Postage Stamp licks those who get on wrong side

US golfer Bubba Watson blasting out of the Coffin Bunker at the side of the eighth hole at Royal Troon, on his way to a triple-bogey six. The Postage Stamp is one of the most unforgiving par threes.
US golfer Bubba Watson blasting out of the Coffin Bunker at the side of the eighth hole at Royal Troon, on his way to a triple-bogey six. The Postage Stamp is one of the most unforgiving par threes.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • The first round of the Open Championship was played in the most benign conditions - warm, dry and with only a gentle breeze. But it could not prevent the iconic par-three eighth, the fabled Postage Stamp, demonstrating once again that even the shortest of challenges can go a long way to wrecking a scorecard.

Poor Bubba Watson had a nightmare.

If ever there was a grouping that captured the Postage Stamp's potential to be as sticky on one side as it is pretty on the other, it was that which had the big-hitting American alongside Rory McIlroy and Hideki Matsuyama, when all three were on the leader board.

Like many others on a relatively forgiving day, McIlroy posted a birdie, albeit with a friendly roll off the high side of the green.

His half-hit nine-iron came to rest two feet from the hole, where his putt made up for the nine he carded in practice.

Watson, joint leader at the time, carded a triple-bogey six.

A wedge plugged his ball so close to the back of the Coffin Bunker - a long, rectangular hazard to the left of the green - that he turned his back on the flag and deliberately splashed his second into rough behind the putting surface.

There, he misjudged his lie so badly that he needed two more chips and a couple of putts.

In the end, he signed for a one-under 70, which underlined how costly the eighth hole had been.

"I hit one bad shot all day," he said. "And I hit it on the wrong (hole). That hole has been killing me all week, even in practice. If that swing had been on another hole, I probably could have saved par or at least a bogey."

The Coffin Bunker - so called because, if you go in it, you are dead - claimed numerous victims.

Matteo Manassero copied Watson's escape route to record a double bogey. James Heath hit his ball back towards the tee on his way to a triple.

If only they had the touch of Sergio Garcia, who proved its playability by chipping out and salvaging par.

In modern sporting parlance, the Postage Stamp is a byword for precision. Just as a footballer scores with a free kick into the top corner, so does a strong golf hole reward the best shots.

Phil Mickelson's sumptuous wedge flew over the flag, spun back towards it and set up a tap-in birdie.

That it has remained relevant, despite the march of technology, is a tribute to Willie Fernie, who designed it 138 years ago.

"The best par threes in the world are all under 150 yards," world No. 4 McIlroy said. "I really don't get these par threes nowadays that are 250, 260. It takes a lot of the skill out of it. It took me six shots to get out of that bunker the other day, but it's a great hole. There should be more like it."

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2016, with the headline 'Postage Stamp licks those who get on wrong side'. Print Edition | Subscribe