A final test of nerve: who will risk it all on the 18th?

Last hole can rival the Belfry for dramatic conclusions as players will be tempted to gamble in pursuit of an eagle

Much is made of the first-tee nerves in the Ryder Cup and the grandstand that was packed at dawn this morning for the opening shots of this 38th transatlantic encounter would grace the closing hole at most other tournaments.

But that is only the start of it. By the time they get all the way to the 18th green the tension is usually unbearable. Of course, in match play, not all matches go the distance, many end out in the country, but those that do are poised on a knife-edge.

When it came to remodelling Celtic Manor to host the Ryder Cup, the architects had a rare opportunity to custom-build a finale especially to test the match-play skills of the best players in the world to the very limit. Given the 575-yard, par-five hole they came up with, it would be a shame indeed if the 18th is not utilised extensively over the next three days.

Lee Westwood, Europe's most experienced Ryder Cup performer on show this year, certainly agrees. "I think 18 is going to be great from a fan's point of view and a player's point of view," he said. "There are so many variables."

For the Wales Open, which is played under stroke-play rules, the hole can be stretched to well over 600 yards and is often played as a "three-shotter". For the Ryder Cup, the back tee has been discarded and the hole may play as short as 545 yards. The intention is to allow the players to attempt the heroic second shot from the crest of the hill down to the green – but over the pond at the front of putting surface.

"It takes two great shots to hit the green in two," said Westwood. The reward would be a putt for an eagle. "But at the same time, if you miss the fairway, I suppose you can hack it down there and still make birdie that way. There are lots of permutations."

Not so much with the hacking. Even if a player lays up to leave a wedge shot for his third, he must be careful not to put too much backswing on the ball. Any shot that lands on the front of the green and starts heading backwards will simply gather momentum down the bank into the water. At the Wales Open, Luke Donald did exactly that. Sevens are as common here as eagles.

Thomas Bjorn, one of Colin Montgomerie's vice-captains, is not the only person to liken the hole to the 18th at the Belfry, which became famous for dramatic Ryder Cup conclusions from Sam Torrance in 1985 and Christy O'Connor Jnr in 1989, as well as a host of watery disasters.

"It could be a tremendously dramatic finale at that hole," said the Dane. "You can just imagine a ball hanging on the brink of the green, threatening to roll in the water with the Ryder Cup on it. It is like the 18th at the Belfry, but maybe even better because the dilemma of whether to go for the green will be that much more pronounced."

Should any matches go to the 18th, the home team will be quite confident knowing that since 1985 they have won 44 games that have gone the distance, while America has won only 27. It has nothing to do with home advantage. At Oakland Hills, in Detroit, in 2004, Europe won seven of the matches that went to the 18th, three were halved and the States only took one win.

"As for why we keep winning the last hole or why we are more successful on the last hole, I really don't know," said Westwood. "I know there is a lot of pressure on the last hole and you've got to – I don't know how to put it other than you have to take your balls in your hand."

Having diverged from strict golfing terminology, Westwood checked to see if the interview was going out live. Told it was, he rephrased: "Great, sorry about that. You know, it takes a lot of guts to play that last hole well."

That was the last mulligan anyone will get on the 18th this week. The huge amphitheatre around the green, crowded yesterday for the opening ceremony, will only add to the atmosphere. Montgomerie said: "Trust me, if you have won your match, the walk up that hill from the 18th green to the clubhouse will be nothing. You'll float up there with a point in your bag. If you've lost, though, it'll be a mountain."

What they've said about the other holes...

Steve Stricker on the first

"It's a straightaway par four where you find the fairway, it's a legitimate birdie opportunity. You have a short iron in your hand. But [it's] a good opening hole. If you miss the fairway, it's tough hitting out of the rough."

Dustin Johnson, also on the first

"Walking into the first-hole stadium sounds as enjoyable as wrapping your arms around a barrel cactus. It looks like the fabled 16th at TPC Scottsdale, the rowdiest hole in golf."

Jim McKenzie, Celtic Manor Director of Golf Courses, on the third

"A dramatic short hole, with water all the way to the green. There's a deep swale at the back of the putting surface."

Colin Montgomerie on the 12th

"Because it will be colder and because we are down in a valley at sea level, the ball will not fly as far. I'll tell my players to be careful."

Graeme McDowell on the 14th

"Fourteen can be a really brutal par four. Going down the left, you've got heavy rough while there's a hazard down the right. Then you have a five or six iron to a very difficult green."

Montgomerie on the 16th

"This is a super hole. It will probably be played into the wind. The second shot here is one of the best on our tour."

McKenzie on the 17th

"This is a great amphitheatre for spectators. There scope for drama with one bunker on the left and five on the right."

Suggested Topics
Actor Burt Reynolds last year
peopleBurt Reynolds, once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, is set to auction his memorabilia
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game