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A favorable pin placement made the par-3 seventh hole a little less treacherous Thursday.
A favorable pin placement made the par-3 seventh hole a little less treacherous Thursday. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tougher set-up suits PGA Professional Coston just fine

Tougher pin placements, longer holes and a stiffer breeze Friday didn't faze PGA Teaching Professional Jeff Coston. Coston carded a second-round 68 at Whistling Straits to give himself a shot at playing on the weekend.

By Barry Pump, Special to PGA.com

KOHLER, Wisc. (PGA.com) -- Lengthened holes, challenging pin placements and, yes, more rain added to the difficulty of Whistling Straits during Friday's second round of the 86th PGA Championship.

For PGA Teaching Professional Jeff Coston, though, the course set up perfectly for a 4-under par 68, a score that tied 2003 PGA Champion Shaun Micheel's for lowest of the morning rounds. Both Coston and Micheel were on the cut bubble at 1-over the tournament.

"It was more difficult today," said the 48-year-old Coston, who teaches at Semiahmoo Golf Resort in Blaine, Wash. "The flags were tucked and the tees were back, so I was sweating bullets. I couldn't have swallowed a BB coming in. I'm glad I finished."

After 39 players broke par Thursday, many analysts thought that the course could be renamed Whimpering Straits. But with second-round clubhouse leader Briny Baird coming in with a 69 on the day, the course was just starting to show its teeth.

"It's a tough golf course," added Coston, who qualified for the tournament through the 37th Club Professional Championship last June. "These guys are the best players in the world, and these guys are going to get (low scores). There's always going to be guys who score low."

The PGA of America adjusted Whistling Straits' record length -- a commanding 7,514 yards -- down to 7,369 yards before Thursday's first round. They cut the "Dyeabolical" 18th from a 500-yard par 4 to a more manageable 449 yards, and they also shaved about 50 yards from Nos. 8 and 11.

"They moved a few tees up and that made the holes easier to handle than they were during the practice rounds," said Jay Haas, who shot a 4-under par 68 for a share of ninth place after the first round. "I didn't think it was that easy (on Thursday), still with the blowing and a cold day. The greens were still kind of soft, and that helped things for us."

Masters' champion Phil Mickelson said the course's ease had everything to do with the light wind, which barely got above 5 mph despite predictions of 20-mph gusts.

"We didn't have the wind," he said. "Without the wind, which is (the course's) main defense, we were able to make a lot of birdies."

Mickelson added that the 1,400 bunkers on the course -- which makes the links-style venue look more like a moonscape than a golf course -- were not in play with such favorable conditions.

"When you have players hitting the fairway, and players of this caliber are, then all the bunkers and rough you see isn't really in play," he said. "We have these fairways and soft greens fire into."

Players who didn't fare as well mostly blamed the change in direction the wind took on Thursday. With gusting winds from the east and west during the practice rounds, players didn't expect a light wind from the north.

"It was pretty benign out there," CPC qualifier Steve Schneiter said after recording 3-over in the first round. "It was a totally different golf course (Thursday). But in the Club Pro in 1999, we may have played it like that one day."

First-round leader Darren Clarke agreed with Haas.

"It played a lot easier (Thursday) than it did in practice," he said. "The wind wasn't gusting quite as hard, and if anything it let down a bit on the back nine. With the greens being a little bit softer with the overnight rains, we were able to go after a few more pins than we probably wouldn't have been able to do in practice.

"They moved a few tees up, which made it a bit easier. I said when I first came here that it was very, very tough with the wind we had in practice, but it's a fantastic golf course. I think it's a great test, and it's going to get tougher as the week goes on."

The tournament officials with the PGA made that happen on Friday - the Straits Course went back to its record length and the hole positions were not as generous.

"They put the tees back to all of the back tees today," said Luke Donald. "On some of the holes where they move the tees back, the pins were in the back of the greens too. That added at least a couple of hundred yards to what it played yesterday."

Donald, who shot a 1-over par 73 to move to 4-under for the tournament - four off the morning leader Briny Baird - was one of the first casualties of the lengthened course.

"I suppose they have to set the course up reasonably fair, especially on Thursday and Friday," the Englishman said. "This is a pretty tough course, and if the weather gets bad, you could have people not finishing. They did a good job of making it at least a couple shots harder out there today."

Donald, who had held a share of third place after the first round, said he was in between clubs a lot, having to fire 2-irons or 3-woods into the par 4s.

"I didn't play too badly today," he said. "If you count the fringe, I hit about 14 or 15 greens. I just didn't capitalize on my birdie chances."

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