St. Andrews, Scotland
It took Zach Johnson four swipes to reach the 17th fairway in Round 1. Four days later, K.J. Choi needed seven desperate strokes to find the Road Hole’s green. Thicker than normal rough and a pinched fairway turned golf’s most famous hole into the place good rounds came to die.
For the week, the 17th played to a draconian 4.628 stroke average. That was more than a tenth of a stroke harder than the previous toughest hole on the PGA Tour this season, Harbour Town’s par-3 14th (3.496).
“One bad swing cost me a lot of shots,” said Johnson, whose Road Hole adventure started when he hit into the right rough and ended with a 9.
At least Johnson ended his 17th-hole suffering early. Choi had managed to inch his way within a gorse bush of a top-25 finish until he was roughed up by the Road Hole to the tune of a quintuple bogey.
Although the Road Hole always has been an adventure, this year’s carnage was a direct result of thick rough down the right side of the fairway and a landing area that measured 7 yards across at about 320 yards from the tee.
“I don’t understand what they did on 17,” Rich Beem said. “I mean the hole is already tough but don’t make it a Carnoustie. It’s completely different from the rest of the golf course. They really went overboard on that hole.”
For the week there were 33 double bogeys and 20 “others” on the 455-yard hole that starts with a blind tee shot over sheds attached to the Old Course Hotel and ends with what may be the world’s most fortified green.
“There’s more rough right (than in the past),” Colin Montgomerie said. “We all know we need to be as close to the out of bounds (down the right) as possible to get into that hole, but we can’t get into that hole as there is jungle over there.”
Johnson and Choi weren’t the only players torpedoed by the Old Course’s penultimate hole.
In the first round, David Frost played his third shot left-handed from the Road Hole bunker, got it out, then putted back in. Earlier that day, Stephen Dodd left his chip from the wrong side of the road on the path and hit his next shot in the bunker, which has been widened and made shallower in recent years.
Round 3 was particularly harsh at the 17th, with quadruple bogeys being posted by Graeme Storm, Graeme McDowell and Scott Gutschewski in relatively benign conditions.
Not everyone, however, felt like road kill at one of golf’s most recognizable holes.
“Hitting over the hotel, blind tee shot . . . you’ve watched that hole on TV for how many different Opens?” said Brad Faxon, who played the 17th in a respectable 1 over for the week. “You make a 4 there and you run.”