Rough? Of course

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

ANCASTER -- He is 5-foot-nuthin\' and 136 pounds, about the size of of a John Daly appetizer, and he is leading the Canadian Open. That, in a nutshell, is the answer to the important question about Hamilton Golf and Country Club\'s ability to defend itself against the big bombers of the PGA Tour.

Hidemichi Tanaka is a veteran Japanese touring pro who may or may not have all the aspects of the game to take it all the way this weekend but his finely crafted 66 yesterday is testament to the kind of golf it\'s going to take to win the Open. Tanaka is ranked 131st on the PGA Tour in length off the tee, but he is the 22nd-most accurate driver of the golf ball. So far this year, he has parlayed his modest physical dimensions into 21 of 24 cuts made and $567,731 in winnings.

\"I tried to play well and just keep being patient,\" said Tanaka, whose English isn\'t fluent, but whose intent is crystal clear.

\"Even though my ball was in the rough, I take a bogey and just avoiding the big miss.\"

Ah yes. We all know about the big miss. It\'s what happens when you fail to respect that, despite modest length, a golf course of Hamilton\'s quality can swallow you whole.

In the months leading up to this tournament, some wild predictions were made about the kind of low scores it would take to win here. But now that the reality of the game has been revealed, it is comforting to know that golf at the highest level doesn\'t have to be reduced to driver/wedge.

Hamilton is an old, classic layout of under 7,000 yards. It was created for a game that didn\'t routinely feature 300-yard drives and 270-yard iron shots. It\'s a place that requires careful shotmaking, especially in the approaches to the many sharply sloping greens.

POSITION, NOT POWER

\"There are a lot of holes you have to play for position and not just for power,\" said Brad Faxon, who is among a knot of players one stroke off the lead at three-under-par.

\"This is a course for people who gripe about technology ruining the game. This game can stand up to the technology and the power game. You may not hit driver on every hole. But whatever shot you hit off the tee, it better be in the fairway.\"

The reason for that is that the teeth of Hamilton\'s defensive strategy lies in long, gnarly rough.

\"The rough that we grew here, we grew it long all season to build body in it, to give it thickness,\" course superintendent Rhod Trainor said. \"The membership put up with it all summer long. Actually, they enjoyed it. It was a challenge to them.\"

As skeptical as we are about that last bit, this approach is clearly what was necessary to make for a fair test on this golf course.

In the long run, Trainor believes, as do so many others who care about the direction golf technology is taking the game, that some standards must be set for clubs and balls as they apply to touring professionals.

\"I think the governing bodies need to get some kind of control over how far the golf ball is going,\" Trainor said. \"Let the average guy have the big clubs and the distance balls.\"

Either that or force the pros to play a more precise game as they are being forced to do this weekend: Hit it straight, hit it smart, or go home early. If you look back at the past few major championship winners, maybe that revolution has already taken hold.

\"I think it\'s funny that everyone talks about distance over the last two or three years,\" said long-hitting Charles Howell, who bogeyed the 18th hole yesterday to slip out of a tie with Tanaka.

\"If you look at the people who have won our major championships, they have not been the longest hitters. Mike Weir can hit the ball a long way, but he hits it straight. Shaun Micheel drives it straight, Ben Curtis, Jim Furyk ... I think it shows you that accuracy is still the most important thing.

\"It\'s nice to be able to stand up there and bomb it and hit it a long way, but if you don\'t hit it in the fairway, it doesn\'t matter.\"

That\'s especially the case this weekend. The folks at Hamilton wouldn\'t have it any other way.


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