by Jeff Skinner
Major Championships are supposed to be the toughest test in golf. The Atlantic Athletic Club has met that standard. Traditionally the U.S. Open holds that distinction but due to the soft, new greens at Congressional this year’s Open fell short of the USGA’s rigid standard. The difficulty level of the Atlanta Athletic Club has rivaled that of a normal U.S. Open setup.
The re-design at Atlanta has plenty of critics (see Phil Mickelson) but whether you applaud the changes by Rees Jones or despise them it certainly has provided an interesting PGA Championship.
There are holes that the players call “birdie holes” and they better get them while they can because the four finishing holes have been taking no prisoners. It has been tough watching the best golfers be humbled by the last four holes, especially the eighteenth.
The third round saw a few calamites and we watched established players, near the lead lose their chances over the last few holes. The fifteenth and the eighteenth not only rival each other in controversy but also in difficulty.
The par 3 15th hole is the second most difficult hole on the course and plays to a score of 3.38. There have only been twenty birdies there all tournament and many players saw their hopes dashed as their ball sunk to the bottom of the pond.
The 18th hole has played as the toughest hole on the course and is playing a half a stroke over par. It ranks second in pars, 25 to the 20 allowed by stingy 15th but overwhelms the 15th with more bogeys, double bogeys and others.
Yesterday, Luke Donald came to the closing stretch at five under. He managed to par fifteen but bogeyed sixteen and then was done in by eighteen with a double bogey. Donald has played the final four holes in four over par for the tournament.
Jim Furyk was in the hunt for his second major when he made the turn on Saturday. He went into the back nine at five under and bogeyed eleven, but bounced back with back to back birds at twelve and thirteen. He started his downfall with a bogey at fourteen but was at five under and still in the thick of it. His tee ball was wet at fifteen: double bogey. His tee ball was wet at eighteen as was his approach. A one putt salvaged a double at the last but the damage was done. Two doubles over the last four holes probably cost him his chance at the title. As for the three rounds, he has played the final four in five over par.
Phil Mickelson was the most vociferous of critics of the eighteenth hole and his play proved him right. He hasn’t sniffed a par on that hole and played it in four over par for the tournament. Sometimes you can talk yourself right into things.
Scoring well on the last four holes will be critical this afternoon. Steve Stricker has played them in one under. Scott Verplanck was even over the last four, as was Keegan Bradley. Brendan Steele bogeyed the eighteenth yesterday to put him one over for the week. The man that has maneuvered his way unscathed through the mine fields of “The Final Four” is Jason Dufner. He is an amazing three under par over that stretch.
The winner will need to navigate these last four holes without a big number if they expect to win this championship. It should be an exciting finish.