Firestone's No. 16 providing little excitement

The 16th green at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.

The 16th green at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.

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AKRON, Ohio – And from the long-story-made-short department, is it possible, as Geoff Ogilvy suggested, that the 16th at Firestone Country Club’s South Course is one of the world’s best par 3s?

Ogilvy had a sly grin on his face – for obvious reasons. Sixteen, after all, starts in Canton and stretches into Akron. Or something like that. It is 667 yards from start to finish, and when he mentions it as a par 3, Ogilvy has his tongue planted firmly in cheek. But the point is well taken, that despite the hole being massively long, it basically comes down to players laying up into the same area, ostensibly turning it into a par 3 of approximately 100 yards.

“It would definitely be a better hole shorter,” Ogilvy said, a viewpoint that puts him in good company, as most of his colleagues agree.

“I was talking to Martin (Kaymer) today and hopefully they’ll put (the tees) at the front of the tee box, at least one day to give guys a rip at it (in two),” Steve Stricker said. “That would add some excitement to it.”

“It would be a better hole if it were a little bit shorter, where everyone has a shot at it (in two),” Dustin Johnson said.

Now before you start accusing these titanium-wielding power brokers of being selfish and looking for easier set-ups, know that they are not. Shortening the hole 10-20 yards, they suggest, will provide greater temptation to take on the green, and Johnson is quick to point out “that it’s not an easy second shot coming into the green. If you hit it just long, you’re dead.”

That hits on an aspect to the 16th that grabs Ogilvy’s attention, because he agrees with Johnson. “If they would cut the grass at the back of the green (it would be better), because over the green is super horrible.”

How bad is it?

Well, consider long-hitting South African Branden Grace, whose measured drive in Thursday’s opening round was 427 yards. That’s right, 427. Now to offer a bit of a disclaimer, it’s a severely downhill hole, and if you catch the proper side of the right fairway, the firm and fast turf conditions will trampoline your ball more than a hundred yards forward.

Got it? Great.

But there was Grace, his drive having gone 427 yards, and he still was not going to go for the green in two. Why? Because he had roughly 230 to the front of the green, and he was between clubs. So had he opted for the hybrid, it would have brought over-the-green into the equation.

“I was telling Tiger (Woods) walking up 17, it was a shame to waste such a great drive,” said Grace, who followed that massive blast with a gap wedge, then another gap wedge, and two putts for 5.

Ogilvy, though not as long as Grace, was in a similar position in Friday’s second round. “My drive went nearly 400 yards, and you’ve got 284 front?” Ogilvy said, shaking his head. “If the tee is up front, it wouldn’t be an easy second shot, but it would bring 3s and 7s in. Now, everyone makes 4, 5, 6.”

How spot-on is Ogilvy? Well, in Thursday’s first round, there were 19 birdies (4s), 46 pars (5s), and nine bogeys (6s) – or 74 of the 78 players showed the gallery pretty much the same thing. Now Ogilvy suggests No. 13 at Augusta National Golf Club is the best par 5 in the world – “at least of the visible ones, the ones we see” – but he looks at 16 here and thinks it could be modeled more after 15 at Augusta.

“How much fun do they have watching 15 at Augusta?” Ogilvy asked. Rhetorically, of course, because the Aussie knows that a seat in the grandstands at Augusta National to watch 15 is a patron’s dream. “Watching guys go for it, you’ll see 10 3s and 10 7s a day. How good is that?”

Why? It’s a hole where almost everyone who hits the fairway with a drive is thinking of going for the green in two. Sure, there’s a pond to carry, but if you lay back, it might be the scariest 80-100-yard wedge shot in all of golf. Is going long a picnic? Not at all, but you can play a shot from over the green, and Ogilvy would argue that that pitch is equal in difficulty to the wedge you’d have after a layup.

Not true of 16 here, he said. First of all, the huge majority of the field cannot even consider going for the green in two. Then, if you are like Grace or Ogilvy, you’re thinking it’s not worth it, because to go long is to bring jail in play, as opposed to laying up and having a very easy wedge

Almost on cue, Keegan Bradley in the afternoon launched a 442-yard drive, then hit his second shot through the green to the back. In thick, gnarly rough, he was fortunate to lob it onto the front of the green, from where he three-putted from 55 feet.

As 16 is presently set up, the thought at the tee box “is to try and hit it in the fairway to make your layup easier,” Ogilvy said.

Boring?

Ogilvy didn’t say that, but he offered that “golf is more interesting when you make players make decisions, and the decision is basically taken out of everybody’s hand there, really.”

The 16th at Firestone has always been a beast. Nick Watney remembers reading a Jack Nicklaus book as a kid in which “Nicklaus said the riskiest shot of his career was on that hole,” Watney said. No, not a second shot over the pond, but a third shot at the flagstick after he had laid up in the rough. There’s just no margin for error if you miss the green long.

When this annual stop at Firestone CC became a World Golf Championship in 1999, the 16th was 625 yards. In 2003 it was stretched to the 667 that it plays now. In that time, there have been just two eagles at 16, one in 2007, one in 2008, and rare are those times when anyone even considers giving it a go, which is a letdown to Ogilvy.

“You want the guys who hit great drives to go for the green,” he said.

Enter Nicolas Colsaerts. The Belgian has been a pro since 2000, but only in the last year or two has he started to gain a bit of a global reputation. So when on Thursday he took on the 16th green after a massive drive, it made people talk.

When the story made its way to Watney, the American was a bit stunned. Told that Colsaerts went at the green with a 6-iron, his eyes widened. “Six-iron? To that green?” Watney asked.

Yes, he was told.

“On his second shot?”

Yes, second shot.

Watney blinked, shook his head and laughed.

“Wow, he’s long.”

And so, of course, is the hole.

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