JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – We’re not sure Triple-A would have mapped it out quite this way, but here was one man’s route on the 486 yards that take you along the final hole at Atlanta Athletic Club: Water off the tee, drop, greenside sand, splash it out, and three painful putts from about 35 feet.
Oh, and to cap it off: Y.E. Yang capped off his triple-bogey with a swift toss of the putter that included several neat twirls.
Welcome to the 93rd PGA Championship and its 18th hole, one that confounds and angers, punishes and rewards, but certainly doesn’t leave you sitting on the fence.
“A stupid hole,” Ryan Palmer said of the 18th at AAC.
“A great hole,” Mark Wilson said.
Others offered thoughts, too, though many of them are not for public consumption given the flavor of the verbs. But for offering an observation that is both stinging and accurate, hats off to Phil Mickelson: “It’s a great par 5.”
Ah, Lefty, the set-up guys and scorecard guys and tournament guys claim it’s a par 4.
“It’s a great par 5,” he said again and in case you didn’t hear him, he added, this time a bit emphatic: “It’s a great par 5.”
Most likely, more colleagues would agree with Mickelson than brush off his assessment and given the proceedings of Friday morning, the numbers back him up. Perched in a corner of real estate behind the green, it was a perfect spot to watch eight groups, 24 players, and more anguish than you are normally presented. Yes, Yang did toss his club in disgust. Chances are, dozens of other players wanted to do worse.
Though it can be stretched to 507 yards, the 18th played at a mere 486 in Round 2. Nice of them, eh? The only thing is, with the tees pushed up a bit, it brought water into play all the down the left. Steer away from the water, you had a series of bunkers down the right. Those hurdles aside, the next challenge is to carry your second shot over a large pond to a green that slopes back to front and looks more like what it probably should be – a wonderful target for a short iron as a par 5 green.
But a par 4 is what it is, so one by one the lads took on the assignment in the morning wave. What unfolded in blistering sunshine was a show that truly demonstrated how difficult this monster is.
If Yang’s triple-bogey wasn’t enough to open your eyes, consider his playing competitors, Shaun Micheel and Martin Kaymer.
Micheel had shot a bogey-free 66 Thursday, but as he played the 18th, his ninth hole, he had already dropped five strokes and now he was facing a long approach over water. He handled it decently, but left himself a long putt, which he didn’t handle. Instead, a three-putt bogey kept him reeling.
Kaymer, meanwhile, was long with his approach and buried in the back left bunker. He did not make it up-and-down and the bogey contributed to a missed cut for the 2010 champion.
Of the 24 players who came through during this study, there were as many bogeys (nine) as pars, and the doubles (three) and triples (one) outnumbered the birdies (two). The field average for those two dozen players: 4.66 as they went a cumulative 16 over.
Oh, there were highlights in the morning, specifically birdies by Sergio Garcia and Louis Oosthuizen, but more common were the hiccups and the outright miseries.
Perhaps the most stunning was Jason Day’s effort. Having driven into the bunker, the young Aussie was merely trying to layup when he pulled his shot out of sand and found the water. He doubled the hole for a second straight day.
Equally ugly was Dustin Johnson’s performance. Like Day, he drove into the bunker, but unlike Day he didn’t then pull his shot into the water. He did, however, make his second double in two days at 18, just like Day.
All of which might lead you to not be surprised to discover that both Day and Johnson missed the cut in a major for the first time this season.
And for that, they can place much of the blame on a tough hole that was far too tough for them and it only got exponentially tougher in the afternoon when the wind kicked up, the fairways got fiery, and the green became crusty.
For the day, the hole played to a field average of 4.556, toughest of the 18. But starting in the second pairing of the afternoon wave, those who finished at 18 faced heartache at this monster. To whit:
• Gary Woodland was 3 under when he pulled a 3-wood into the water, hit his third shot into the water and wound up making triple.
• Adam Scott teed off at 4 under, but sprayed his drive right, then ran his lay-up through the fairway and into the water. He made double.
• Angel Cabrera was 3 over and inside the cut when he made double and got an early exit.
• Mickelson made a double, going from 1 under to 1 over.
• Nick Watney stood on the tee at 1 under, but also made double.
• Steve Stricker was 4 under when he faced a long second shot into a back hole location. “I had 205 to the front, 230 to the hole and I hit my 3-iron about 215,” Stricker said. “I tried to get it back there, but there was a little wind. It was a bad decision. Stricker did salvage a bogey on the hole.
Diplomatic that he is, Stricker shrugged off the poor finish.
“I’m 3 under,” he said. “No matter how I got there, I’m just two (strokes) back.”
True enough, but David Toms, who in 2001 made a dramatic par after laying up at the 18th and won the PGA Championship, warned that the closing hole might still leave a haunting image on this championship.
“Phil Mickelson hit a 5-iron off the tee,” Toms said, “if that tells you how awful a hole it is to finish on.”