Kiawah's No. 17 doesn't live up to the hype

A general view of the 17th green during Round One of the 94th PGA Championship at the Ocean Course on August 9, 2012 in Kiawah Island, S.C.

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KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – It was like meeting Dracula in daylight, Lady GaGa without her makeup, or an IRS official without an order to audit.

The 17th at the Ocean Course, a 223-yard, par 3 over water – advertised as the most frightening thing in golf since they threatened to take away the courtesy car – played like it was another hole at Pirate’s Cove. You half expected a free round for a hole-in-one and darn it if Gary Woodland didn’t nearly do it. He executed just as he had drawn it up, “aimed right at the flag and just held it right against the wind.”

One hop, dead center it hit the flagstick, and all he had was a 2-foot putt for birdie. Hardly broke a sweat – and for good reason. “I mean, it was ideal conditions for that hole today, for sure,” he said.

So deflating, such a pushover.

Not.

It was simply a case of perfect timing, because when the morning broke at the Ocean Course, a sense of calm descended upon the landscape. It was shocking, especially given the way the previous three days had gone – furious thunderstorm and angry wind – and players knew it.

“On the windiest course in the world, you’d expect a little more wind than this,” Pat Perez said.

Yet Perez and colleagues going off of the 10th tee, didn’t have to take on the 17th with its teeth in. Heck, the dentures weren’t even present, it was that tame.

Now it sure looked it was going to be a tough go, based on the first swing from the 17th tee, club pro Mark Brown pulling it yards left, up and over a crowd of spectators perched atop a sand dune.

When Brown caught his wedge flush and rifled his shot over the flagstick, seemingly airmailed for the water, it was almost as if the crowd was getting a warning of the misery to come. But inexplicably, Brown’s ball hit just shy of the yellow chalk line, and didn’t hop forward, as one would expect; instead, it drew back as if on a string.

A stunning sight, to be sure, and it seemed to set the tone for a relatively gentle morning for the first 13 groups. We’ve seen greater chaos at the 135-yard 17th at TPC Sawgrass than we witnessed early at par-3 that is approximately 100 yards longer.

How pedestrian was it? Consider that of the first 39 players through, there were four birdies, 27 pars, six bogeys, and two doubles. Crunched, the numbers parlayed into a 3.153 field average hardly the sort of collision point that fans might have expected.

Blame it on the weather.

“I mean, it was perfect,” Woodland said.

For him, perhaps, and for playing competitor Darren Clarke, who rifled his shot within 8 feet and also made birdie. But there were those in the morning wave who did have some hiccups with the 17th, starting with Brown’s home run over the left field fence and continuing with a series of shots into the left bunker.

Scratch that. There are no bunkers here at Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s Ocean Course, only sandy areas. The thing is, when Rafael Cabrera-Bello in the third pairing was wide left, he might have been in a “through the green” situation, though it sure looked like he was screwing himself into the ground and it sure looked like he blasted out and flew sand everywhere like it was a bunker shot, and darn it if his caddie didn’t then go in and rake . . . but if it wasn’t a shot out of a bunker, so be it.

It did show that the 17th did have a little bit of defense.

The miscues did eventually come, perhaps not in a flood, but in a trickle. Club pro Matt Dobyns took his tee ball even wider left and further over the crowd than did Brown. He fatted his second shot and made the first double-bogey of the day, though somehow Dobyns managed to smile as he exited toward the 18th tee.

Rory McIlroy didn’t find the bunker – oops, sandy area – but he did put his ball in a perilous spot, up on the hill left of the green and in tallish grass. But indicative of the way he played on this day (5-under 67), McIlroy got it up-and-down, while two groups later, Martin Kaymer (79) made bogey from a similar lie.

Finding the green from 223 yards wasn’t nearly the challenge one might have thought, at least for the first wave of players. Of the 39 morning players who started their rounds at the 10th, 18 hit the green while another 10 or so landed in very good position, on the frindge and short collection area just beyond the back left hole location.

Brown and Dobyns were aberrations, going miles left, and it wasn’t until the 27th player on the tee that a ball found the water. Stunningly, it was Steve Stricker, who made the second double of the day. Otherwise, most of the miscues were tee balls pulled left into the bunker – drats! we mean the sandy area – or shots like Tiger Woods’ that covered the flagstick, only to bound over and into rough.

Woods negotiated his devilish shot successfully, though he had to shake in a 10-footer to do so after his wedge came out a little heavy and left him short.

Infamous for how the hole accentuated Mark Calcavecchia’s collapse against Colin Montgomerie in the 1991 Ryder Cup (4 up with four to play, Calcavecchia lost them all and only got a half-point, which at the time put the Americans in a sticky predicament), the 17th doesn’t so much bother players because of its length, but the angle at which they have to hit the tee ball.

You don’t so much carry your shot over the water as you protect from letting it slide too far right.

That was easy enough for Woodland, mostly because with the wind off the right he was able to hold a cut against it.

“But the wind switches here quite a bit throughout the day,” Ernie Els said, “(and on 17) when it’s coming into you, you’re going to have a very difficult shot.”

He’s not telling the players something they don’t know, even that parade that caught the 17th at its passive best. Eventually, they realize they’ll step to the tee, the wind will have changed, and Dracula will be out at night, Lady Gaga with makeup, and the IRS guy will have an order to audit you.

Fright will set in.

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