SANDWICH, England – Standing on the tee of the 495-yard, par-4 fourth hole, it’s impossible to miss the Himalayas bunker on the right side of the hole.
At 40 feet high, the bunker known as “the coffin” by the locals looks like something Pete Dye would design, but on steroids. With railroad ties supporting the structure, the bunker is normally just a large aiming mark for the best players on the planet.
Just 235 yards from the back tee and 209 yards from the upper tee to carry, most players simply drove over the Himalayas bunker the past two days and there were few causalities. Until Saturday.
With a 15-20 mph head wind, and gusts of up to 35 mph, the R&A moved the tee forward 26 yards to make the hole play 469 yards. Unlike any other day this week, the bunker received an immediate visitor in Paul Lawrie.
“The ball was in the middle of the bunker at the bottom, Lawrie said. “I necked it, I didn’t hit a real good shot, but even then you’re aiming down the left rough on that hole. The hole’s hard enough not having to aim in the left rough.”
The fourth hole at Royal St. George’s is a par 5 for the members. It also played as a par 5 in the 2003 Open Championship, when it measured 497 yards and played to a stroke index of 4.599, the 17th easiest hole in the championship. During Saturday’s third round, the hole played difficult and to the surprise of many, the Himalayas were clearly in play.
With a stroke average of 4.421 through the first two days, No. 4 ballooned to a stroke average of 4.931 in Saturday’s third round.
“I didn’t think (the bunker was in play),” said defending champion Louis Oosthuizen. “I think when I saw where my drive finished up, I knew it was, so luckily I didn’t think about it on the tee, because that was my line. I finished 50 yards onto the fairway but on the left. The wind just took it all the way to the left.”
• • •
Glad that’s over: How bad was the rainy, windy weather Saturday morning? Bad, very bad. Australian Matthew Millar was first off, shot 80 and was in good spirits, partly because he was finally off the course.
Choosing to play without a marker because of the conditions, Millar played the last five holes in a sideways rain that ranged from annoying to pouring. The wind was brisk enough that he hit a 3-iron from 170 yards out and still came up 10 yards short.
“It was hard all day,” said Millar, 34, who has been a PGA European Tour journeyman but is playing the OneAsia Tour this year. “It’s wet and windy and it’s hard to keep anything dry and hard to keep your balance and the ball wasn’t flying in the air.”
Other than that, beautiful summer day in the south of England.
“Any score in the mid-70s is very good,” Millar said after playing in 3 hours, 50 minutes.
Told that 61-year-old Tom Watson shot 1-under par on the front nine, Millar shook his head in disbelief for several seconds.
“That’s phenomenal,” he said. “That’s like 6-under par on the front.”