Water-filled bunkers turn into a real hazard
Heavy rains fell on Royal Lytham & St. Annes late Thursday evening. The water collected into many of the bunkers, creating a new kind of water hazard for players on Friday.
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England (AP) -- Keegan Bradley thought the closest water hazard at Royal Lytham & St. Annes was the Irish Sea about a mile away.
He found one Friday on the 15th hole.
Any other day, this would be called a pot bunker. But after a summer of endless rain in England that pushed the water table to its limit, it only took about a half-inch of rain overnight to fill the bottom of bunkers and turn dozens of them into small ponds at the Open Championship.
"I had no choice but to play it," Bradley said.
He wasn't alone.
Phil Mickelson had to take relief from a bunker just short of the first green. Rory McIlroy's ball was submerged.
"I guess you just have to treat them as if they've got stakes around them," said Geoff Ogilvy, who hit into a few pot bunkers in the fairway that were relatively dry. "You probably should treat them like that, anyway, because they're pretty much a one-shot penalty, anyway."
Bunkers are considered hazards, so Bradley's only other options were to take a drop from casual water no closer to the hole -- this would have taken him to the back edge of the sand and hit a shot with his feet outside the bunker -- or take full relief on the grass short of the bunker with a one-shot penalty.
He felt as though his best chance was to blast away at half-submerged ball. It was reminiscent of Bill Haas last year at the Tour Championship, when he hit a shot out of the water on the second playoff hole at East Lake to 3 feet for an unlikely par and went on to win the $10 million FedExCup. That moment was not lost on Bradley's caddie, Steve Hale, who handed him a sand wedge and said, "Just do what Bill Haas did."
Bradley didn't hit it that close, though it was a far tougher shot and he did well to splash it out to about 20 feet to escape with a bogey.
Two holes later, it was McIlroy's turn. His ball was under water, but instead of taking a penalty stroke and dropping it in the fairway short of the bunker, he went to the back of the trap. Trouble is, when he made the shoulder-high drop, it plugged slightly on the down slope.
"I was hoping it wouldn't plug and maybe have a chance to get it on the green," McIlroy said. "But when it dropped, it plugged, and I just had to play it out sideways."
McIlroy's undoing came from another bunker short of the par-3 ninth green, when he took two to get out and made double bogey. He wound up with a 75, likely ending his hopes of winning the Claret Jug.
Ogilvy said the worst of the bunkers was along the closing stretch, which is the closest to sea level. Tom Watson, playing in his 35th Open, knows these links courses better than anyone else in the field. Lytham always has been a little different.
"I don't see this piece of property being 40 feet of sand, like some of the other links courses and links land that we play on," Watson said. "You see a lot of mud out in the compounds over there. So it's not as sandy as other courses, therefore it doesn't drain very well in certain places. It doesn't surprise me. Some bunkers are fine. They drained some of the bunkers, and some of the bunkers they didn't."
Lytham is renowned for its bunkers -- all 206 of them. It also has a history of weather. Remember, Seve Ballesteros won the Open here in 1988 on a Monday because rain left so much water on the course that the final round was postponed.
Crews were using squeegees Friday morning just to allow spectators to walk, instead of swim, onto the grounds. Players still had to tiptoe around puddles in the fairways. Otherwise, the course was in reasonable condition, courtesy of the links soil that drains well.
Lytham, like the rest of England, has had its fill of rain, however. And there was nothing that could be done with the bunkers. Bradley estimates 90 percent of the traps had water in them, most of them around the greens.
"I hit it in a lot of bunkers today, and I only saw water once -- on the first hole," Mickelson said. "And I tried to look at every bunker and see what they looked like."
The Open is not the only major with bunkers as water hazards, though it's rare. Golf course workers often can siphon out the water and rake up the sand to make it playable. But these aren't ordinary bunkers. They're deep with steep walls, much like a miniature swimming pool.
"A few of those bunkers there are kind of a little bit of a question mark," Graeme McDowell said. "But we're lucky that we're playing. The golf course is on the edge of unplayable."
He felt some of the bunkers should have been declared as "ground under repair," which would have allowed for free relief.
"I saw one in particular left of the 16th green," he said. "If you hit it in there, there's nowhere to drop and there's a foot of water. That's not golf. It's not fair."
In the U.S. Women's Open at Newport Country Club in 2006, one of the bunkers filled with water was declared out of play. That wasn't the case at Royal Lytham. Then again, the bunkers are supposed to be hazards.
These certainly were.
"A lot of bunkers out there are pretty much out of play," Branden Grace of South Africa said. "That was the main goal for myself today, to stay out of them."