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The 151st Open

A fabulous finish


17 and 18 at Royal Liverpool

Tommy Fleetwood on the 17th tee at Royal Liverpool

When the finishing holes at Royal Liverpool were given a makeover ahead of The 151st Open, it was hoped the new-look closing stretch would deliver drama in abundance and a genuine sense of unpredictability.

Mission accomplished.

Between them, Hoylake’s brand-new par-3 17th and lengthened par-5 18th played host to every score from one to 10 across the four days of the Championship.

There were plenty of birdies to be had, together with five eagles on 18 and an unforgettable ace for Travis Smyth on 17.

Yet while there were certainly opportunities to score on each of the last two holes, they both offered little margin for error, a fact underlined by the fact they produced a joint total of 58 scores of double-bogey or worse.

Despite the wide variation in scoring, the 17th and 18th each played close to par overall. The former yielded an average score of 3.12 for the Championship, while the average on 18 was 4.98 and exactly 5 on the final day.

We take a look at what made both holes so special, with reflections from Martin Ebert - the course architect who oversaw the changes made to Hoylake ahead of The 151st Open.

Little Eye

Named ‘Little Eye’ in recognition of the small island in the Dee Estuary that can be seen from the green, the new 17th understandably captured plenty of attention in the lead-up to The 151st Open.

“There was so much talk of it leading up, during The Open and after The Open, so it’s incredible how it captured the imagination of players, spectators, TV viewers and the press,” said Ebert.

Fans gather by the 17th green during a practice round at Royal Liverpool

Fans gather by the 17th green during a practice round at Royal Liverpool

The stunningly picturesque hole measured just 136 yards on the card and ultimately played shorter than that on each day of the Championship.

Yet every player who teed it up on 17 knew they could not afford to be anything other than precise with their opening shot, given the dangers surrounding an infinity green with significant fall-off areas on all sides.

Smyth, who made a double-bogey five on day one, showed what was possible when he holed a nine-iron in round two to send the packed grandstands around the tee and green into raptures, while there were also 65 birdies on the hole.

However, that figure was outweighed by 72 bogeys, 15 double-bogeys and seven card-wrecking sixes as a host of players paid a heavy price for missing the putting surface.

Sand surrounded the green on all sides, with the area to the back of the green and a pot bunker to the right particularly punishing.

Viktor Hovland escapes from a perilous position at Royal Liverpool's 17th

Viktor Hovland escapes from a perilous position behind the 17th green

As a result, every tee shot at Little Eye felt like an event, with a fantastic atmosphere generated as each group arrived on the tee and keen anticipation thereafter as player after player sought to hold their nerve.

The fact that the spectators were flocking to those grandstands was great,” Ebert added.

“I thought it might play under-par because of the short nature of the hole and the fact that the wind didn’t blow that much.

“So it presented a tougher test than we perhaps expected overall, but when golfers were missing the green they were able to show off their fantastic short-game skills. Obviously when they got into real difficult positions that’s when the big scores arrived, but I did see some incredible demonstrations of bunker shots and recovery shots from around the green, so that was great, to see these great players demonstrate their brilliant skills.

“And in this day and age when power is so important this was really a test of pinpoint accuracy and that was refreshing, I think.”

No competitor fared better on the 17th than the Champion Golfer of 2016, Henrik Stenson, who parred the hole on Friday and made a birdie two on each of the other three days.

Henrik Stenson lines up a putt

Henrik Stenson, who had the best record of the week on the 17th

The newest recipient of the Claret Jug, Brian Harman, was rock solid as he carded four pars on the hole – a return any player would surely have accepted at the start of the week.

“It just shows that well-designed short par-3s can be really entertaining to watch,” said Ebert.

“It gets the players’ attention when they come to play it. I think it was quite tricky for them with the wind situation there. They were always walking ahead, outside of the grandstand area, just to sample the wind conditions.

"So clearly it was a difficult thing for them to judge with the Open infrastructure around. But it was great to see them take it on.”


The scores on 17

7 sixes

15 fives

72 fours

304 threes

65 twos

1 hole-in-one


A truly unpredictable finish

Considerable focus may have been applied to 17, but there was arguably even more unpredictability and excitement to be seen on Royal Liverpool’s final hole.

The view from the grandstand at Royal Liverpool's 18th

The view from behind the 18th green at Royal Liverpool

With out-of-bounds running down the length of the hole to the right, the par-5 18th had already gained a reputation prior to 2023 as a wonderful risk-reward challenge.

Yet that challenge was even tougher in The 151st Open, with the hole approximately 50 yards longer and the angle of the tee shot changed to bring the internal out-of-bounds more into play than ever before.

“Eighteen was in the shadow of 17 to a certain extent, I guess, but it was a great by-product of the 17th hole project that the 18th could be extended so much,” Ebert explained.

“That clearly brought the out-of-bounds into play a lot more down the right-hand side. And that was actually brought in so that it was a tighter tee shot.”

Only five players made eagle at 18 all week, with defending Champion Cameron Smith and Harman, the man who succeeded him, both doing so in round two after spectacular approach shots.

“Obviously Brian Harman managed an eagle by hitting the green in two on the Friday, so it was very playable still,” Ebert continued. “But again it really did capture the attention.

“The last thing players wanted to do was miss it right, so again there were some big scores recorded but it was great to see the eagles and birdies were still there as well."

Thirty per cent of the scores on the hole were birdie fours, but 18 only played under-par for the week by the narrowest of margins as 36 players dropped two shots or more in a single visit.

Taichi Kho suffered most of all, carding a 10 on day one, while there were also three quadruple-bogey nines and six triple-bogey eights.

From fantastic threes to a double-figure score, this was a hole that had everything.

“Again it’s that variety of score,” said Ebert. “That’s how we would judge the quality of a par-5 – they’re always going to produce birdies and eagles but are there the bigger scores as well?

“I wasn’t expecting the scores to be quite so high. A 10 is extraordinary, obviously, but it just shows the mental side of the game. When you’ve got out of bounds or real trouble around a green like at 17, clearly it can affect players’ thinking before they play the hole and when they do miss it, having to reload on 18 for instance becomes even more pressure-filled.”


The 18th at Royal Liverpool

The approach to the 18th green

The scores on 18

1 ten

3 nines

6 eights

26 sevens

52 sixes

232 fives

139 fours

5 threes


Noren's unique statistic

The unpredictability of 17 and 18 is perhaps summed up best by the fact just one player, Alex Noren, parred both holes on all four days of the Championship.

Champion Golfer Harman played 17 and 18 superbly throughout the week, recording a three-under total of 29 that was matched by Stenson, Smith, Scottie Scheffler and Oliver Wilson.

Only three players could beat that aggregate. Louis Oosthuizen, the Champion Golfer in 2010, was five-under on 17 and 18, while Laurie Canter and Cameron Young played the holes in four-under, the latter parring 17 and birdieing 18 in each round.

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