PGA Tour looking at switching 9s at East Lake
ATLANTA (AP) Hal Sutton was in a bunker so deep that only his hat could be seen. He got up-and-down for par on the 18th hole, then won a playoff by hitting a 4-wood to 6 feet for birdie on the 244-yard closing hole. That was the first Tour Championship at East Lake in 1998.
It's not often that close. Jordan Spieth became the ninth player in the last 12 years at East Lake to win by at least three shots. But it can provide plenty of theater, such as Jim Furyk saving par in the rain to win, or Camilo Villegas making six birdies on the last 11 holes and winning in a playoff.
Would finishing a par 5 make a difference?
The PGA Tour is in serious discussions with East Lake to flip the nines for the FedEx Cup finale. That would make the peninsula green at the par-3 sixth part of a four-hole closing stretch that ends with the par-5 ninth.
''The main thing is having a par 5 instead of a par-3 finish,'' PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said. ''The secondary benefit is we get No. 6 into the last four holes, which has a lot of action. The third thing is more scoring on the back side, a little more momentum on the back. It's a flat finish with a par 3.''
Henrik Stenson noticed architect Rees Jones with tour and club officials on the ninth hole during a practice round last week. He is among those who doesn't understand why change is being considered. The 15th is a reachable par 5 that demands a precise second shot. The 16th and 17th are strong par 4s and the closing par 3 is a long iron or metal.
''It's a tougher test,'' Stenson said.
Bill Haas, who saved par from a partially submerged ball on the 17th hole during his playoff win in 2011, could see both sides.
''I guess I wouldn't be 100 percent opposed, only because 9 would be a cool finishing hole,'' Haas said. ''But then again, 17 and 18 are such good holes. They would become less hard as the eighth and ninth holes.''
Finchem's argument against No. 18 as the final hole is that ''nothing ever really happens.''
He also mentioned television.
''If we get into a close finish or a playoff situation and you come to the last hole, those minutes are really valuable,'' he said. ''People are streaming back to the telecast. They hear it's a playoff. They hear it's tight. When you get there, you want that last hole to be as impactful as possible. You want it to last awhile. If it's a three-shot hole or a reachable par 5, there's more golf to see than if it's tied or a one-shot lead and you're playing a par 3.
''But there's no point in doing it unless you can do it right,'' Finchem said. ''And there's 50 opinions about what's right.''
Brandt Snedeker has one of those opinions. He doesn't like the idea.
''I don't understand what the thought process would be in switching the nines,'' he said. ''It's an iconic finish here - 16-17-18 give us great drama. I feel like the golf course was designed this way and it should probably stay this way. It seems to be working pretty well. Lots of great stuff has happened on 18.
''Obviously, it's above my pay grade,'' he said. ''I'll be curious to see what happens.''
MEXICO EXHIBITION: Matt Kuchar lost his partner, Tiger Woods, for the second straight year in the Bridgestone America's Golf Cup. They canceled in Argentina last year when Woods took three months off to heal his back, and Woods is out the rest of this year because of another back surgery.
This time it appears the show must go on Oct. 22-25 in Mexico City.
Mark Steinberg of Excel Sports Management, who manages Kuchar and Woods, said in an email he expects the event to happen and the tournament is trying to find a new partner for Kuchar.
The tournament confirmed in a statement that it is ''dedicated to the task of defining the player ... the Mexican public deserves'' to play with Kuchar.'' It also said that ''the value of the purchased ticket will be returned to whom so desires.''
PRESIDENT CUP CHANGES: Now that the International team has persuaded the PGA Tour to reduce the number of matches from 34 to 30 in the Presidents Cup, the next change might be more independent representation.
As it is, the PGA Tour oversees both teams, which is like a Super Bowl between two teams with the same owner. Jason Day talked about the International team ''having our own federation ... starting our own body, as it should be.''
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem suggested it was headed in that direction.
''Right now we reach out to the international tours and get their input on captain's selections,'' Finchem said. ''We're going to broaden that next year and bring those tours in. It may be at some point you really separate it out, but that's probably a few years away. We're trying to get the other tours involved in what that's all about.''
Finchem said the international tours would be those that traditionally send players to the Presidents Cup.
PGA SNUB: Tom Watson declined to be inducted into the PGA of America Hall of Fame because of how the organization dismissed its most recent president, Ted Bishop, who was responsible for Watson being appointed Ryder Cup captain.
Bishop was fired last year when he referred to Ian Poulter as a ''lil girl'' for the way Poulter criticized Nick Faldo is his book. Bishop had a month left on his two-year term, and the ouster meant he was not invited to PGA functions, such as the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup, in an official role.
Watson said in a statement to Golf World Digital, ''While I was very flattered by PGA President (Derek) Sprague's honoring me to be inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame, I couldn't accept in good conscience because of how the PGA mishandled the firing of my friend and immediate past president of the PGA, Ted Bishop.''
The Americans were soundly beaten with Watson as captain last year in Scotland. Phil Mickelson, benched for both matches on Saturday, pointed out in a closing news conference that Watson did not communicate well with the players.
TIGER'S PLUNGE: Tiger Woods is out for the rest of the year after another back operation, meaning his world ranking continues to plunge.
Woods is projected to have a world ranking average of 0.426 at the end of the year, meaning he is assured of being well outside the top 400. The last time he was not among the top 400 players in the ranking was his second week as a pro on Sept. 1, 1996.
DIVOTS: The LPGA Tour can't catch a break when it comes to building momentum. After its stirring rally to win the Solheim Cup two weeks ago, the LPGA Tour does not play in the U.S. again until Nov. 19-22 at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida. ... The Presidents Cup in South Korea is the first step on a worldwide journey for Matt Kuchar. He is headed to Fiji to play a tournament, and from there will go across to Mexico City for an exhibition. His father, Peter, will be caddying for him in Fiji. The only other time his father caddies for him is at the two-day CVS Charity Classic. ... Louis Oosthuizen has renewed his deal with Ping. He has played Ping since he was a teenager.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Of the 50 players who earned PGA Tour cards through the Web.com Tour or the Web.com Tour Finals, 26 kept their cards this year and five won tournaments.
FINAL WORD: ''I'm glad I can provide some commentary for you.'' - Jordan Spieth to Johnny Miller on how much he talks to himself on the golf course.