'Tough' pin positions leave players needled

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As if it was not difficult enough to find the fairways and hit the greens, even with not quite so much wind yesterday, the little matter of getting the ball in the hole was none too easy either. The slopes on the greens of St George's have always been of the subtle variety but not the pin placements yesterday.

"They were the toughest pin positions I have ever seen in this tournament," said Jim Furyk. The US Open champion had a 78 to be 10 over par, having taken seven bogeys in the last 11 holes.

Of all the courses on the Open rota, Carnoustie and Royal Lytham are both reckoned to possess fearful closing stretches. But the way the last five holes here have been playing, heartbreaks were again the order of the day. Furyk only managed to par the 17th. Lee Westwood has played the holes in 11 over for the last two days.

Scott McCarron, the American who wields a broom-handle putter, briefly shared the lead at three under par but came home in 41. He took a six at the par-five 14th, where Prince's Golf Club provides the out of bounds line along the right-hand side. He then took three putts at the short 16th and a triple-bogey seven at the 17th.

What would he have given for the back nine of Phil Mickelson, a magisterial 34, one under, which left the southpaw at four over par. "Conditions were easier than the previous afternoon but the pins made it very difficult," he said.

At a regular tournament, the course is usually set up with six greens where the location of the hole is thought to be straightforward, six where they are considered of medium difficulty, and six that are as hard as can be found on that green.

The word from the caddies yesterday was that all 18 were in the most severe category. "The pin placements were on high points and right by big fall-offs," Mickelson explained. "The 16th is a great example. The pin looks like it is right in the middle of the green and there is a lot of space but if you miss it, it rolls down into the pit and you're looking at a four or a five.

"That seemed to be the case throughout the course. If you missed it on the wrong side it was difficult to get it up and down. But if you stayed away from that side, you were left with a 40 or 50-footer for birdie."

Ernie Els, who made four birdies yesterday having drawn a blank on Thursday, adapted to the pace of the greens better but agreed about the difficulty of the hole locations. "They're really tough," he said. "If you get on the wrong side, you can only defend the putt. Even on the first, you'll see guys defending the putt. The pin is right on a mound and there are a few out there cut like that."