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New twists in Road Hole

St. Andrews adds challenges at 17

Ernie Els had plenty of trouble playing No. 17 in 2005, but it’ll be tougher in 2010 after getting stretched to 495 yards. Ernie Els had plenty of trouble playing No. 17 in 2005, but it’ll be tougher in 2010 after getting stretched to 495 yards. (File/Associated Press)
By Doug Ferguson
Associated Press / July 13, 2010

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Scott Verplank walked off the 16th green on the Old Course and headed for the next tee when his caddie made a startling observation.

“Hey, look,’’ Scott Tway said. “We’re teeing off out of bounds.’’

Sure enough, the right side of the 16th green is lined by white stakes to indicate out of bounds. The new tee for the British Open, 40 yards beyond where it used to be, is located behind those stakes. That stretches the par 4 to 495 yards.

As if the Road Hole at St. Andrews wasn’t peculiar enough.

The Royal & Ancient is up to speed when it comes to the modernization of championship golf, and chief executive Peter Dawson figured it was time to lengthen one of the most famous holes in the game. It was intended to challenge players toward the end of the round, yet more and more players were getting by with an iron off the tee and a short iron to the green.

Now, the driver is required on days except when the wind is at the back. And the hole appears to be as tough as ever.

Quirky, too.

“I’ve never had to hit over a building before,’’ Dustin Johnson said during his practice round.

Players cannot see the green from the tee because the proper line is blocked by the Old Course Hotel. The ideal tee shot is over the hotel’s lettering written on the side of a maintenance shed.

“Actually, in practice rounds I always go along the limit, so I hit it down along the hotel to see how far right I can go,’’ Padraig Harrington said. “It’s one of those things, you want to know how far you can go right. And it’s not that far.’’

Keeping it in the fairway is the chore.

Whereas the fairway used to go in the direction of the tee, the angle now is so severe that it goes sharply to the right in the direction of the second shot. To play a tee shot away from the hotel, which looks safe, will put the ball in thick rough.

And then there’s the green.

To the left is the Road Hole bunker, which is about 6 feet deep and has a sod wall up toward the green. Beyond the putting surface is a paved road, which is in play and how the hole got its name. Birdies are rare. Bogeys are acceptable.

“I don’t mind making a 5 on the 17th,’’ Masters champion Phil Mickelson said.

Geoff Ogilvy tends to lean on the advice of five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson who said he would aim for the front right portion of the green no matter where the flag was.

“He used to say if you made two 4s and two 5s, you haven’t lost anything to the field,’’ Ogilvy said. “I don’t think that’s changed.’’

The R&A expects controversy, or at the very least complaints. That’s typical of any change, especially one that lengthens the hole. So far, the change has been accepted.

“I think it’s a really good improvement,’’ Lee Westwood said.

That’s not to say it has been approved.

“I don’t mind the length of the hole,’’ Ogilvy said. “I just wish they didn’t have to do it.’’

The Road Hole has not played a big part in deciding the last two British Opens at St. Andrews, mainly because Tiger Woods won by eight and five shots, respectively. That might not be the case this time.

“You’ve really got to stand up there and hit your drive, and hit it well,’’ Harrington said. “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. There’s nobody who’s going to get through 17 without thinking about it for four days.’’

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