June 1, 2006

Punitive Nicklaus bunkers spark player debate

DUBLIN, Ohio (Reuters) - Beefed-up bunkers at the Memorial
tournament drew a mixed player response after Thursday's
opening round, Phil Mickelson describing them as fair and Nick
Price as pot luck.

Backed by the PGA Tour, Memorial host Jack Nicklaus has
arranged for all the bunkers on the par-72 Muirfield Village
layout to be raked in an unconventional way to make sand
escapes something of a lottery.

"It's fair for everybody, and everybody has to play it,"
U.S. Masters champion Mickelson told reporters after opening
with a three-under-par 69.

"I don't think the bunkers are a problem. The only thing
is, you can't spin it. The ball comes out fine, but you can't
spin it. As long as you're short of the hole, you're okay."

In a bid to make bunkers more of a penalty this week,
Nicklaus introduced a long-toothed, widely spaced rake which
creates furrows to make recoveries from the sand more

"Nowadays all the bunkers are so perfect, there's no
penalty any more," the 18-times major winner said at the start
of the week. "Bunkers are really supposed to be a penalty.

"All I'm trying to do is make the guy think he doesn't want
to be in the bunker, and it's not the place to aim for."


However, former world number one Price was unhappy with the

"I heard someone say earlier in the week that this is the
way that they used to rake bunkers way back when and bunkers
have always been hazards," the Zimbabwean said after carding a

"I think the difference now is that the greens are running
at 13 or 14 (in putting speed). Back in the bygone era, when
they did it before, the greens were probably running at about

"It's different hitting out of a bunker to a green where
you've got no chance to get any spin on the ball. So I disagree
with it. I don't like it at all.

"I don't think there's one player out here that does. It's
a bit of pot luck, to be honest.

"You can get in there and have a perfect lie when it lands
on top of a groove, then you can have another one that goes in
the trough, in the bottom of it, and you've got no chance."

Ernie Els, one of the best bunker players in the game, also
registered disapproval.


"You're either lucky or unlucky," the South African world
number six said after three bogeys in the last four holes gave
him a first-round 74. "If you're unlucky, you have no shot,

"I don't care how good of a bunker player you are, you have
no shot. But I guess that's what they want."

American Sean O'Hair, who set the tournament pace with a
five-under-par 67 before play was suspended because of an
afternoon thunderstorm, agreed with Mickelson.

"A trap is a trap, it's a hazard," said O'Hair. "You're not
supposed to be there.

"The bunkers here are not hidden, you know where they are.
So don't hit it there. If you don't hit it there, you don't
have to worry about it."

(Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles)