FOR SOME, joy comes from the smile of a toddler. For others, a simple daffodil. For me, it's golf pros getting crushed like a grape under B.B. King.
That's why my favorite hole is the 18th at Carnoustie. It's the most diabolical creation in the world and thus has given me more joy than pizza, Corvettes and Guinness combined.
The 18th puts the Noose in Carnoustie. Like any cruel and beautiful thing—the guillotine, the tommy gun, the trebuchet—you can't take your eyes off it.
There's out-of-bounds all along the left—and a brook that's like Pamela Anderson: delightfully curvy and nothing but heartache as it runs across the fairway not once but twice. Oh, and there's a deep bunker guarding the front of the green. For us golf sadists, it's Xanadon't.
But the best thing about the Noose is that you could play it better than the pros. All you have to do is pretend it's a par-5 instead of a par-4, and you'd make your 5, if not a 4.
Pros, though, have the brains of a Big Bertha, go for 4 and wind up making 6 or worse. At the 1999 British Open, for instance, Jean Van de Velde of France arrived at the 18th with a three-shot lead and proceeded to drive his ball into the rough, two-iron it off the grandstand, knock it into the creek, peel down to his bare feet to inspect his lie in the water, take a drop, chunk his next shot into a bunker, then get up and down for a triple-bogey 7. That sunk him not only into a three-way playoff, which he lost, but also into a funk from which his game has never escaped.
Fast forward eight years, on Sunday, to Padraig Harrington of Ireland, holding a one-shot lead over Sergio García as he comes to the Noose. Harrington, going for the fool's 4, puts his drive into the creek on the right, drops, and then hits the ball—kerplunk—into the same creek, where it winds in front of the green. He gets it up and down from 60 yards for a very good 6, a phrase you can only use for beer, abs or a hole as sick as the 18th at Carnoustie.
Twenty minutes later the Noose is on the other neck—García's—and now he's the one with a one-shot lead and the Open to gag. He also plays for 4, but even more balata-brained, by hitting a safe two-iron off the tee, then trying to bomb a 252-yard three-iron to the green. He crushes the ball straight into the bunker, makes bogey and falls into a playoff with Harrington.
Even Harrington couldn't resist scolding García for that one. "You either go for it or you lay up," he said. "The only thing I wouldn't do is lay up and then try to play it as a par-4. You don't want to have to hit it 245 yards with out-of-bounds on the left." Harrington should know. He lost the '92 British Amateur by hitting it OB there.
One player was even done in by the 18th while playing the 17th. Andrés Romero, whose insane 10 birdies in 14 holes gave him a two-shot lead through 16, hit his second shot on 17—a ridiculously ill-advised two-iron from the heather—a little right, then it caromed off the creek wall and bounced hideously right, through the 18th fairway and out-of-bounds. The 25-year-old Argentine missed the playoff by one. Ten birdies and lost! "We play like, how you say, altibajos," sighed Romero's caddie, Adrian (Coco) Moneros. Roller coaster.
Which brings us to the four-hole playoff. This time, Harrington went to the Noose with a two-shot lead and did play it as a par-5—rescue club off the tee, iron layup, wedge on and two-putt to win. HAL-lelujah!
And you know what I say? Good. Any guy that brings his three-year-old son into the press conference just so he can play with the trophy is solid with me. At a hotel afterward, it was getting toward 11 p.m., and Harrington, trophy in hand, was still getting his picture taken in the lobby with any sloshed fan that wanted it. After all, 60 years between Irish major champions is a thirst that deserves slaking.
As for García, he was probably somewhere whining like he did on the 18th green after he lost, complaining about having to wait in the fairway on the 72nd hole, bad breaks, sun in his ears, etc. "I still don't see anything I did wrong," he moaned. "I hit every shot in the playoff perfect."
Anyway, after a day when the Noose hanged more people than Judge Roy Bean, there could be only one person on earth who was happier than me, and that was Van de Velde, who had to be standing on his couch, screaming at the TV, "You zee? You zee?!?"
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RIFFS OF REILLY
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My favorite hole in golf is the 18th at Carnoustie. It's the most diabolical creation in the world and has given me more joy than pizza, Corvettes and Guinness combined.
PETER READ MILLER