Shackelford: Internal out-of-bounds line completely misses the mark for British Open

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Shackelford: Internal out-of-bounds line completely misses the mark for British Open

2019 British Open

Shackelford: Internal out-of-bounds line completely misses the mark for British Open

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PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – The lights dimmed and Northern Ireland’s star entrant was primed to kick off the Portrush sequel in style.

And then the projector broke.

The 148th British Open was set to play out as a thrilling action film and shifted to a dark comedy when Rory McIlroy slightly pulled his opening tee shot, finishing just a few yards on the other side of a seemingly random white line.

With right-to-left winds and a silly internal out-of-bounds line looming, the first hole’s 90-yard wide opening corridor played half that width. He was forced to re-tee like several other players did after similar fates, bursting the Portrush morning bubble and casting a pall over this glorious links.

The 30-year-old Holywood, Northern Ireland native eventually posted a quadruple bogey eight, the worst single hole score in his major championship career. A celebratory mood turned funereal when the British Open’s house lights went up.

Plenty of time remains to fix the project and produce a conclusion worthy of this incredible venue, but looming on the first, fifth and 18th holes are out-of-bounds stakes not technically guarding boundaries.

The first is defined by seemingly random lines down both sides, a window that shrinks significantly when the wind is up. The magnificent short par-4 fifth is guarded by cliffs and beach just behind the back hole locations, yet is marked as the more penal white boundary line instead of less severe red “penalty area” stakes. And looming Sunday when the 18th determines the British Open winner is another “OB” line turning a fascinating risk-reward hole into a forced lay-up off the tee to avoid the white painted vandalism marring a sensational finishing hole.

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Internal out-of-bounds has sunk the reputation of most courses. It’s right up there with slow play, lost balls and Caddyshack 2 on most golfers’ list of worst nightmares. Golf’s rulemakers — the USGA and this week’s hosts, the R&A — avoid introducing out of bounds unless absolutely necessary. The only other rota course to feature anything like Portrush’s arbitrary out of bounds — Hoylake — is defined by an ancient wall and a need to prevent players from shortcutting a par-5 while taking out a few spectators in the process.

At Portrush, the freshly painted boundaries protect nothing, kept in place as a reminder of the club’s past when the land between the first and 18th holes was someone else’s and not to be entered. But that land is now Royal Portrush property and sits as a wide open spectator area during the Open, mown down and perfectly playable.

McIlroy could easily have found and played that opening tee shot. For his part, he refused to criticize the feature.

“That didn’t really come into my thinking,” he said after posting 79. “If anything, I sort of leaked one right yesterday in the practice round and hit it OB right. So I was trying to guard against that a little bit, and a little bit too much right hand and got the ball going left.”

But only because someone painted did we have to turn up the lights, print refunds and spoil a special moment. Worse, a course that could be the best on the rota is stained by the work of paint cans.

There is time to recover and the future Opens here should reconsider the OB because the retention of the internal out-of-bounds screams of trying to put players on the defensive and influence scoring. Traditionally such chintzy measures backfire and they certainly did during Thursday’s cinematic return to Northern Ireland.

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