ST ANDREWS: A triangular piece of turf, a strip of road, a hotel wall, a narrow fairway, a pothole bunker and another section of roadway have caused more debate here than whether Tiger Woods can win a third successive British Open on the Old Course on Sunday.
At no other place would 40 yards of ground take conversational precedence even over the history of this ‘spiritual’ place or the perceived merits of 156 competitors who will tee off today.
Old Tom and Young Tom Morris, James Braid (winner in 1910) and Harry Vardon would find it hard to understand such a fuss.
The organisers have decided that the 17th hole – the famous Road Hole – needs to be an even greater challenge to modern professionals.
And so they have lengthened it from 455 yards to 495.
It’s not just the extra distance they have looked for. Now it requires a driver, subject to wind, to clear the wall of the Old Course Hotel and the use of perhaps a 5-iron into the narrow, square on green. Previously it was a 7–iron or even an 8–iron.
The idea is to bring the tarmac road behind the green (no relief allowed) back into the equation, as it was a decade ago.
In recent years it had been easier, so it was thought, to simply find the front half of the green and two-putt. The change also increases the prospect of finding that deep bunker guarding the green’s centre, given a shot of some 200 yards in.
Opinion among the top players is generally favourable.
“When you have hit the driver, your real work begins, just trying to figure out how to play the shot,” Woods said. “Should I play right, short or left? That makes it a very hard hole now no matter how you look at it.”
Phil Mickelson commented: “St. Andrews is a second–shot golf course. But now you don’t even get a second shot on 17 unless you hit a great drive.
“You actually have to look at the hole as a par five. It will play perhaps 4.8 this week.
“We should in principle make hard holes harder and short holes easier. I like it when holes are more challenging because that’s a championship philosphy.”
Padraig Harrington was enthusiastic: “It’s exactly how I envisage the way the hole should be played, like when I played here first in the early 1990s.
Swede Robert Karlsson thought every player should be challenged to make a second shot to the green from almost everywhere his drive might finish, which would mean cutting back the high rough on the left.
“From there you just have to punch out and take a five,” he said.
“That cancels out the objective. I say widen the fairway and give players more opportunity to accept the challenge on offer.” – AFP