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Pro shoots 52 at St. Andrews — on the back nine

Miserable conditions led to a number of eye-popping scores at the Old Course at St. Andrews — one 52 in particular.

Less than a month ago, Alexander Knappe won the B-NL Challenge Trophy. It was the German pro’s second Challenge Tour victory of 2022 and boosted him into first place on the tour’s order of merit. He’s assured a promotion onto the DP World Tour for the upcoming season, where the 33-year-old will hope to for his best year yet.

All that is to say that Knappe is a very talented golfer who has been playing in top form. You just wouldn’t know it from his scorecard on Friday at the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Before the second round at the Dunhill Links, Knappe put up a post on his Instagram showing off a series of pot bunker shots.

“Pot bunkers can be quite nasty,” he wrote in the caption. “I’ll be quite honest now: I would prefer to be able to avoid them today.”

Spoiler alert: He didn’t. Nor could he avoid the wind, rain, or O.B. stakes protecting the linksland on Friday. Inside-out umbrellas were the order of the day. The Dunhill is conducted across three courses — Kingsbarns, Carnoustie and the Old Course — and players at all three went off in an 8:30 a.m. shotgun start in an attempt to dodge the worst of the wind and rain. But some conditions are just inevitable.

Knappe was in a reasonable position after his first round at Kingsbarns, where he shot even-par 72. In Friday’s shotgun start at St. Andrews, his first hole of the day was the par-5 14th. He missed the green some 40 yards right of the pin but pitched it to 12 feet and made the putt for a terrific par. Unfortunately, that was about as good as it got.

At No. 15, Knappe drove it into one of those nasty pot bunkers. He advanced it just 50 yards from there. He hit his third shot to 35 feet. And he three-putted. Double bogey.

At No. 16, Knappe actually found the fairway — but his second shot sailed right, making its way over the boundary fence. O.B. His fourth shot sailed right, too, settling in almost exactly the same spot. His sixth shot sailed right, too, but settled on the fairway just right of the green. A chip and two putts later Knappe walked off with a quintuple-bogey 9.

The pain wasn’t over. Knappe stepped to the 17th tee — the iconic shot where you’re forced to hit it over the Old Course Hotel — and fired one O.B. right. He hit his next tee shot in play but found a bunker on his approach, chopped it out, hit it on the green and two-putted for a quadruple-bogey 8. Three holes. 11 over par. Yikes.

Knappe settled into his round after that, making par at 18 and then shooting even-par 36 on the front nine, including a birdie at No. 3. But when he made the turn, Knappe ran into the wind again. He missed the green at the par-3 11th and took two chips and two putts to get down for double-bogey 5. He found another pot bunker in the middle of the fairway at the par-4 12th, chopped out, missed the green from there and made another double bogey. On his final hole, the par-4 13th, Knappe’s drive traveled just 200 yards. He did well to recover for a closing bogey, wrapping up a second round of 88 consisting of a front-nine 36 and back-nine 52.

It was hardly the only eye-popping score of the day, particularly on that back nine. Renato Paratore shot 46 on the same nine, including a 9 on No. 14. Jack Singh Brar shot 34-45 for a 79. Steven Brown shot 45. Per DataGolf, eight of the nine holes on the back nine averaged over par for the day, and the average score was 40.59. Holes 13-17 each averaged more then 0.68 strokes over par. Richard Mansell fired the round of the day at the Old Course, miraculously navigating the back nine in one-under 35 en route to a four-under 68, a full 9.4 strokes lower than field average. He leads the event at its halfway mark.

The Old Course isn’t always this nasty. On Thursday, by comparison, the same nine averaged 35.18 strokes. This summer, Cameron Smith won the Open at the historic venue at 20 under par, tying the all-time low major scoring record. And on Thursday at the Dunhill, Romain Langasque equaled the course record with an 11-under 61. Pros have overpowered the Home of Golf, sparking debates about the course’s defenses and its relevance in the modern game.

Friday served as a reminder: Rather than length or hazards, St. Andrews’ best defense is the weather. So if you get a chance to tee it up at this bucket-list course, see if you can beat 52 on the back so you can tell your buddies you scored lower than a pro.

They don’t have to know the rest of the details.

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