The 17th hole at St Andrews is one of the most famous in golf. A brutish par-4 of almost 500 yards, it’s fraught with danger its entire length. Over the years the hole has often played a decisive role in Open Championships. Here we take a look at the men who have conquered the beast and those who have fallen at The Old Course’s penultimate hurdle: These are the Road Hole’s Heroes and Villains.
Constantino Rocca – 1995
Coming to the 17th in the final round of The Open Championship in 1995, Italy’s Constantino Rocca was one off the lead held by John Daly. Having found the left hand rough from the tee, his second shot to the penultimate hole was a bold one, too bold though and it travelled through the narrow green and ended on the tarmac “road” over the back. It’s a devilish shot from there and the chances of getting near to the hole are remote.
Rocca decided to take his putter and trust to luck. His luck held. He took a long swipe at the ball and it struck a small stone almost immediately, the ball leapt four feet into the air, with a huge amount of topspin imparted on it. It touched down again and rumbled up the steep slope and onto the green. It rolled out to within five feet of the hole and Rocca made a miraculous par. The miracles weren’t over though – he moved onto the 18th where he used that putter again from the Valley of Sin to hole out for a birdie and force a playoff.
John Daly – 1995
Less well remembered from 1995 was John Daly’s escape from the Road Hole bunker, a shot that kept his Open dream alive. Daly’s second to the 71st hole found the sand and ended right up into the face of the trap. The in-bunker camera showed just how awkward his predicament was – his ball almost touching a vertical, six-foot revetted wall. There was no way to go straight at the pin, but even escaping to the green looked impossible. Daly went for it though; opening the face of his sand wedge he took a full swing and blasted the ball skywards, narrowly missing his left nostril. It popped out onto the putting surface and he calmly two-putted for a disaster-averting bogey.
Miguel Angel Jimenez – 2010
In 2010, Miguel Angel Jimenez looked to be totally stymied when his ball ran through the 17th green and up against the stone wall behind the road. The charismatic Spaniard wasn’t giving in though. He turned around and punched the ball straight against the wall. It rebounded with some altitude and landed nicely on the green. One of the great Open shots.
Rory McIlroy – 2007
One from the Dunhill Links rather than The Open: In the 2007 event, an 18-year-old Rory McIlroy came to the 17th needing a strong finish to earn playing rights for the following season. He fired in a superb second to a tight pin on the Road Hole that set up a rare birdie three. He then made a three at the home hole, finished third and earned enough cash to secure his card.
David Duval – 2000
In the 2000 Open, David Duval came to the 71st hole on 11-under-par. He had no chance of catching runaway leader and eventual winner Tiger Woods, but he looked good for a strong finish – quite possibly a tie for second with Ernie Els and Thomas Bjorn.
His drive on the 17th was good, down the right side of the fairway, but his approach found the bunker and things unravelled from there. He had two attempts to get out and failed, then he took a penalty drop and blasted out for six, two putts later and he had carded an eight. He finished outside the top-10.
Tom Watson – 1984
Watson had a good chance of winning the 1984 Open Championship as he prepared to play his second to the Road Hole. But the five-time champion lost his footing on his approach and his second ended through the green. He was unable to get up and down from there and, when Seve birdied the home hole at roughy the same time, he was the champion.
Tommy Nakajima – 1978
In the third round of 1978, Tommy Nakajima came to the 17th hole in a tie for the lead; a strong finish and he would have had a chance to be Open champion the following day. Nakajima’s approach to the Road Hole found the front right of the green – a canny shot. Unfortunately his third shot, a putt towards the flag at the back left of the green, was misjudged. It caught the wrong slope and trickled left into the bunker. Four shots to get out and a missed putt and Nakajima had racked up a nine. He finished the event in a tie for 17th.
Rory McIlroy – 2014
Rory in the Dunhill again to finish – Tied for the lead in the 2014 championship with two to go, McIlroy’s approach came up just short of the 17th green. He elected to putt and ride the wall of death around the top of the bunker. The ride ended badly for McIlroy as the putt didn’t have enough speed and it fell into the Road Hole bunker. He got up-and-down for a bogey, but the damage was done and he lost the tournament by a stroke to Oliver Wilson.