'Home' help a desperate need as 18th strikes again

The graveyard for Jean Van de Velde's Open hopes, the feared final hole at Carnoustie, yesterday claimed a number of fresh victims, writes Tim Glover

Every hole is christened with a name and the 18th, for obvious reasons, is called simply "Home". For equally obvious reasons it is not known as "Home Sweet Home". There is nothing remotely cosy about the final challenge at Carnoustie. Forget the pipe and slippers. What you need are nerves of steel, a fair wind and a St Christopher.

Thanks in part to the kamikaze exploits of Jean Van de Velde when the Open Championship was last held on the hallowed links of Angus in 1999, Home has become one of the most notorious holes in golf. The Frenchman, of course, reluctantly entered folklore when, leading the tournament by three strokes, he chalked up a triple-bogey seven via an infamous visit to the Barry Burn. The burn, baby, burn snakes around the fairway like a giant boa constrictor and, viewed from above, it takes the shape of a camel's head.

One of the key features of the 18th - par four, 499 yards - is that there is no escape, or bail out as they say in golf. You have little choice but to use a driver off the tee, and the fairway is a narrow target. The burn meanders along the left - there are sand traps to the right - before taking a sharp right turn to reappear in front of the green.

Yesterday, when Vijay Singh headed for Home, he was one of the few players under par but then he took a six for a round of 71. The Fijian's second shot sailed out of bounds on the left - and he was in good company. Double-bogeys at the 18th were almost par for the course. Ask Ben Curtis, a former Open champion. He was another one who needed to take out Home insurance.

Phil Mickelson, who was pipped in a play-off for the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond last weekend, had a disastrous 77 and at six over par for the championship he was resigned to packing his bags. Mickelson had half a chance of making the halfway cut until he made a mess of the 18th, prompted by an errant tee shot which found the stream. He finished with a six and one of the pre- tournament favourites was left shaking his head.

Refreshingly, Mickelson was not looking for excuses. "I thought it was a really fair test," he said. "There were under-par rounds out there but I just didn't putt well enough to have one of them. I thought I was playing a lot better than this. I don't know why I've played these greens so poorly. The golf course is terrific. I really am impressed."

Like Vijay, Padraig Harrington was going along nicely until Home did for him. He too took a six and returned a 73 to stand at level par for the championship. "It was a disappointing finish," Harrington said, "but it's easy to take a six down the last so it's not like it's completely out of the blue. I don't think it will have any effect on what happens over the next two rounds. There's a lot of golf left in this tournament. Maybe now that I'm level par I'll go out and be a bit more aggressive. Who knows?"

Harrington's demise at the end was not down to some dramatic visit to the burn but to a lapse in putting. He took three strokes to find the cup. The big-hitting Swede Robert Karlsson did a Van de Velde at the 18th, recording a seven after finding the water for a round of 78.

In terms of difficulty, the 18th, with a scoring average in excess of 4.7, was playing the hardest, followed by the 15th, another hardcore par four, which was nearly averaging 4.5. The toughest holes were to be found on the inward nine.

The 18th, though, is the scariest of the lot and only 29 per cent of the field were hitting the green in regulation after the first two rounds. This figure compares to 88 per cent at the 11th. Despite its reputation, a handful of players kept the Home fires burning.

Birdies at the last were rarer than hen's teeth - Angel Cabrera managed the feat as did the South African Charl Schwartzel - and the most remarkable of all was provided by Ewan Porter, a 25-year-old from Sydney playing in his first Open, courtesy of winning the Australasian International final qualifier in February.

Porter began the second round yesterday with a double-bogey six and it did not get much better. Until the death. He went to the turn in 39 and came back in 40 to finish at 20 over par for the championship. Even the veteran Tony Jacklin, who shot 83 yesterday, had a better aggregate than Porter, albeit by one stroke.

But the Aussie, whose earliest memory in golf was getting hit in the back by a ball, left Carnoustie with a warm glow - he got a three at the 18th. Tomorrow anybody on the leader board heading for Home would give the earth to secure a birdie at the last.

At his home golf club, Cronulla, Porter will be able to regale his friends with the story of how Carnoustie brought him to his knees but he got the better of one of the most feared holes on the planet.