CARNOUSTIE, Scotland - Phil Mickelson arrived at Carnoustie Golf Links early enough to get in three practice rounds before playing last week's Scottish Open. He and coach Butch Harmon devised game plans based on three wind directions.
Masters champion Zach Johnson always plays the John Deere Classic the week before the British Open, so he is usually scrambling. He got here in time to play a practice round Tuesday, but his clubs missed the connecting flight at London Heathrow. He used a replacement set until they arrived.
While at home in Florida, Tiger Woods practiced low shots and worked on moving the ball left to right and right to left.
"You're trying to get where your mechanics are very sound and you can maneuver the golf ball either way in any trajectory you want," Woods said.
Americans have won 10 of the last 12 British Opens, including three by Woods, who is going for his third straight.
But the British Open is the most difficult major for them to prepare for. Course conditions are much different and require playing different types of shots than on the PGA Tour.
Also, the rotation of courses doesn't allow much familiarity. For instance, it has been eight years since Carnoustie's last Open.
Cramming for Thursday's first big exam is complicated by the unpredictable weather along the east coast of Scotland. You might get rain, or strong winds, or chilly temperatures, or heat spells. Or you could get all of those conditions.
"Everybody says the British Open, you have to bring your long sleeves and your rain gear and et cetera, et cetera," Johnson said. "Last year we had 90-degree days Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. So you see it all. The only preparation you can have is to prepare for everything."
British Open layouts require a different strategy than events on the PGA Tour, and even many tournaments on the European Tour. In the United States, the high-ball hitter rules. The bump-and-run is rare. Using a putter from 20 yards off the green is virtually impossible because of the lush grasses.
On links, a low trajectory on the hard fairways is often best on approach shots. Hard greens are not as receptive. So players spend considerable time gauging distances. Depending on the contour of the green, they may need to use less or more club because of the roll.
"Over here you can create shots," Woods said. "You get to use the ground as an ally. I think it's fantastic, the fact that you get to hit different shots."
Mickelson struggled at British Opens before making a concerted effort to try new shots under the watchful eye of short-game guru Dave Pelz. He finished third at Royal Troon in 2004 and tied for 22nd last year at Royal Liverpool. In his first seven British Opens, his best finish was 24th.
Before each major, Mickelson devotes a week or so to devising a strategy.
"The difference here is that the game plan changes based on the wind," he said. "Each hole goes from a birdie hole to just trying to make a par, based on the wind."
Mickelson said the final three holes will play a major role in determining the outcome. So will the weather. Since Sunday, the wind has blown from a different direction every day.
On Tuesday, Johnson hit a driver and 8-iron into the par-4 18th hole, which played downwind. Jean Van de Velde hit 2-iron into the wind there during his famous triple-bogey in 1999.
"You don't know exactly how you're going to attack the course until you actually get on the course," Mickelson said. "You have to come up with three or four different ways to play it."
At British Opens, the short game is critical because of the unpredictable bounces on the fairways and undulating greens. Chipping and putting become even more important when the wind starts howling.
"The beauty of this tournament is that you have to hit every shot," Johnson said. "It's you, the golf course and the conditions. More than any other tournament, it magnifies my weaknesses immediately. It tells me exactly what I have to work on when I leave here."