The 151st Open Championship
Dates: Thu 20-Sun 23 July Venue: Royal Liverpool, Hoylake
Coverage: Live radio and text commentary on the BBC Sport website, with video clips each day. Daily highlights program on BBC Two from 20:00 BST
Standing on the 18th tee on Friday, Tyrrell Hatton was full of the joys of summer. Or as full of the joys of summer as the intense Hatton can possibly be.
He was sitting pretty at two-under and a share of 10th. A par five would preserve that position. A birdie or eagle would improve it. Life was good.
Then life was very, very bad. First drive – out of bounds. Reload – out of bounds. Second reload – hard left. Sixth shot – rough.
From a brief moment it looked like Hatton was about to dig a large crater in the Wirral with his long iron, but he thought better of it. He walked on, ended up taking nine and went from 10th to 50th.
Some jobs in this world are loaded with danger – stuntman, deep-sea diver, landmine remover, crocodile physiologist – but being a reporter with a tape recorder and a smoldering Hatton in your sights is about as anxious as it gets. Approach with caution. Better yet, run away.
Hatton was the latest victim of the vortex of Royal Liverpool, the unpredictable and doom-laden closing holes with the innocuous titles of Little Eye – the dinky par-three 17th – and Dun – the par-five 18th, where many Open Championship dreams went to die on the opening two days.
The Americans love giving names to their toughest stretches of holes. They have Amen Corner and the Bear Trap, the Green Mile, the Horrible Horseshoe and the Cliffs of Doom.
That kind of thing is rare here. The brutal closing holes at Carnoustie don’t have a name, just a noise (a guttural, haunted roar down the generations) and neither do the final two at Hoylake, but boy they’ve got stories to tell.
Brian Harman leads The Open at the midway point. Perhaps he’ll lead it three-quarters of the way through, too. Maybe he’ll get to the 17th on Sunday with a handsome advantage over the field. A two-shot lead? Perhaps three?
Would you bet the house on him seeing it out there with rain expected and possibly a stiff breeze and a world of bunkers staring him in the face?
No disrespect to Harman, who has performed well in his last two Opens and who has been nothing short of magnificent in getting to 10-under, but finishing the deal on Sunday is going to be a test of a different dimension.
You had elite players losing their minds on these holes on Thursday and Friday. Whoever holds their nerve across this terrain on Sunday will be truly worthy of the champion golfer tag. Smelling salts might also be required. And a stretcher.
Phil Mickelson went double-bogey, triple-bogey on Thursday. Rickie Fowler put two out of bounds on 18 in his opening round on his way to an eight. Ryan Fox also took eight. Justin Thomas took nine.
A poor unfortunate called Taichi Kho took 10. Hoylake historians are still trying to figure out, for posterity, how he did it.
Could the 17th hole ruin someone’s career?
The R&A may as well have giant speakers in situ with the Jaws music playing as the leaders head from the 16th green to the 17th tee.
Take a walk out to 17, the new 136-yard par three with its infinity green, its cavernous bunkers, its views of the water and Wales beyond and you’ll find a terrible beauty, a delight to look at but with a nasty temper if you dare to cross it.
A packed gallery of golfing rubber-neckers await you. You can almost hear their disappointment when a ball lands safely on the green. You can practically reach out and touch their excitement when one rolls into a bunker or goes too far left or too long into the kind of areas that carry the risk of a high number.
The legendary caddy, Billy Foster, calls it a “calamity”. He expressed fears that the Claret Jug might be lost by somebody who has hit a perfectly good shot but who has suffered horrendous luck with a bad bounce and a horrible lie in a bunker – coffins, he calls them – that he’d have to come out of backwards to escape.
The storied coach, Pete Cowen, says he “hates it. I haven’t heard a player say a good thing about it. Why would you make a short par three impossible?”
Cowen thinks somebody’s career might be ruined there on Sunday, from champion-elect to chump for all time.
And there was more. Lots more.
Hatton: “It’s a little bit harsh, probably too severe.”
Richard Bland: “Not my cup of tea.”
Jordan Spieth: “It could become carnage.”
Jon Rahm: “It’s fair because it’s unfair to everyone.”
Matt Fitzpatrick: “It’s interesting. I’ll leave it at that.”
In the first two rounds, Little Eye saw everything from a one to a six. It’s not impossible (it was only the ninth toughest hole on Thursday and only marginally harder on Friday) and there are golfers out there who like it.
There was an ace from Travis Smyth on Friday and lots of birdies, but fours and fives are dotted all over the board and those have come in largely mild breezes.
If it blows harder over the weekend then Spieth’s prediction for mayhem could come true. Good luck getting near the 17th if you’re coming to golf. You can’t move for people waiting for a commotion.
There’s a reason that the area around that green is mobbed, a reason why the Just Stop Oil protesters picked the 17th as their target on Friday. All Eyes rather than Little Eye might be a better name for it.
If Sunday’s leader navigates it safely, he’ll still have the 18th to play. Par five with out of bounds right. Statistically, this is one of the easiest holes on the course, but it’s one that has caused isolated destruction to some stellar names.
Some of the best golfers in the world have drilled it over the white posts and behind the stands. Some have done it twice.
Some have gone on and struggled to get it out of the sand, although the new raking in those bunkers from Thursday to Friday means the horrible, unplayable lies of round one weren’t as numerous in round two.
They still occur, though. Those bunkers were fairer on Friday than they were on Thursday but they’re still penal, still plentiful, still potentially ruinous.
Not everyone was Brian Harman. Not everyone pinged it down the middle, thumped it on in two and sank the putt for eagle. It was do-able, but not by many. There were more sevens than threes. Poor Hatton joined a band of brothers with his nine.
So keep watching. Don’t assume on Sunday that a leader with a clear advantage is home free. We’ve been warned and warned again about the vicious sting in Hoylake’s tail. Ask Hatton and the rest. On second thoughts, don’t.