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Carnoustie’s 18th hole

Carnoustie's 18th hole

In our series of classic holes, the name Carnoustie set us a puzzle. Ordinarily the par fives of Hogan’s Alley (the sixth) and Spectacles (the fourteenth) would be more than worthy candidates. We’ve tried to consider which hole you’re the most likely to be familiar with however, and perhaps derive the most enjoyment from playing. We’ve also looked for holes that have a compelling narrative. Perhaps times have changed, and the final hole, ‘Home’ has moved onto centre stage in light of events over recent decades.

Ahead of the 2018 Open Championship, the BBC conducted an admittedly small sample poll of the rota’s most feared hole. Perhaps Carnoustie’s eighteenth was upper-most in their thoughts? but the casting vote went to Padraig Harrington, who after his torment of 2007 duly settled the argument in favour of Carnoustie ahead of the ‘Road Hole’ at St Andrews. Interestingly Justin Rose nominated Troon’s ‘Postage Stamp’, but then he did go onto record a remarkable four consecutive birdies on Carnoustie’s closing assignment! Perhaps the secret really is in the head?

The hole itself isn’t the most demanding at Carnoustie by stroke index, but golfers have always endured something of a turbulent relationship with water. The two weren’t really meant to co-exist one increasingly comes to realise such is their magnetic fatal attraction to each other. The hole is defined by a water serpent that snakes its way through the fairway, the now infamous Barry Burn. In all a player has to cross it three times en-route to the sanctuary of the green.

From the tee it snakes across the fairway making it a hazard both long to the left, and short to the right. It continues to whisper on your left shoulder throughout the second shot. A hook is fatal. Finally it performs an evil snap and turns viciously to the right to run in front of the green on a yardage that will frequently ask the question.

The 18th can become even treacherous if the R&A decide to permit the long rough to grow. At 3 feet high on the right of the hole this becomes borderline unplayable. For all this the secret to the eighteenth is relatively straight forward. Know your yardages, and keep it straight.

The modern Carnoustie story, and the role played by the dastardly 18th possibly starts in 1975. With opening rounds of 71, 67 and 69, American debutant, Tom Watson sat three shots off leader Bobby Cole, in a chasing pack that included Jack Nicklaus, Jack Newton, Johnny Miller, Hale Irwin and Neil Coles. The following day Watson shot a solid 72, which included a 20 foot putt on the 18th that would ultimately prove decisive (something Stewart Cink would repeat in 2009 at Turnberry when Watson was the cruel victim). With the weather worsening challenges either failed to materialise or slipped away. As we moved towards the climax, Johnny Miller emerged as the most likely. A par at 18 was all that was required. However, his tee shot found the fairways bunkers on the right. When he failed to escape his fate was sealed. Playing three from halfway up the fairway at Carnoustie is no place to be. The play off would be featuring Watson and Newton.

In these days a full 18 holes were played the following day in a strangely subdued atmosphere. Watson only established the advantage on 14 when chipping in for an eagle, but Newton pushed him all the way to the 18th. When Watson two putted for a regulation score, and Newton’s birdie putt slid past, the deal was sealed by a single stroke.

The 18th hole went into legend however when the Open returned to Carnoustie for the first time again in 1999. Frenchman Jean Van de Velde stood on the 72nd tee with a three shot lead of the Open Championship. As he withdrew a driver from his bag people looked on with incredulity and some audible murmurs of disapproval were clearly heard. He duly hit a wayward shot that went off towards the seventeenth fairway, but it was playable, surely he’d learnt his lesson? Nope!!!. The next club he took was a 2 iron!!! He hit the grandstand and with a wicked bounce found a horrible lie in deep rough. Not to be deterred though he duly turned concern into disaster and chipped into the ‘Barry Burn’ in his attempt to reach the green rather than playing laterally. Assessing his worsening predicament Jean decided the only answer was to go fishing, and began the torturously slow process of theatrically removing his socks and shoes!!! In truth, it was probably this animated act that cost him the Open.

The ball had come to rest on a water shrub. Enough of it was clear of the water to permit a shot. It was this that persuaded him to investigate. Van de Velde later said that the weight of the ball had pushed down on the shrub causing it to dip below the water. No it hadn’t! What he didn’t know was that the burn is tidal. As he continued the ceremonial socks and shoes routine time was ebbing away. The tide was coming in. Had he got straight into the burn and played it, he would in all likelihood have escaped, and been holding the claret jug with wet feet

After much deliberation and surveillance of his stricken ball, he started to take some practise swings. Ultimately common sense prevailed. Contrary to popular folklore Van de Velde didn’t actually try extracting his lie from Davy Jones’s locker and elected to take the penalty drop. His pitch however fared little better and scurried across the putting surface before dribbling into a green-side bunker. He completed a triple-bogey 7 to see him tie and ultimately lose in a play-off to Paul Lawrie. Today his exploits have been cemented into the walls of the Barry Burn by way of a tribute

1999 was pure drama and theatre, you sense the R&A couldn’t wait to get back, and eight years later he we were again. By Saturday evening however, the championship had taken on a decidedly anti-climatic feel. Sergio Garcia had been reduced to tears back in 1999, but in 2007 he stood three shots clear of his nearest challenger, Steve Stricker, who was himself three shots clear of a group including Padraig Harrington. It was going to take a Herculean effort for someone to come from six shots back surely?

García struggled without collapsing. By the time the closing holes came around he had been caught by Harrington who was on fire. The Irishman had clawed himself into the narrowest of leads at 9 under, one ahead of the Spaniard.

Padraig Harrington duly stood on the 18th knowing that a regulation score would likely be enough. Like 1999 however, the Barry Burn was to take a hand. Harrington went into the water not once, but twice. Somehow he managed to salvage a double-bogey six to finish seven under. The pendulum had swung back to García, who now held a one-shot lead. Playing last he only required a par. His second shot found a greenside bunker. He chipped out and left a ten footer for the title. Agonisingly the 18th was being as capricious as ever. The putt lipped out and he had to settle for a playoff.

Ultimately Harrington came to the 18th second time round with a two shot lead, and after having twice found water earlier that afternoon played for a bogey and secured the title

What’s not remembered is that Andres Romero also had one hand on the claret jug that Sunday. He was 9-under after 70 holes with a two-stroke lead, but the Argentine was done in by a double bogey at 17, which he compounded when also becoming yet another victim of 18. He too shot a bogey to finish a single stroke out of the playoff.

Carnoustie is usually played in conjunction with St Andrews. If you fancy beating Van de Velde then you can also play Carnoustie on Faraway Fairways ‘best golf in the world’ suite.

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