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'That's hard': Tiger Woods and PGA Tour stars give first impressions of infamous Calamity and Royal Portrush ahead of The Open

Jason Day, Tony Finau and Patrick Reed all spoke exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph

Crowds watch Tiger Woods tee off on the 16th during his second practice round at Royal Portrush.
Crowds watch Tiger Woods tee off on the 16th during his second practice round at Royal Portrush.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

If there's one hole ingrained deep into Northern Ireland's golfing affections then surely it's the 16th at Royal Portrush.

Mention the Dunluce Links to any local player and it won't be long before the word 'Calamity' crops up in the conversation.

Fearsome yet enthralling, 'awesome' yet 'brutal' - par three Calamity Corner's 236 yards encapsulate everything that our beloved links golf is about.

Behind the tee, the dunes drop down on to the White Rocks Beach, and in front of your face, what should be the fairway makes an even more vicious plunge into the depths.

That means there's nothing between tee and green - nothing pretty anyway. With thick rough on a near vertical slope, it's reasonable to assume that the man crowned Champion Golfer of the Year this weekend won't have suffered such calamity.

During Sunday and Monday's first two official practice days ahead of The Open Championship, Tiger Woods and other international names got their first taste of our prized possession and quickly, it seemed, fell in love.

"Anything up and to the left - don't miss it short right - you're doing ok," laughed Jason Day, whose smile said it all after his five iron approach from the forward tee nestled in to around 15 feet.

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Jason Day (right) and caddy Steve Williams get to grips with the green at Royal Portrush's Calamity Corner.

Woods, playing alongside US Ryder Cup team-mate Patrick Reed, followed that advice. The Big Cat bailed two Sunday tee-shots left of the green into Bobby Locke's Hollow.

That's another key feature that makes the hole so special. A small crater-like pit left of the green, it's named after the four-time Open champion. During the 1951 tournament, his solution to the par three's problem was intentionally missing the green left.

And it worked. Four tee shots into the hollow, four up and downs, four pars.

Tiger, however, didn't find it quite so easy in his first ever Calamity experience. Exchanging chipping techniques with Reed and trying something a little different, Woods couldn't quite get the ball to stop quickly enough coming out of the hollow.

Four reasonably disappointing goes, a turn to the crowd, that increasingly-used wide smile.

'That's hard', he says.

Welcome to Calamity, Tiger.

He did, in fairness, enjoy better fortunes on Monday, fading a super shot in over the pin to 20 feet. Calamity tamed by the Big Cat. We'll call that 1-1 so far.

"It's a great hole," Tony Finau told the Belfast Telegraph. "230 yards with that forced carry on the right hand side but the green's big enough to hit. If you bail out right or left then you've got a tough up and down."

It's worth pointing out to the 2018 Ryder Cup star that his first taste was as sweet as it's going to get on that hole. The favourable breeze was at his back as Finau made a two, perhaps explaining the supreme confidence in his ability to find the green at will. Just wait until it's wind in off the back sticks, Tony.

"Yeah I birdied 17 and 18 as well," he smiled. "I had a little match with my buddies Xander (Schauffele) and Charlie (Hoffman). I needed those birdies. Me and Xander made four each - that was a couple more than Charlie", whose shoulders move up and down as he walks ahead of us, amused at the ribbing.

"This is an awesome place," continues Finau, "really great views and a beautiful golf course in great condition.

"Hopefully we get a couple of decent days in terms of the weather. I know there's some rain forecast but I'm really impressed with it. That's a great finishing stretch."

He's right - it's not just about the infamous 16th.

It's followed by a 408-yard par four. Straight downhill, it's a big eagle chance, even if a new bunker on the left provides a little more protection.

Huge-hitting Finau drove the green on Sunday, narrowly missing his eagle attempt. A day later, Tiger showed the alternative route with a safe iron to the top of the hill. From around 100 yards, these guys will fancy a birdie every time.

"The 16th hole is key but to be honest I think the 17th is just as much," says Day. "If you get any sort of down wind, you can get driver there. If you're trying to catch the lead, that's a really great hole to catch up on, especially after a really tough par three.

"The course is beautiful. It's different compared to the other links courses we've played in the past - it's a lot tighter. This course will expose a lot of players and the weaknesses they have in their game. You have to have everything going. From tee to green, it's very difficult.

"What a beautiful place. We're right on the ocean here and it's my first time in Northern Ireland. I'm excited to play."

Then there's the 18th. A safe tee-shot into a rare wide fairway can only lull the player into a false sense of security. The green, surrounded on three sides by huge grandstands, is a narrow target, protected from full view by a bottle neck in the fairway.

'You can't miss left,' says Day. You can't really miss anywhere.

On Monday, Tiger didn't. A wood into the middle of the bulbous fairway, a short iron to 15 feet and roll the putt. The first Tiger roar of the week from the well populated grandstand.

"It's definitely set for drama," said Reed of that thrilling final stretch. "You've got to be hitting the ball well because 16 is a brutal par three depending on where the wind is coming from.

"It's one of those that the leader going into that stretch is going to have some butterflies. If you're behind and can go birdie, birdie, birdie, you have a chance of winning the golf tournament. It's a good stretch and one of those that you've got to pay attention to.

"The fans have been great out here. I think it's the first time I've come out on a Sunday and had this many people out. It's awesome to see the support and good just to get used to the golf course."

Just two more days to do that, then the real action begins.

The question is, how do avoid a Calamity? That's hard.

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