Railway's story of hard lines

Tim Glover explains how the 11th hole became a whole lot of trouble
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When The Open Championship was held at Royal Troon in 1982 and 1989, the 11th hole was a modest par-five of 481 yards and they plundered it. "It was the easiest hole in relation to par and everybody was looking for birdies," Brian Anderson, the resident professional of the Ayrshire links, said. So they changed it.

Two winters ago the Greens Committee decided to trim 18 yards off the length and turn it into a par-four of 463 yards. "Now they are looking to save par," Anderson said. "It's a magnificent hole."

Tiger Woods might not agree. In the first round he drove into a gorse bush and finally slumped off with a triple-bogey seven.

Yesterday he did remarkably well to escape with a five after his drive landed in the jungle on the left and he was so deeply entrapped in what he describes as "the junk" that he decided to put on his waterproof trousers before addressing his ball. He took an almighty heave and moved it about 50 yards into even deeper junk.

Finally he learned the lesson of taking his medicine, hacking out to the fringe of the fairway from where he played a great chip to within a few feet of the flag, but he had not escaped unscathed. Coming out of the heavy stuff he had scratched his right arm, dealing with the damage by the application of a towel. If the boy could drive straight he'd be even more of a contender at Troon.

The 11th is called The Railway because the Glasgow-Ayr line runs along the right-hand side. A succession of garish orange trains work the route, although yesterday spotters caught a rare sight of the Royal Scotsman.

It is incredibly difficult to make a Stradivarius out of a railway sleeper, although Fred Couples came close yesterday with an eagle two, the first at the hole in the championship. There were only four birdies in the first round, seven in the second and two in the third. There have been almost as many bogeys as pars - on day one there were 64 bogeys and 34 double-bogeys.

With an average score well in excess of 4.5, The Railway is ranked the most difficult hole in the championship and has defended that reputation through every round thus far. The only players yesterday to enjoy the ride on the 11th were Couples, Per-Ulrik Johansson, who hit the pin with his approach shot, Robert Allenby and Jim Furyk. The last three recorded birdies.

The pin was positioned just right of centre of the green and, with almost no wind to speak of, the flag hung limply. But, even given these benign conditions, the players still couldn't master the hole.

The Railway, with out of bounds on the right, presents the player with an intimidating drive. They tend to aim left, but too far in that direction and they are in the gorse and the whins. It's almost a no-win situation. Even a good drive requires an excellent second shot and the vast majority fall short of the slightly elevated green, leaving themselves with an awkward chip. That is why so many fives are recorded there.

Strolling along by the side of the old brick wall that flanks the railway line, I stepped on a ball that had been buried beneath two feet of rough. A Dunlop 65, it looked like a collector's item. Perhaps it belonged to Henry Cotton. But for the fact that it was an antique, it could have been one of Tiger's.

"The changes to the 11th have given Troon the toughest back nine holes in championship golf," Anderson said.

Pedants would argue that, because of the alteration to The Railway, Woods' 64 in the third round should stand as a course record rather than equalling the same score registered by Greg Norman in the fourth round of The Open here eight years ago.

Darren Clarke, the Ulsterman who led the field at nine under par at the half-way stage, was going along like a train until he too became derailed at The Railway. He had progressed to 13 under par for the championship when his drive at the 11th flew into the jungle on the right and he, like Woods, emerged with a bogey five.

Follow the action: Today's tee-off times

(GB or Irl unless stated)

08.50 P McGinley, C Pavin (US)

09.00 B Andrade (US), P Mitchell

09.10 *B Howard, T Tolles (US)

09.20 W Riley (Aus), M O'Meara (US)

09.30 J Kernohan (US), P-U Johansson (Swe)

09.40 N Faldo, J Payne

09.50 S Stricker (US), P Terevainen (US)

10.00 P Senior (Aus), G Turner (NZ)

10.10 J Spence, R Russell

10.20 M Bradley (US), T Lehman (US)

10.30 R Boxall, G Clark

10.40 J Nicklaus (US), P Stewart (US)

10.50 M McNulty (Zim), A Magee (US)

11.00 J Coceres (Arg), A Cabrera (Arg)

11.10 T Purtzer (US), J M Olazabal (Sp)

11.20 B Faxon (US), J Kelly (US)

11.30 J Maggert (US), V Singh (Fiji)

11.40 R Davis (Aus), D Tapping

11.50 D Love (US), D Duval (US)

12.00 B Langer (Ger), D A Russell

12.10 S Jones (US), J Haas (US)

12.20 R Goosen (SA), C Montgomerie

12.30 F Nobilo (NZ), T Kite (US)

12.40 M Calcavecchia (US), M James

12.50 P O'Malley (Aus), S Maruyama (Japan)

13.00 E Els (SA), P Harrington

13.10 P Mickleson (US), I Woosnam

13.20 C Strange (US), G Norman (Aus)

13.30 J Lomas, S Appleby (Aus)

13.40 T Watson (US), P Lonard (Aus)

13.50 L Westwood, R Allenby (Aus)

14.00 T Woods (US), J Furyk (US)

14.10 E Romero (Arg), S Ames (Trin)

14.20 J Leonard (US), F Couples (US)

14.30 D Clarke, J Parnevik (Swe)

* denotes amateur