Golf / Open Championship 1992: Testing times on the course with the hazard at both ends: Muirfield's first and last holes are two of the the most arduous in Open championship golf

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The Independent Online
THEY total a half-mile in yardage, but when the wind is blowing hard or a championship is moving towards its conclusion, these two par fours can be as demanding as a half-marathon. The first and the 18th holes at Muirfield, the course's book-ends, are the most severe opening and closing holes in Open championship golf.

After the 1959 Walker Cup had ended in the customary American victory, the secretary of Muirfield, one Colonel Brian Evans-Lombe, noted that the home team were incredibly poor starters and horribly indifferent finishers and that their poor play on these holes was a large factor in their defeat. The amateurs were not the first or last to fall foul of these two holes. An Italian playing in his first Open began with a nine in 1966. And, as for the 18th, Opens have been won and lost on its 450 yards.

The two holes stand as perfect examples of golf-course architecture circa the 1920s, when Harold Colt beefed up the existing course. The holes rely for their defence on a wind, which is nearly always present, strategically placed bunkers, and the requirement of two well-hit and accurate strokes to reach the green and two firm putts to realise par fours.

'The first is a real ball-buster of a hole,' Tom Watson, the 1980 Open champion at Muirfield, says. 'It gets you off to a real hard start. There is very little room for the drive and when the prevailing wind is blowing, it is into your face. So the second shot is not easy either.'

The 447-yard hole bends slightly to the right. A bunker is positioned on the left of the fairway at about the landing area for the average player. If there is no wind this bunker is not in play for the professionals but if the wind is blowing then it has to be taken into account as well.

'Then there are a couple of short long holes and you can regain your breath,' Watson says. 'The opening holes at Muirfield are like a prize fighter. After they have hit you in the stomach they give you a chance to get on the ropes and get your breath back.'

The 18th, which measures one yard longer than the first, demands even more respect. The problem, so typical of Muirfield, is the bunkers. There is one on the right of the fairway, two a little further on and to the left and four guarding the green. They are placed to cause the maximum disruption.

In 1959 Gary Player, who had begun eight strokes behind the leader in the days when 36 holes were played on the final day, needed a four for a 66 that would certainly have been unmatchable by anyone behind. He made one mistake all day and this was it. He drove in to a bunker.

'The bunkers on the left are about 250 or 260 yards out,' Nick Faldo, the Open champion at Muirfield in 1987, says. 'I generally play a two or three-wood and hope to end just short of them. Then it can be a mid-iron to get to the green.' In the fourth round five years ago, Faldo used a three- wood from the tee and a five-iron. The previous day, however, when a tempest roared across the course, Faldo needed a driver and a two-iron to get home.

These fairway bunkers can be taken out of play. Dave Thomas did so in 1966. With a wind at his back he hit a drive measured at 385 yards, thus getting past all the trouble.

For shorter hitters, there is a gamble to be taken. 'You can try and be clever and go to the right side of the fairway, a gap of no more than 25 yards,' Faldo says. 'But you might run out of fairway and end in the rough, which is no good or, worse still, if you have hit a slight draw and the prevailing wind is blowing then your ball will come in on that wind and you might catch the last bunker.'

The green slopes up from the front to the middle and then levels out. To reach it is hard because it is surrounded by four bunkers, including one that has an island of grass in its centre.

Once the green is reached, two putts are by no means a certainty. Faldo was 35 feet away in two in 1987 and had to sink a knee-trembler of a four-footer for his 18th successive par. Gary Player could not match that. He reached the green in three in 1959 and then three-putted. He then had an agonising wait before he realised that he could not be caught.

'They're very tough holes, a pair of beauties,' Faldo concluded. 'Two fours are good scores. A birdie on the 18th? What's that? I don't think I've ever had one.'

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