'Firm and fiery' Royal Melbourne to test patience at Presidents Cup
By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Royal Melbourne's composite course has been a happy hunting ground for United States captain Tiger Woods and his Internationals counterpart Ernie Els but both skippers will urge caution when their players tee off at the Presidents Cup.
An amalgam of 12 holes from the club's West course and six from its East, players will be tempted to attack a 7,032 yard layout that features a number of holes vulnerable to long hitters.
The firm conditions of the 'sandbelt' track mean risk-takers are invariably punished for the slightest of transgressions, however, ensuring strategy will be key as teams plot their way through the intrigue of matchplay.
"That firm turf is critical," course superintendent Richard Forsyth told Reuters.
"There's a bit of fire in the reaction of the ball. So if you don't approach from the right spot, you won't get it close to the pin.
"Only the very best shots are going to stay where they land."
A number of players found that to their cost at the 2011 Presidents Cup at the venue, where the wind kicked up and made the greens flint-hard.
Birdies were at a premium, and Australian Adam Scott called it "carnage" as putts rolled off greens and settled 40 yards away.
Precision in iron-play and patience with playing partners will be vital, particularly if a breeze picks up.
With the West course designed by renowned architect Alister MacKenzie, players may see elements of the Scot's work at Augusta National as they negotiate deep bunkers and greens with subtle slopes and speed.
Woods and Els are well-placed to share their insights with their teams, having previously faced off twice at Royal Melbourne in 1998 and 2011.
South African Els was part of the only Internationals victory in the 25-year history of the tournament 21 years ago, while Woods holed the winning putt when the United States won 19-15 in 2011.
Els holds the composite course record of 12-under-par 60 set in 2004, although the par score has since been reduced by a stroke to 71 and there have been changes to the layout.
Both Els and Woods visited last year to offer suggestions for the set-up and were, more or less, on the same page.
"Ernie said keep it just as it is normally ... Tiger also likes it firm and fiery and fast and he's expecting it so," added Forsyth.
The third and fourth holes have steep banks in front of the greens and the natural amphitheatres offer fans the chance to watch on as seasoned tour professionals get punished severely for any misreads of the putting line.
The shorter par fours at the 6th, 11th and 13th holes are a chance for players to steal a march on their opponents -- or crash and burn.
"You can have a go at the greens but you'd better be prepared for some diabolical positions if you do get it wrong," said Forsyth.
Fans flocked to Royal Melbourne for the 2011 tournament and headliner Woods's participation as a playing captain has ensured they will do so again when the action gets underway on Thursday.
Els grumbled that the Royal Melbourne galleries were starstruck by Woods and his team mates eight years ago and has urged the locals to give them a colder shoulder this time around.
Forsyth felt that was only fair, having seen the frosty reception for the visitors when the Americans routed the Internationals 19-11 at Liberty National in New Jersey two years ago.
"Some of the (Internationals) players said it was bordering on unsportsmanlike .... Hopefully crowds will applaud great shots here but not be too polite to the U.S. team," he said.
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)