To the list of Great Unlikely Pairings--think Sonny and Cher, Azinger and Faldo, Bill and Hillary--add the 17th and 18th holes at Baltusrol. The holes, designed by A.W. Tillinghast and built in 1922, share a common value, a par of 5, and little else, but they still proved to be a dynamic team. ¬∂ The 17th is the longest hole ever in major championship history, 650 yards with menacing cross bunkers and tangled rough, and an uphill approach to a green guarded by sand. The 17th is more far-5 than par-5. "You play 16 holes waiting for a par-5 to come," says Colin Montgomerie, who went par-bogey on the hole and missed the cut, "and the bloody thing is 650 yards long." The 17th is among the last true three-shot par-5s in pro golf, a hole unreachable in two--or so we thought until Tiger Woods and John Daly proved otherwise at the PGA Championship.
The 18th, at 554 yards, is the 17th's seductive, more accommodating little sister. Last week the 18th yielded twice as many birdies (158) as any other hole, and more than three times as many eagles (13) than all the other holes combined (four). It would be Baltusrol's official breather on the weekend except that it was the final hole. With eagle a possibility, though, the 18th was a stage primed for drama, as it was in 1967 when Jack Nicklaus hit a one-iron to the green and made the putt to break Ben Hogan's U.S. Open scoring record by a shot. And on Monday, the 18th was where the 2005 PGA was won and lost. Thomas Bjorn and Steve Elkington narrowly missed crucial birdie putts there, while Phil Mickelson hit the shot of the championship, pitching to within two feet from the greenside rough for the winning 4.
On their own, neither 17 nor 18 has calendar-potential good looks, but together, five plus five equals a perfect 10. No other major championship course closes with back-to-back par-5s. "That's a novelty," says Tour veteran Loren Roberts, who missed the cut. "Every great course has a little quirkiness. You have a three-shot par-5, then you have a chance to make a 3 and leapfrog people. That's a great finish."
The holes are 1,204 yards of agony and ecstasy. "I'd say 17 is a par-5 1/2 and 18 is a par-4 1/2," says Steve Flesch, who tied for 10th last week. "Anything under 10 on those holes is a plus."
August 21, 2005
Most of all, the 17th and 18th were Tiger Tamers. When Woods, who had opened with a five-over 75, gamely tried to rally back into contention last Friday and Saturday, the 17th and 18th holes stopped him like Superman at a Kryptonite buffet. Normally Woods feasts on par-5s, but he played Baltusrol's in one over par in his first six tries. Look no further for the six shots by which Woods trailed Michelson and Davis Love III after 54 holes. On Sunday, Woods finally birdied both holes.
In the second round, after a 354-yard drive at 17 left him with 269 yards to the front, Woods became the first player to take a shot at the faraway green. His stunning three-wood landed pin-high left, but not even all the body English that Woods could muster kept his ball from ricocheting off the side of the green and up against the back edge of a bunker, from where he was forced to chip out sideways en route to a 6.
The bogey meant that Woods needed a birdie at 18 to make the cut in his 38th straight major, one off the record held by Nicklaus. He launched another perfect drive, hitting the fairway between a narrow waterway in the left rough and a row of bunkers in the right rough, then dropped a 196-yard seven-iron shot onto the green and two-putted. "I was really proud of that," Woods said. The clutch birdie was payback for the bizarre bogey he made there the day before, when his pulled tee shot caromed off a tree and curiously embedded near the edge of the water hazard. Woods believed someone--a marshal or a cameraman--stepped on his ball. No one confessed, so he was forced to take an unplayable-lie penalty and suffer a bogey.
The Tiger Tamers got Woods again on Saturday. He was four under for his round and charging up the leader board. A birdie-eagle finish would've given him the 63 he badly needed to rattle the leaders. Another massive drive at 17 left him with 274 yards to the hole and a problem. He couldn't get home with a two-iron, but a three-wood in the steamy air would fly too far. He tried to fade a three-wood but pulled it badly. The ball finished under a fan's folding chair near a tree. Woods pitched on and made his par. At 18 he dropped another seven-iron over the flag, but his 25-foot downhill eagle putt raced 15 feet past the cup to the front of the green, and he missed the comebacker. Afterward he was angry, frustrated and demoralized. "It wasn't that hard of a shot," he said of the three-wood. "Then I three-putt the last hole. It leaves a really bad taste in your mouth."
The 17th had appeared unreachable--though not impregnable--until Woods played it on Friday. In the first round Kenny Perry's third shot glanced off the flagstick, bounced crazily on the green and spun back into the cup for a 3, but no one had even tried to go for the green in two before Woods. The 17th was lengthened by 20 yards from the distance it played in the 1993 U.S. Open, when Daly made headlines for reaching it in two with a one-iron second shot. While Woods clearly had the length to reach the green last week, Daly, after a 370-yard drive, was the first--and only--player to actually put his ball on the green in two, using a three-iron on Saturday afternoon. Daly two-putted for birdie with his sand wedge, which he began using on the 12th hole after his putter head came loose at 11. "It's been 12 years," Daly told the The Star-Ledger. "Age must not make a difference."
The 17th and 18th holes have aged even better, still presenting the kind of strategic challenges Tillinghast wanted when he built them 83 years ago. The championship-changing par-5s offer something else that's important. "We need 'em," said runner-up Steve Elkington, suppressing a smile. "We're so far out there, we're still 1,200 yards from the clubhouse."
Woods was frustrated on Saturday. "It wasn't that hard of a shot," he said of a pulled three-wood at 17. "Then I three-putt . IT LEAVES A BAD TASTE IN YOUR MOUTH."