Henrik Stenson promised train wrecks.
Graeme McDowell expected carnage.
Rory McIlroy was nearly buried in the coffin.
Why do the best golfers in the world shake in their FootJoys as they approach the 123-yard, par-3 eighth hole at Royal Troon? Well, they don’t call the smallest green on the British Open circuit the Postage Stamp for nothing.
Just ask Tiger Woods, whose 1997 Open Championship title hopes were buried in one of the five steep bunkers that guard the tiniest of putting surfaces, daring contenders to take them on from the elevated tee. It has been thus since long before Tiger carded a six there in his third round (see German amateur Herman Tissies’ 15 in 1950), and will torment players long after McIlroy and his peers hang up their spikes.
It’s not that the wild hole can’t be tamed. Gene Sarazan, at 71, made a hole-in-one there in 1973 and Ernie Els did the same in 2004. But those are the exceptions.
"There will be carnage, plenty of carnage. Count on it," Graeme McDowell told USAToday about the hole even before it made him cringe during Thursday’s opening round.
"You can chip a 6-iron to get there, you can hit a wedge. If the wind is howling, all sorts of numbers are going to be recorded on that hole," said McDowell, who escaped with a bogey on Thursday, when the windless Royal Troon offered as benign scoring conditions as one could want. "It’s brilliant. And it’s dangerous."
So dangerous, there may be some pileups, but thankfully not because of the actual choo-choo that runs along the 11th hole.
"Anyone who wants to see potential train wrecks, if it’s blowing hard into us off the left, that left-hand grandstand would be the place to sit and see a player struggle with that right-hand bunker," Henrik Stenson told The Courier. "On the scorecard it doesn’t look much but when the wind is blowing and you’ve got to be precise with a seven, eight or nine iron, something like that, into the wind there, it’s quite tricky."
The dastardly little hole got its name from William Park Jr., 1887 and 1889 British Open champion, who wrote 13 years after a 1909 redesign added that what locals call the "Wee Beastie" had "a pitching surface skimmed down to the size of a Postage Stamp." Or, if you prefer, a "cocktail napkin," as NBC’s Roger Maltbie referred to it on Thursday.
Maybe in theory, but not so much up close and personal, eh, Bubba Watson?
Watson was humming along with the 5-under lead after seven holes into his first round. Then came the eighth, where a triple-bogey ensued, thanks to his tee shot that ended up almost at the foot of a wall in the left bunker.
McIlroy learned his lesson during a practice round. The four-time major champion actually birdied the hole on Thursday, chopping seven (7!) strokes off his score from Tuesday, when he needed six shots to extricate his ball from the front right sandy well, aptly referred to as the coffin.
"I took an 8 or a 9, so that didn't go too well," he said earlier in the week. "Took me five or six goes to get out. ... There is a lot of sand in the bunker. So when the ball just trickles into the bunkers, it doesn't go into the middle.
"That lip there is basically vertical, so it sort of just stayed there," McIlroy added. "And every time I tried to get it out, it would go back into the same spot."
These guys know whereof Rory speaks: