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‘Railway’ hole derails top golfers at Troon

By Steve Douglas Associated Press

TROON, Scotland – Bill Haas struck his drive on the 11th hole, immediately flung his arm to the right, and asked his caddie: “Am I gonna find that?”

Next up was Charl Schwartzel, who leaked his tee shot even further right and onto a rail track adjacent to the fairway. Looking straight ahead, he shook his head and stuck out his right hand in a signal for another ball.

Just two of the many players finding it tough at “The Railway” hole at the British Open on Thursday.

At 482 yards, the par-4 No. 11 ranked as the hardest hole at Royal Troon, just like it did in 2004. It averaged 4.7 shots, more than one of Troon’s three par-5s and almost as much as the other two. Fourteen players made worse than double-bogey, and David Duval, Steven Bowditch, and Kristoffer Broberg walked off with 9s.

“Let’s be honest,” said Bubba Watson, who bogeyed No. 11, “that hole fits nobody’s eye.”

Looking out from the tee box, there’s danger everywhere on the hole at the far end of the links course. First of all, it’s a blind tee shot with a 218-yard carry over a mass of gorse bushes covering the view of a tight fairway. A rail track runs the length of the hole to the right, with trains to and from nearby Glasgow and Ayr running in both directions about every five minutes. On the other side of the track, horses roam beside a couple of houses.

“There’s usually a train coming,” Kevin Na said to the gallery, having backed away from a shot from the thick rough on hearing a train approach. “One goes that way, and one comes back.”

To the left, there’s more heather. And then there’s the wind off the nearby Irish Sea to contend with. All in all, it’s a daunting shot, even for a driver of the quality of Rory McIlroy.

“You try to make a 4 four times this week,” McIlroy said of the 11th. “Then you’re going to do very well.”

Paul Casey spent almost a minute with his caddie sizing up his drive, assessing where to aim in relation to the 20-meter-high TV camera in the distance. His tee shot ended up drifting slightly right, settling in a mound of thick rough on a downhill slope. All he could do was hack out.

Matt Fitzpatrick of England was one of 10 players to shoot 7 on No. 11. He thought he struck his tee shot well, only for the wind to push it right and into a wall between the rail track and the heather.

“All of a sudden, the wind was off the left rather than into,” Fitzpatrick said. “Reload.”

As if the drive isn’t hard enough, the green also is well protected. There’s a deep bunker on the front left of the green, which Na hit into and was forced to play out backward. It’s a narrow line into the putting surface, with the wall five yards to the right of the green.

Much of the carnage on No. 11 came early. Of 21 players in the first seven groups of the day, only five posted a par or better. The group containing former champions Sandy Lyle and Duval as well as British amateur champion Scott Gregory took 23 shots between them.

Matt Jones of Australia was in a share of the lead on 5 under par until he met the treacherous No. 11. His tee shot landed on the train track and he had a 6.

“You see nothing but trouble,” Jones said.

Six players in the 156-man field made a birdie there, with only one – from Richard Sterne – coming from the morning starters when the wind was up. When the wind died down in the afternoon, Andrew Johnston and Matt Kuchar both shot 3s in the same group and there were fewer big numbers. Leader Phil Mickelson parred the hole.

Expect more trouble for the rest of the week.

“The 11th hole is one of the toughest holes I’ve ever played,” Billy Horschel said. “It’s just a scary tee shot.”

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