Majors' closing stretches offer differing looks

The fact that Muirfield's 18th hole played as the fifth toughest during the 2013 Open Championship made Phil Mickelson's birdie there all the more remarkable.

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With the four major championships in the books, it’s worth looking back to ask that timeless question: What makes a great stretch of closing holes, being extraordinarily tough or offering a challenge but with a chance to score?

Certainly, the venues for the biggest tournaments in 2013 – Augusta National, Merion, Muirfield and Oak Hill – offered both ends of the spectrum.

When it comes to Sunday at the Masters, the par-3 16th, par-4 17th and par-4 18th offer opportunities for drama, and players who hit good shots can score there. There were 38 birdies made on those three holes in Round 4.

At U.S. Open site Merion, the miserly par-4 16th, par-3 17th and par-4 18th yielded only five birdies and an eagle Sunday. There really was no letup at Merion’s closing three holes, because 16 ranked ninth-toughest, 17 seventh-toughest and 18 was not only toughest, it was nearly impossible. For the tournament, only 66 birdies and an eagle were made on that stretch.

By comparison:

Augusta’s Nos. 16-17-18 yielded 130 birdies for four days and the holes ranked 13th, sixth and ninth, respectively.

Muirfield gave up 159 birdies and 10 eagles for four days at Nos. 16 (par 4), 17 (par 5) and 18 (par 4), but the bulk of offense came at 17. The 16th was second toughest, 18 fifth toughest.

Oak Hill? There were 135 birdies for four days at the final three holes. Here, the scoring chance came at the par-4 16th, which was 12th-most difficult. The par-4 17th and par-4 18th ranked toughest and second-toughest, respectively.

Different philosophies, of course, and none is wrong. But methinks Augusta has it right (what a shock, eh?), and so, too, does Muirfield.

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