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The 148th Open Royal Portrush

Royal Portrush


The back nine on Sunday

Shane Lowry walking down the 18th hole

Picture the scene...

The sun is lowering in the sky, the waves are crashing on the beach and the gulls are swarming above, desperate to catch a view below as the world’s greatest players face the hardest test in golf.

There is nothing quite like the back nine of The Open. And, at Royal Portrush today, one by one, each contender will stand on the tenth tee, take out a driver, draw a deep breath, and then throw their first swing on a road they pray will end with the Claret Jug – and sporting immortality.

The Open boasts ten of the finest golf courses in the world on its rota, each presenting different challenges, each providing different pitfalls.

Royal Lytham & St Annes is pockmarked with bunkers – each capable of entrapping its victim and ending any title charge – while the Barry Burn snakes through Carnoustie, drawing in balls like a moth to a flame. St Andrews can crush a dream through the weight of history alone.

The back nine on Championship Sunday is naturally beautiful, but overcoming it is a different prospect entirely. Navigating it earns the victor the title of Champion Golfer of the Year. And deservedly so.

However, The 148th Open has brought a fascinating sub-plot. The last nine holes are largely untried. A blank canvas ready to be explored.

The first three days of competition have offered the field a taste of what is to come - with Shane Lowry's five back-nine birdies on Saturday proving there are scores to be made - but the real feast will take place today. And what a feast it will be.

The back nine of the Dunluce Course is a wild, thrilling ride book-ended by a pair of par-fours.

The tenth, a 447-yard dogleg to the right marks a testing start with bunkers both sides of the fairway, while the 11th – first added in 1939 – has become a par-four for the Championship.

“The 11th is a very strong hole. All the players will be relieved to come out with a par-four there,” Royal Portrush professional Gary McNeill said.

There is only one par-five on the back nine, making it a hard part of the course to shoot low on, and the 12th – named Dhu Varren – ends a five-hole stretch that is regarded as the toughest on the course.

McNeill added: “This green will be in range for the majority of the players. But it is a tough green, it sits up and has a false front. There will be some interesting pin positions.

“There is also a stream on the right and that has been brought closer to the green. It’s very much in play and all the players will be wary.”

The first of two par-threes – Feather Bed – comes next, with its intimidating view from the tee due to an army of guarding bunkers, while the 14th – Causeway – takes players back towards the exposed ocean.

At the 15th – Skerries – the walk to the green offers breath-taking views of the Antrim coastline but any player caught up in the scenery could be caught out by the hole – a 427-yard par-four.

The undulation is perhaps the most surprising thing about Royal Portrush and perhaps only Turnberry can match it for its dramatic climbs.

The highest the players will trek is to the 16th, one of the most picturesque holes in all of golf. At the course’s highest point, there is little protection from the wind that blows in from the Atlantic.

A deep ravine stalks the players from tee to green down the right-hand side while, at 230 yards, it is a punishing par-three.

Go right and you could be as much as 100 feet below the green. Go left and you’ll find Locke’s Hollow, named after four-time Champion Golfer Bobby Locke.

“He arrived here in 1951, took one look at this hole and decided he would play there each day,” McNeill said, describing a bowl-shaped dip safely to the left.

“It is one of the highest holes on the course, so the views are spectacular but if the wind gets up then it will be so hard to putt from, let alone shoot from the tee.

“It is immense and one of the most famous par-threes around. There will be some drama there.”

Indeed there has been so far a could yet be more today. It’s not called Calamity Corner for nothing after all.

Escape there unscathed and the field is presented with one of the great conundrums of the round. Do you take a driver on the 17th?

Do so, and nail it, then this par-four becomes far easier with a huge slope ready to carry the ball down towards the green.

But it takes a 300-yard hit to get there and if the radar is slightly off then the ball will run into trouble. The smell of home and the sight of the 18th could well lean players towards a cavalier approach. Either way, it’s one of the most thrilling shots of the week.

A par-four 474-yard dogleg, 'Babington's' will finish the round and it has already scuppered many a player this week. Local hero Darren Clarke made triple-bogey there on Friday to miss the cut, for example

Royal Portrush is blessed with some of the finest scenery in golf but for the winner, be it Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka or someone else, there will be no greater sight than the welcoming grandstands that tower around the 18th green.

The Claret Jug awaits. The journey to get there will be thrilling.

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