Billy Horschel was in no doubt.
Although he actually got his par at the 11th on his way to a highly respectable four-under 67, he sees the 482-yard par-four hole as a challenge like no other. “I think it is one of the toughest holes I’ve ever played,” the American said. “It’s just a scary tee shot. You just can’t see where you’re going.”
The last time the Open was played on these links, in 2004, the 11th hole was rated the toughest with an average score of 4.41. Horschel said that this week his caddie had told him that Jack Nicklaus used to play two iron from the tee followed by a two iron from the fairway – the hole was slightly shorter back then – and treat it as a par 4.5 from which he would be happy to finish two over for the tournament.
“The way the fairway angles and the way the wind comes in and off the left, it’s just a tough tee shot, especially for a right-handed golfer,” Horschel said. “There’s gorse about 250 [yards] and there is this mound with a lot of nasty stuff behind it that’s about 285. If it’s not blowing into me I can carry that so my right line can be a little further right, but if it’s into me I can’t do that. The longer guys can. It’s just a scary tee shot.”
David Duval, the 2001 champion, knows all of that now after he had a nine there while his playing partners Sandy Lyle, who lifted the Claret Jug in 1985, and Scott Gregory outperformed him with treble-bogey sevens. Eleven over for the group sounds like the stuff of a pub society.
Gregory, the 21-year-old amateur champion from Portsmouth, completed his front nine in 33 but began to unravel with a bogey at the 10th and, after dropping three more at the 11th, followed up with another triple bogey, a double bogey, four bogeys and a birdie and signed for a 78.
Steven Bowditch of Australia was another to come up with a nine and is unlikely to be around for the weekend after finishing at eight over, although Italy’s Matteo Manassero followed his seven with three successive birdies from the 14th to get his score back to a respectable one under. Matt Fitzpatrick, who won the Open’s silver medal for lowest amateur score in 2013, also took seven at 11 but made par from there on in and signed for a two-over-par 73.
Matt Jones knocked one on to the Ayr-Glasgow railway line, although he was honest enough to admit he was not sure if it finished there as he looked away. “It’s a very tough tee shot because you see nothing but trouble,” the 2015 Australian Open champion said. “You see the gorse left, which is re-tee anyway, and you see trouble right with the train track. The wind’s off the left, so you have to hit driver. And I just got underneath it and hit it right, then I made a great double bogey actually.”
South Africa’s Richard Sterne may not be the most recognisable golfer around but for a long time he was in a class of his own, the only man in the field to pick up a shot at the 11th, although he was joined in mid-afternoon and with a changing wind by, among others, Justin Leonard and Mark Calcavecchia, former Troon champions both and playing in the same group, and Matt Kuchar and Tommy Fleetwood.
“It’s playing a lot easier this afternoon,” Leonard, the champion in 1997, said after his commendable 70. “I hit driver up there and a five iron into about 12 feet or so and made the putt. It’s a much easier hole. I watched a bit of TV coverage this morning, about 10 minutes or so, and saw where the guys were driving it too on 4 and 6 and we weren’t able to get there, so I’m sure it was playing differently this morning.”
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