Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Harrington, Westwood defend decision to lengthen Road Hole

Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood, two of the leading lights for this week's 150th Anniversary Open Championship, have strongly defended the controversial decision to build a new tee at the Road Hole at St Andrews.
The move to extend the most famous hole in golf by 40 yards to 495 yards has been met with some criticism, with US Open champion Graeme McDowell predicting "carnage" this week if the par-4 is played into a headwind. He also said he believed the change would lead to a lot of players "laying up" and trying to get down in two putts to save par.
However, two-time winner Harrington and Westwood, the world No 3, both said they supported the change after playing the 'new' 17th for the first time in the build up to the world's oldest major.
Harrington, for all he reveres golf's traditions, believes the sport should never stand still. "You do realise they used to play this course from the greens to the tees, so they've changed that many times," said the Irishman. "Everything was different, the (Old Course] hotel was different. There wasn't a whole wing at that hotel ten years ago. Anybody goes on about they don't want change, it's changing all the time. Everything evolves."
He added: "It's an intimidating tee shot and a tight fairway but the way I look at it you always want to make sure that the guy who wins the Open is tested at some stage coming down the stretch. It's no problem with length and it's the same angle, it's just playing as a big hole - as it should be at the end of championship golf.
"There is no-one going to get through 16 holes without thinking about it for four days. It's what you were used to seeing on the TV years ago and exactly what they need." Westwood believes the change, which was suggested by the R&A and received the support of the St Andrews Links Trust, the body that runs the Old Course, is "an improvement". He said: "Obviously it's longer but the line hasn't changed a great deal, it's still pretty similar. The wall on the right comes into play more and the rough on the left-hand side is very thick so you obviously don't want to be there.
"It's good, though the one thing I will say is that regardless of where the flag is you tend to only play for the front or certain spots anyway. I was about 30 yards behind where I have been on average in recent years and would say it was a difference of two clubs for the second shot. It was a driver and a 5-iron today."
Having heard that fellow Scot Martin Laird had still been hitting a 7-iron for his second shot in a recent practice round, Paul Lawrie said he didn't see what the fuss was about.
"The idea is to try and put the driver back in your hand and if they succeed with that then it's a good change," said the 1999 champion.
On McDowell's comment about laying up, Lawrie added: "It could be bone dry and you have an 8 or 9-iron to hit. I struggle to see anyone laying up if they have a 9-iron in their hand. But then Graeme has his gameplan and he showed at Pebble Beach it was the right one for him. I'll see what I decide to do when I get there."
Tony Jacklin, the man who finished fifth behind Jack Nicklaus on the Old Course 40 years ago, believes the change will create a "70-30 ratio" of balls in the left rough this week. "You have to bite off more of the hotel now and I suspect the rough to the left will still get worn out even though it is thick over there," said the Englishman. "It was a good hole anyway and is a matter of conjecture whether it was necessary - obviously somebody thought it was necessary."
One player who believes the change will lead to less disasters at a hole where Tommy Nakajima and David Duval have been among the biggest casualties in past Opens is Andrew Coltart. "I don't quite understand why the R and A have done it," said the man who joined forces with Colin Montgomerie and Sam Torrance to win the Dunhill Cup on the Old Course in 1995 and is also in the field this week.
"Because they are concerned about the technology aspect of the game they've brought in the rule about grooves in an effort to shorten the distance the golf ball flies. Then they go and stick a tee 40 yards back at one of the toughest holes in the game.
"I also think the 17th is a tougher second shot when you are going in with a 9-iron or a wedge. You're going at a target with the Road Hole bunker on one side and the road itself on the other and it's so easy to end up on the road or even out of bounds if you are going at the flagstick.
"If you are 30-40 yards further back you are going to be going in with a 4 or 5 iron and that takes the bunker and the flag out of play. You are going to be running it up and that makes it easier. I think you are going to see less 6s, 7s and 8s than you would if you were bringing the bunker and the road into play."



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