ATLANTA — The first year of the Tour Championship at East Lake offered great promise for dramatic theater on the par-3 18th. Hal Sutton saved par from a deep bunker to get into a playoff, then hit a 4-wood to 6 feet for a birdie to beat Vijay Singh.
That was in 1998.
And that was the last time a player won with a birdie on the closing hole at East Lake.
That’s no surprise. The par 3 is 235 yards and plays slightly uphill, guarded by deep bunkers to the right. The green has a false front. Most players would be happy with par. Jim Furyk last year had a one-shot lead, found the right bunker and got up-and-down to capture the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.
But it’s not conducive to excitement.
In fact, most players would say it’s harder to make a birdie 2 than a double bogey 5.
“I’ve had some putts at 2,” Geoff Ogilvy said. “But it’s mostly 3s and 4s.”
Matt Kuchar, who played East Lake when he was at Georgia Tech, called it an “interesting” hole, but maybe not a hole where anything can happen, such as the closing holes at the previous three playoff venues — a reachable par 4 at Plainfield, a par 5 at TPC Boston where Chris Stroud made eagle to advance, and even the long par 4 at Cog Hill with water hugging the left side of the green and bunkers right.
“It’s fun when you have a finishing hole and you can make a birdie, make a bogey, where stuff can happen,” Kuchar said. “It seems like you pretty much see pars and bogeys on the last hole. You don’t see many 2s. And you see even less 5s.”
Dustin Johnson, who has to hit a 4-iron from the back of the 18th tee, was playing a practice round Tuesday when he wondered how the end of the Tour Championship might be different if officials switched the nine holes. The ninth at East Lake is a par 5 that can be reached in two with a big, and straight, tee shot.
“You’ve got guys who can reach the green, making eagles, or to come from one or two back to tie or win,” Johnson said. “I think that definitely makes for a little more excitement.”
East Lake is among the few courses that finish with a par 3. Another one is at The Greenbrier, which was a wedge or a 9-iron. Scott Stallings made a birdie in regulation and in a playoff to win. It was exciting.
Then again, most people are used to the par-3 finish at East Lake.
“It’s kind of become a signature hole, and I guess a birdie there would certainly look pretty cool,” Kuchar said. “To finish with a 2 there is kind of a heroic effort.”
CRUNCHING NUMBERS: For the first time in three years, no one from outside the top 100 in the FedEx Cup at the start of the playoffs reached the Tour Championship.
Kevin Streelman made it to East Lake last year after starting at No. 102. The year before, Heath Slocum was at No. 124 when he won the opening playoff event at The Barclays and assured himself a spot in the Tour Championship.
The highest seed at East Lake this year is Geoff Ogilvy, who started at No. 79.
Only seven players who started in the top 30 got bumped after three playoff events, the highest being Martin Laird at No. 17. He tied for 58th at The Barclays, tied for 74th at the Deutsche Bank Championship and tied for 12th at the BMW Championship. He fell to No. 31.
Masters champion Charl Schwartzel skipped the opening event, and it cost him. He wound up at No. 32. He hoped to follow Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, who won the FedEx Cup after not playing the first event. But they started much higher — Woods was No. 1 in 2007, while Furyk was No. 3 last year.
The others who fell out of the top 30 this year were Rory Sabbatini, D.A. Points, Rickie Fowler, Spencer Levin and Tommy Gainey. For Fowler, it was the second straight year he started the playoffs inside the top 30 and failed to get to the Tour Championship.
THE PARTY’S OVER: Matt Kuchar was the No. 1 seed in the FedEx Cup last year and never had a chance. He attributes that to missing too many fairways, although his wife came up with another plan for this year.
They won’t be doing as much entertaining.
Kuchar used to live in Atlanta, had just sold his house and stayed with friends as he prepared to move to Sea Island. The trouble was having so many friends in town who wanted to catch up over dinner.
This year, don’t bother calling.
“My wife has made me limit the off-course activities — getting together with friends, dinners, those sort of things, which has been tough to say ‘no’ to friends,” Kuchar said. “This year, we’re going to try to stay a lot more quiet. I love Atlanta, and I love being here. I’ve got so many great friends. But my wife said, ‘You really owe it to yourself to make this as much of a regular tournament as you can, and to not just feel like you’re entertaining all week.’”
He was to attend a dinner hosted by PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem on Wednesday night, “and then I’m going to stay pretty quiet for the rest of the week.”
CHUBBY’S STABLE: Chubby Chandler’s magnificent stable of golfers has one less star.
At the end of a weekly blog on his website, Ernie Els said he is leaving International Sports Management because he is living in South Florida and wants to consolidate his management to a new office.
Chandler’s clients include major champions Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Charl Schwartzel, along with Lee Westwood, who was No. 1 in the world this year. Els joined him at London-based ISM in 2004.
“I feel like it’s the right time to make this move,” Els said. “After so many years based in the U.K. and traveling the world golf circuit since turning pro, it is nice to consolidate our activities in one place.”
Els thanked Chandler and the ISM team for their seven years together and said he was proud to be associated with “one of the most talented stables in world golf.”
He did not say who would handle his management.