Few 'home' comforts as players crash and Burn at at Carnoustie's 18th

The 18th green at Carnoustie

They call the 18th hole “Home”. Talk to those professionals who have to negotiate the 499-yard par four at the end of a tough day on the most difficult course in The Open rotation, however, and they will tell you it offers little in the way of comfort.

In 2007, when Pádraig Harrington lifted the Claret Jug on the last occasion the R&A staged its major championship at Carnoustie, 18 was ranked the most difficult hole, playing that week to an average score of 4.61.

Having twice during the final day’s play sent his ball into the infamous Barry Burn, the stream that winds its way through not just this hole, in play for both the drive and the approach shot to the green, but 17 as well, that year’s Champion Golfer has more reason than most to agree with the statistical analysis.

When I hear the name of Barry Burn, I go straight back to, I lost the British Amateur here like in the last 16 back in 1992,” Harrington said on Monday.

“I doubled the last two holes to lose by one hole. So I’ve got history with this golf course, and certainly the Barry Burn, it’s all about 17 and 18.

“Clearly, it’s strange having played it in 2007. The tee shot on 18 was so difficult. And yet yesterday I played, I hit 4 iron wedge into 18, and it would have been nice, it would have been easy if it was like that.

Padraig Harrington celebrates his Open success with his family in 2007
Padraig Harrington celebrates his Open success with his family in 2007

“As much as the 18th hole is probably the toughest finishing hole in major golf, it is based on circumstances, how you’re doing and how the weather, what sort of conditions you’re playing in.

Yeah, I stood on the tee this week and I looked at where I hit it in the hazard, and you’re going, well, how could you hit it in the hazard in the conditions I faced this week? It was easy enough done in 2007.

“Again, at some stage this week, we’ll expect that there will be some shots out here — and this is why Carnoustie is such a great championship course. There’s always going to be shots that you’re just going to have to grow up and hit. You can’t hide all the time around Carnoustie.”

Harrington speaks of Carnoustie’s 18th, the endpoint in a run of four closing holes he called “brutish”, with a grim relish.

“Out of bounds left off the tee, water left, water right, water short, bunkers straight in front of you. All the complications off the tee that you can possibly think of.

“The second shot, you can hit the green and go out of bounds. We’ve seen that many times. It’s the most difficult closing hole in major championship golf and probably in world golf.

“I could play it 100 times in a row and still be as nervous and excited on the 100th attempt as I was on the first.”

He is not alone. Though 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie believes the par-four 17th is Carnoustie’s toughest hole, he describes 18 as a “great finishing hole”.

Paul Lawrie
Paul Lawrie

“You’ve got to be brave and aim down the left side and hope it doesn’t go left out of bounds or right into the bunkers. You’re not getting it on the green from those bunkers. A very narrow green and big bunker right keeps you on edge until the finish. And not to forget that missing left might see your ball kick out of bounds.

“A demanding end to The Open.”

Too demanding for some. Johnny Miller’s hopes disintegrated there in 1975 as he took two shots to get out of a bunker to see his lead wiped out with a bogey as Tom Watson took his first of five Open victories with a 15-foot birdie putt on his championship debut.

And there was Jean Van de Velde, the Frenchman whose misfortune at 18, a disastrous triple-bogey, wiped out his three-shot lead at the 72nd hole, allowing Lawrie and Justin Leonard into a playoff, which the Scot duly won.

Van de Velde came unstuck with his second shot, which careened off a grandstand railing and landed in thick rough.

From there he chipped into the Barry Burn, where the image of the Frenchman, trousers rolled up his shins as he considered playing from the stream are etched on the minds of golf fans.

He eventually took a drop but went into a bunker and finished with his seven. Leonard bogeyed both the 72nd and the same hole minutes later in the play-off as Lawrie birdied 17 and 18 to win the shootout by three.

And that is the bright side. For all the unfortunates undone at Carnoustie’s ‘Home’, there is always a winner.

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