CHARLOTTE – Remember Jason Day’s closing eagle at Baltusrol a year ago that nearly won him a second PGA Championship? Or Rory McIlroy’s 6-under performance in four trips through Valhalla’s final three holes during his 2014 triumph?
Forget about similar heroics taking place this year at Quail Hollow. In fact, chances are we could see the opposite at this 99th PGA Championship.
“The Green Mile,” also known as hole Nos. 16-18 at Quail Hollow, has built a reputation for being one of the toughest closing stretches on the PGA Tour. In 2003, the first year that Quail Hollow hosted the Wells Fargo Championship, David Toms made a quadruple bogey on his final hole. Fortunately for Toms, he has a six-shot lead and was still able to beat Vijay Singh by two shots. Someone might not be as lucky this year.
“It’s a tough stretch, one of the toughest stretches that we play all year,” said McIlroy, a two-time Wells Fargo champion. “I’ve had my fair share of, you know, good runs on that stretch and bad runs, actually. … You’ve got four of the last five holes with water and excitement, and I think it will be an exciting finish to the tournament if there’s a few guys up around the lead at that point.”
Jordan Spieth, who is searching for the career grand slam this week, called the closing trio of holes a perfect spot for fans who want to see “triumph and disaster.”
The par-4 16th hole will play at 506 yards, one of two 500-plus-yard par 4s this week. There’s water all along the left side of this hole and a pesky fairway bunker on the right.
“You have to take on that bunker on the right and try to get it down there as far as you can,” McIlroy said.
Only the fairway canters toward the water, making it possible that some balls drawing over the bunker could still find the hazard.
The approach shot isn’t any easier, with water coming in on left and long misses, even more now after a 2013 redesign. But it isn’t quite the daunting approach that the par-3 17th demands.
Playing at 223 yards this week, No. 17 features a peninsula green with little room for error. The last three Wells Fargo Championships, it’s ranked sixth, third and second toughest.
“I think 17 is the most difficult of the closing stretch,” McIlroy said. “Especially off that back tee, you’re raised up and you’ve got that very skinny green. You’re looking down on it and you’ve got the water on your left. There’s a bit of a bail-out area on the right. I’d say that’s the only hole that you can sort of play defense on. You have that little bit of area on the right side where you can try to get it up-and-down from there.”
In each of the last three Wells Fargos, the par-4 18th hole, which will play at 494 yards this week, ranked as the toughest hole. It was the fifth toughest hole last year on the PGA Tour, ranking only behind the 14th hole at PGA National, the 12th at Torrey Pines’ South Course, the 11th at Augusta National and the 11th at Royal Troon.
“I think aggressiveness off the tee; you can reward yourself with a little shorter iron shot in and be able to take on something a little bit more on the green,” McIlroy said of the finishing hole.
A little creek runs from left of the fairway and all the way up around the left side of the green. That makes the left hole locations even tougher. When Rickie Fowler won the 2012 Wells Fargo, he needed to hit a perfect shot just over the water and just shy of the front-left flag during a playoff. If he hit it long, he would face a treacherous downhill birdie putt; short and he’d be in the water or facing a difficult short-side chip.
Fowler converted – something that this year’s PGA champion will surely need to do late on Sunday.
“I mean, you have just got to hit good shots,” Dustin Johnson said. “They are tough golf holes. We play tough holes all the time. But yeah, I mean, having three tough finishing holes in a major, you know, you know that most likely it’s going to come down to those last three holes. Having a good game plan, a good strategy, and executing obviously is going to be the big key.”
Said Jimmy Walker: “If you want to make a closing birdie or two, you have to really play some good golf.”
Maybe even great golf.
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The Green Mile
During the last three Wells Fargo Championships, 2014-16
|16||10 (+0.088)||2 (+0.251)||4 (+0.261)|
|17||6 (+0.165)||3 (+0.230)||2 (+0.342)|
|18||1 (+0.481)||1 (+0.369)||1 (+0.452)|