By Martyn Herman
ST ANDREWS, Scotland (Reuters) - There are few holes in world golf revered quite as much as the 17th on the Old Course at St Andrews -- a par-four brute where British Open dreams could be crushed this weekend.
The Road Hole, named after the old turnpike road that forms its right boundary, plays 495 yards, if you're feeling brave, requires a tee shot aimed at the Old Course Hotel, then a long second at shallow green guarded by the infamous Road Hole bunker on one side and a stone wall at the rear.
Players averaged 4.653 on it in 2010 to make it, not surprisingly, the toughest hole on the course.
It has a habit of creating drama.
Tom Watson effectively lost the Open there in 1984 while five years ago Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez made a miracle shot, facing away from the flag he punched his ball against the wall for it to ricochet back on to the green.
American youngster Jordan Spieth, still on track for a mythical grand slam as he prepares for his first St Andrews Open, practiced the same shot this week.
As the world's elite golfers fine-tune their games next to the Fife coast, the 17th is already causing headaches and a ball is yet to be struck in anger.
"At the 17th you can hit it in the hotel in a heartbeat," said 1989 champion Mark Calcavecchia.
"I hit the hotel twice because it was so wet and the ball slid off the face," Englishman Paul Casey told reporters of an experience at the 17th in 2010.
Yet hitting at the luxury hotel is the way to go.
"I've hit it so far right there I've thought that's going to be in the back yard of the hotel but it's usually okay," Germany's Martin Kaymer, who tied for seventh in 2010 when a storm scattered the field on Friday, said.
"The first time I was there was in 1999 and it's crazy how far right you have to aim to hit the middle of the fairway."
"You usually only see a hotel, you don't see much of the fairway, or the landing zone. You usually aim at the O of the Old Course Hotel, that's the line," Kaymer, an ambassador for Mercedes-Benz, added.
The Old Course's proximity to the center of St Andrews never ceases to surprise first-time visitors, especially the 18th which twice Open winner Ernie Els says is his favorite hole.
"It's a birdie hole, it's a wide fairway, and it's the most unique finish in golf. You finish in the town."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Alan Baldwin)