serapong Course yesterday. Former British Open champion and Europe's Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke pointed out that each of the course's 18 holes presents a unique challenge.
Golfers at the 18th hole of the Serapong Course yesterday. Former British Open champion and Europe's Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke pointed out that each of the course's 18 holes presents a unique challenge.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Reigning world No. 1 Jordan Spieth testing his mettle at the challenging Serapong Course yesterday. The Texan golfer, who has never competed in the Republic before, is favoured to win the 50th edition of the Singapore Open which gets under way today.
Reigning world No. 1 Jordan Spieth testing his mettle at the challenging Serapong Course yesterday.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Unpredictable winds and tight fairways will test first-timer Spieth and leading contenders

The 50th edition of the Singapore Open begins today with all eyes trained on world No. 1 golfer Jordan Spieth and his bid to capture the old trophy.

While the 22-year-old American is the hot favourite at the US$1 million (S$1.44 million) tournament, the daunting Serapong Course, a fickle Mother Nature and 155 other golfers desperate for their own Sunday storyline stand in his way.

For Spieth, who is competing in the Republic for the first time, unfamiliarity with the set-up will make his task harder.

 

Since the Open was moved to the Sentosa Golf Club (SGC) in 2005, only Australian Adam Scott - in the same year - has prevailed without prior course knowledge.

Though Spieth is one of the game's best putters, such experience will be crucial in negotiating the subtle undulations of the massive greens, which total 25,000 sq m and are almost double that of the average golf course.

The par-71 arena may have undergone minimal changes since the 2012 edition but Serapong's tight fairways and varied design of its 6,765m layout promise to be an acid test for even the most accurate ball-strikers.

Each of the 18 holes is very diverse, noted former British Open champion and Europe's Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke.

"You have to hit draws, hit fades, and drive the ball very well... There are no weak holes at all."

Even the toughest hole, the par-four 3rd - stroke index 1 and statistically the most difficult - has become harder with organisers lengthening it by 40m to its current 439m.

That should constitute as discrimination against the shorter hitters, chuckled two-time Asian Tour winner Siddikur Rahman, who stands at 1.65m and averages 235m off the tee (almost 45m less than South Korean Lee Sung who led last season's driving chart).

Added the Bangladeshi: "I hit a good drive during my practice round on Tuesday and the ball barely reached the fairway.

"If there's headwind, that's going to be a really tough hole."

The past week has also seen unpredictable and strong winds around the Sentosa Golf Club (SGC) and that has caused plenty of second guessing among players regarding their strategies and club selection, said Singapore's Quincy Quek.

"The gusts just appear out of nowhere and suddenly you're not sure if you have the right club in your hand for that distance. It's really unusual weather."

The elements have traditionally been unkind to the Open, which returns after a three-year absence with new sponsor SMBC. The last five editions (2007-12) were held in November and all experienced rain delays, with Monday finishes for the 2010 and 2011 stagings.

Despite moving away from the height of the monsoon, this year's tournament is unlikely to escape a downpour.

Afternoon thunderstorms are predicted for the next four days, raising the likelihood of long shifts for players and their caddies.

Said Filipino golfer Angelo Que, who is making his ninth consecutive Open appearance: "You have to be prepared for a lot of waiting and rounds that can stretch up to 10 hours. It can be mentally draining."

The pressure of being No. 1 is something that Spieth, who shot to global fame last year on the back of two Major wins at the Masters and US Open, has coped with since last August, when he supplanted Rory McIlroy at the summit.

Nevertheless, a bull's-eye has already been placed on his back.

His flightmates Kim Kyung Tae, who won five times on the Japan Tour last season, and top Japanese pro Yusaku Miyazato insisted yesterday that they were ready for a showdown with the Texan.

For the first time in the Singapore Open's history, three hours of live morning action on Thursday and Friday will be shown on the Golf Channel in the United States.

It is no coincidence, given that Spieth is scheduled to tee off today at 7.50am. Across the sporting world, one might say, no one can take their eyes off golf's latest golden boy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2016, with the headline 'LAYOUT, WEATHER THE REAL HURDLES'. Print Edition | Subscribe