British Open notebook

2010 British Open: Famed Road Hole sure to provide its usual test

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 15, 2010

ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND -- Of all the famous, and even infamous, places at the Old Course at St. Andrews, none is more widely known than the Road Hole, No. 17. The hole is defined by a tee shot over the edge of the Old Course Hotel and the wall that runs along the right edge of the fairway, jutting left some 60 yards from the green.

In 1984, Tom Watson selected a 2-iron for his approach to the putting surface, which is protected on the left by a diabolically deep bunker. It was too much club. He went through the green, made bogey, and lost when Seve Ballesteros birdied the final hole.

In recent years, though, none of the players in a British Open field had to debate between, say, a 2- and 3-iron. With modern equipment, players approached the green with a lofted club, an 8- or 9-iron. So for this year's British Open, the Royal and Ancient, which stages the championship, built a new tee box, back across the road. A hole that hadn't been changed in more than a century now has 40 more yards -- and, as a 495-yard par 4 that could play into the wind, is likely to be the most difficult on the course.

"It's simply a par 5," Masters champ Phil Mickelson said. "It'll play to a [stroke average of] 4.8 or 4.9, and possibly over 5."

Because it must carry the edge of the hotel, the drive would seem to be the hole's defining shot. But even if the tee shot finds the fairway, "then your real work begins," Tiger Woods said.

"Just trying to figure out: 'How should I play my second shot?'" said Woods, who has won the past two Opens at St. Andrews. "Should I play it up on top? Should I play it short? Should I play it left? So many different options. It's a hard hole no matter how you look at it."

Given the conditions during Wednesday's final practice rounds -- sideways rain and wind blowing more than 20 mph -- the R&A has reserved the right to move the tees up to the old tee box, easing the hole's demand. Still, there is rough -- an unusual occurrence for St. Andrews -- to the left side of the fairway, and it is the thickest on the course. That was not necessarily intended.

"I assure you there's absolutely nothing done to it by the greens staff to make it so," said R&A CEO Peter Dawson. "In fact, I think we would like to see it much thinner."

It is not. Thus, Englishman Justin Rose, one of the favorites here, figures 18 strokes over the course of the tournament -- two 4s and two 5s -- will be a fine cumulative score at 17.

"The way I look at it, you always want to make sure that the guy that wins the Open Championship is tested at some stage coming down the stretch," two-time Open champ Padraig Harrington said. "There's nobody going to get through 17 without thinking about it, that's for sure, for four days. It's now one you're going to think about for 16 holes to actually get through it."

The Claret Jug is back

Stewart Cink, who won the Open last year at Turnberry, returned the Claret Jug to the R&A prior to Tuesday's champions dinner, but not before he had put it through quite a year. Among the liquids he poured from it: Guinness, Coca-Cola, wine, and barbecue sauce. But when he and his family arrived for a pre-Open visit in Ireland, he noticed that it hadn't been cleaned from a Fourth of July grilling session.

"There was still sauce inside that had to be cleaned out," Cink said. "So I went and cleaned it in Dublin and got it nice and fresh and shined outside."

Cink has not won since his victory in this tournament.

"It's very similar to last year, where I really had nothing going at all until -- Boom, Turnberry," he said. "I'm hoping this year we can say -- Boom, St. Andrews."

Watson quiet on Woods

Five-time Open champion Watson, who earlier in the year said he thought Woods needed to clean up his behavior on the golf course, declined a chance to elaborate Wednesday to a rabid British press corps that is asking nearly everyone about Woods.

"I said what I needed to say about Tiger Woods," Watson said. "The one thing that you should be writing about Tiger Woods right now is that he's won the championship the last two times he's played here and that's he's probably the odds-on favorite to win it again." . . .

The inclement weather caused the cancellation of the Champions Challenge, a four-hole event that would have pitted teams of more than two dozen former Open champions against each other.

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