This called to mind the tragic hero of last year's Open, Jean Van de Velde, and his misadventures in the Barry Burn on the final hole at Carnoustie. Said Begay, "I've talked to Jean about the finish there, and he says, 'My only regret is that I did not try to hit it out of the burn.' So I ain't going to walk away having any regrets. I wanted to continue having fun. It's fun to get your feet wet once in a while."
Begay stepped into the burn, immersing both feet and inspiring a memorable caption the next morning in one of the Scottish papers: HAVE A GO, NAVAJO! He proceeded to splash out short of the green, his fourth shot. From there he used his putter to reach the green, and two putts later had a tasty triple bogey, which knocked him out of the lead. Still, Begay earned the approval of the effervescent Van de Velde. "He played a shot out of the burn?" the Frenchman said following his round. "Did he get it out? Good man! What? He didn't take his shoes and socks off? Maybe there is something wrong with his feet!"
Not long after Begay's train wreck, Woods came to the Road Hole having assumed the lead at five under. He, too, jerked his drive to the bailout area—long and left—but from the deep rough, 160 yards out, Woods played a gorgeous recovery into the neck of the fairway in front of the green and got up and down for a par. Explaining his great escape, Woods said, "You have to open the face of your club because the grass is going to grab the shaft. That's the trick. You need to hit it hard and hold on."
A few hours later Els displayed another effective technique for surviving the Road Hole—hitting the fairway. "The tee shot is everything," he says. "Hit it in the rough and you have little chance of making par."
Tied for the lead at five under, Els pured a six-iron from 184 yards to within six feet, setting up the birdie that gave him the first-round lead. (For the week the green was reached in regulation less than 32% of the time and yielded only 13 birdies.) "You've got to trust the shot, try to draw it in there," Els says. "Under the circumstances it must be the shot of the day because you can make any number."
The history of the Open at St. Andrews is dotted by unusual occurrences at the Road Hole. During the final round in '95 John Daly, leading by one over Costantino Rocca, left his ball in the bunker and took a bogey. Rocca stayed even with a remarkable putt off the road to save par, setting up a playoff, but during sudden death he pulled a Duval, burying himself in the Road Hole bunker. Rocca took three shots to get out, handing the championship to Daly.
Not that playing long of the green is any better. In '84, Tom Watson, tied for the lead with Seve Ballesteros, pushed a two-iron up against the rock wall and took a bogey that cost him what could have been his third straight claret jug. During the second round of this year's tournament Woods, too, overshot the green. But from the narrow strip of grass hard against the road, he played a hooded lob wedge that ran past the pin, partway up the swale on the backside of the bunker and then back down the swale toward the pin. It was a brilliant shot—"I had been working on that one in the practice rounds," Woods said—and the up-and-down par ensured a second straight round without a bogey.
Asked if the Road Hole is one of the most difficult he has played, the understated Woods said, "It's up there." In fact, the Road Hole is so difficult that as late as the '60 Open it was played as a par-5. But is it a good hole? "If anybody designed that hole now, he would be shot on sight," says Dennis Paulson, "but it is part of the course and a pretty cool hole." Toms calls the 17th "very weird," but adds, "It's a great test."
Even Begay allows that the Road Hole is "kind of fun." His outlook improved during the second round. After slicing his approach near the rock wall, Begay executed a gorgeous flop shot that stopped six inches from the cup. The large grandstand framing the hole shook with cheers, and after Begay tapped in for par, he raised his arms in triumph.
Mark Calcavecchia was also the rare player to extract revenge on the Road Hole. During the first round he had taken a triple bogey there, his approach stopping so hard against the lip of the bunker that he was forced to play backward with his putter to give himself enough room to lift his next shot over the face of the trap. On Saturday, with the pin tucked directly behind the bunker, just four yards from the edge of oblivion, Calc was the only player all day to birdie the hole.