A hole lot of trouble at the US Open

The 18th pin in Maryland will be a test, physically and mentally, for everyone.

A golfer goes through his practice round on the 18th hole.
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Graeme McDowell, the US Open champion, believes he has worked out how to play the new 18th hole at Maryland's Congressional Country Club when he begins his title defence today.

"Forget it's a par 4 and play it like a par 5. I would take 18 or 19 from four rounds right now," McDowell said.

Jim Furyk, who won this tournament in 2003, predicts fun and games when it comes down to business late on Sunday afternoon.

"If there is a player with a two-shot lead standing on that 18th tee, there is no guarantee that he will win. Anything could happen going down there," he said.

And then there is Phil Mickelson, a five-time US Open runner-up and a player not known to shirk a challenge: "That 18th hole frightens me. It's got the potential to ruin a few good rounds."

This is exactly what the tournament organisers wanted; a chance that nobody will no know for certain who the winner is until that last putt drops.

The 523-yard closing hole has water all around the back of a two-tier sloping green and a thin fairway, which even the best drivers of a golf ball could miss.

This daunting final hole was actually the 17th when the US Open last visited the club in 1997, when Ernie Els won. But leading designer Rees Jones changed things in 2009 in an effort to set up an exciting finale on the Blue Course.

"We want an exciting finish. This tournament deserves that and it's why the changes were made," Mike Davis, the USGA executive director, said. "The hole is still fair, but there are a lot of challenges for the players and it's going to test their nerve, especially on Sunday."

After 71 holes, even the best golfers in the world will need to be at their best to survive the last hole.

"The 18th is probably the toughest hole I have ever played in my entire time in golf," McDowell said. "It's like the Road Hole [17th] at St Andrews in that you can't beat yourself up for a bogey.

"All I hope is that I can get to the green in two shots and then get out of there as quickly as possible."

And that's from a golfer who won this tournament 12 months ago.