TROON, Scotland (AP) — Rory McIlroy felt the wrath of the Postage Stamp.
Strange, too, since this par-3 hole is more in line with what you’d expect at the local muni, at least from a distance standpoint.
“If you get greedy at all there …,” said Kevin Na, his voice fading off.
The most famous hole at Royal Troon is one of the shortest you’ll find at any major championship. A mere 123 yards at its maximum, roughly the length of an American football field with the end zones included.
But, ohhh, this tiny little patch of Scottish coastline, somehow crammed in between a gully and clinging to a sandhill at the far edge of the course hosting this week’s British Open, is a treacherous place indeed.
Just ask McIlroy, who lofted a tee shot that drifted to the right during a practice round Tuesday.
The ball skidded into a pin-high bunker, one of five penal pits strategically placed around the long but diabolically narrow green.
McIlroy surveyed what he had done, and attempted to play out.
Six swings later, he was finally on the green, having knocked three shots off the stacks of sod that line the pot bunker, two more that actually cleared the lip but rolled back into the sand.
Had he actually been keeping score for real, it would’ve have been a 9.
“That didn’t go too well,” McIlroy said. “There is a lot of sand in the bunker. So when the ball just trickles in back into the bunkers, it doesn’t go into the middle. It sort of stays. Obviously that lip there is basically vertical, so it sort of just stayed there. And every time I tried to get it out, it would go back into the same spot.”
He can only hope that doesn’t happen when the shots start counting for real on Thursday.
“It’s one of those holes where you just try to hit it in the middle of the green,” McIlroy said. “Even though it’s only 115, 120 yards, you just have to not be that aggressive. Try to hit it in the middle. Hitting it into the middle of the green is a good shot, and then take two putts.”
While McIlroy’s struggles were a bit of an anomaly, European Tour up-and-comer Andrew Johnston endured what is likely to be a more common chain of events during the Open.
Late in the afternoon, after the sun broke through the clouds for the first time in days and the nearby Irish Sea glistened in the glow, Johnston struck a tee shot that was right on the flag, careering into the green about 6 feet short of the cup.
Then, the ball spun back off the ledge that serves as another line of defense, not stopping until it had dropped into the front bunker.
Unlike McIlroy, Johnson got it out with one swing, the ball stopping about 12 feet past the flag. But the treacherous downhill putt came up short, leaving him with a bogey if he was actually keep score.
Even for the best players in the world, par is an acceptable score.
“If you make four 3s there this week,” McIlroy said, “you’re probably going to gain a bit of ground on the field.”
The hole got its name when two-time Open champion Willie Park Jr., writing in “Golf Illustrated” sometime after the turn of the last century, described it as a “pitching surface skimmed down to the size of a postage stamp.”
The name stuck, and it couldn’t be more appropriate.
“It’s a special hole the way that the short par 3s of this world are special,” said Colin Montgomerie, no doubt referring to others such as the 155-yard 12th at Augusta National.
“There’s never been a decent par 3 over 200 yards, in my opinion, built. (At) 123 yards, the expectation raises dramatically into, you are on that tee and you are a professional golfer, it’s your job and you’re expected to hit this green at 123 yards. You could throw it on, really. I wish I could. And that’s why it’s difficult.”
When the pin is at the back of the green, the Postage Stamp is especially challenging.
“You have to hit a shot where you know you are going to come up short, or just play to a certain spot, rather than whacking one up there and hoping for the best,” Matthew Southgate said. “It’s one of them where you have to be precise. I’ve got my mind on picking a small target and forget where you are, hit a good yardage and dodge the bunkers.”
On a calm day, it can be easy pickings for the pros.
Of course, this being Scotland, the wind is usually blowing.
That’s when the misery really begins.
“Anyone who wants to see potential train wrecks, if it’s blowing hard into it off the left, that would be the place to sit,” Henrik Stenson said. “On the scorecard, it doesn’t look much, but when the wind is blowing and you’ve got to be precise with a 7-, 8-, 9-iron, something like that, into the wind there, it’s quite tricky.”
That’s what makes a marvelous hole.
The Postage Stamp certainly delivers.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .