Many of the players in this week’s AIG Women’s Open are getting their first taste of the Angus course in the heat of the battle. Former world No 1 Lydia Ko is among them and she’s already formed her opinion about the finish.
“Seventeen is a beast. Eighteen is also a beast,” declared the two-time major winner, expressing a view, of course, shared by most people, even though Paul Lawrie birdied both of them in the play-off in his 1999 Open win.
In a test that can be 6,850 yards but is unlikely to play over 6,800 yards in any one round, the 17th measures 421 yards for the season’s final major while the 18th is 430 yards on the card.
Unlike the event’s last visit here in 2011, the 17th will play as a par 4 as opposed to a par 5, but that doesn’t change anything, really, as far as it presents something of a puzzle for players on the tee.
“There’s two creeks, and then it’s a long hole itself,” added Ko of that hole. “Unless it's pumping downwind, I would always be going in that middle section.” As was the case in a practice round on Monday.
“I hit a hybrid off the tee and hit a 5-wood for the second shot,” she said. “It's pretty rare that you would hit a longer club for your second shot into a par 4 compared to the club off the tee.
“The good thing about links, and especially on 17, is that you can roll it up. So, even if you have a longer club in, it's not like you have to fly something and get it to land softly.“I think the majority of the field will play it that way. It's not like it's just playing long for a certain type of player. It's definitely a unique hole.”
As for the 18th, it’s impossible not to stare down the barrel of the approach without thinking about Jean van de Velde coming to grief in such spectacular fashion on the 72nd hole in that 1999 Open.
“If you hit a really good drive down there, I think you're able to go for birdies,” said Ko of the closing hole. “Hopefully I'll be able to hit four really good drives down the 18th and give myself a good chance each time.”
Now 24, Ko made her debut in this event in 2012, finishing as the low amateur in a tough weather week at Royal Liverpool. Having just missed out on that 2011 staging, this assignment has been circled in red since a return to Carnoustie was announced by the R&A.
“I really wanted to play this golf course and, being here this year, I'm super excited,” she said. “This might be the trickiest British Open I've played yet. I've heard a lot about this place. I watched it when the guys played a few years ago.
“I think you have to be strategic around here. Somebody told me, ‘hey, like make sure to keep out of the bunkers’. I think that's the case at pretty much every links golf we play. But there are some holes where it is a bit more of a factor than some of the other golf courses."
The world No 6 is in fine fettle, having claimed the bronze medal in the Olympics in Japan a week past Saturday before closing with a course-record 63 at Dumbarnie Links to finish joint-second in the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open on Sunday.
“One of my I guess strategies at the Olympics was to play a little bit more aggressively, especially because there are only three medallists, and I think that was kind of the mindset and then I continued that for when I played last week,” said Ko, who was nine-under for the par-5s on the Clive Clark-designed Fife course.“Dumbarnie was great and a really good lead-up for this week but it's also a very different type of golf course to here. The whole length is a little bit longer.
“I think I'm just trying to stay in that kind of strategy of playing aggressively but, at the same time, if I am out of position, making sure that I'm not making careless mistakes. I'm a little longer I think in general off the tee than I was I think a couple years ago. So that obviously makes it a little bit different to play.
“On a links, it's a little bit different because sometimes you're hitting different shots that you may not at some other golf courses.”
Though not nearly as strong as it was on a couple of days at Dumbarnie Links, the wind will have enough puff in it on the tournament days to add to the challenge on one of the best courses in the world.
“It was calm and sunny day on Monday, so it was probably the best we're going to be able to play the golf course. Today it seems a little breezier than it was yesterday,” said Ko.“Day-in and day-out is different. Wind direction I think, especially, can make the whole golf course feel like a totally different golf course to when you play it with a different direction of wind.
“For me, it's just being focussed on how I need to go about these holes and how I can take advantage of some of the shorter ones and some of the tougher ones, just making sure that I'm playing smart, and par or sometimes bogey is not the end of the world.
“I'm playing with freedom and hopefully the last couple weeks translates into this week.”