David Lynn tees off on the 17th on Tuesday (Lyons/Getty Images).
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM contributor
When The Open Championship comes to Muirfield, the 17th hole almost always plays a deciding role.
The longest hole on the property measures 575 yards for this year’s Open, usually played in downwind conditions that will tempt golfers into going for the green in two. It’s the classic risk-reward play, with five deep bunkers left of the landing zone.
For those who choose to lay up, a wall of cross bunkers await about 100 yards short of the green. They also obscure the view of the putting surface.
When the Open last came to Muirfield 10 years ago, No. 17 provided the bounceback for Ernie Els after a double bogey nearly killed his chances one hole earlier. A birdie-birdie finish allowed Els to join the four-man, four-hole playoff, which went one additional hole before Els outlasted France’s Thomas Levet.
In 1987, Paul Azinger took a one-stroke lead to Muirfield’s 17th tee, where an ill-advised driver skipped into one of those fairway bunkers. It led to a bogey-bogey finish, surrendering the Claret Jug to Nick Faldo and his 18 Sunday pars.
No. 17 was rife with drama on Sunday of the 1972 Open, where Lee Trevino appeared to be making a mess of the hole when he was over the green in four shots. But the Merry Mex chipped in for par – so stunning playing partner Tony Jacklin that the Englishman three-putted from 20 feet. The result was a one-stroke lead for Trevino, who sealed the deal at No. 18.
Strong downwind conditions helped Jack Nicklaus turn No. 17 into a pitch-and-putt on the final day of the 1966 Open, using a 3-iron off the tee and a 5-iron to reach the green on the way to a clinching birdie.