A killer closer

The 18th hole at Atlanta Athletic Club has proved plenty of drama over the years, but this week it's provided mostly peril. The big, red numbers on the scorecards of players from Gary Woodland to Adam Scott and Nick Watney to Matteo Manassero can testify to its danger.


If the water guarding the 18th green doesn't get you, the bunkers just might, as Anders Hansen can attest. (Getty Images)

By Steve Eubanks, Contributor

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- It has been the site of some incredible drama. The final hole at Atlanta Athletic Club has a plaque in the ground where Jerry Pate hit his memorable 5-iron to win the 1976 U.S. Open, and every time David Toms inches up a leaderboard, the layup shot and up-and-down par to win the 2001 PGA Championship gets replayed. 

On Friday of this PGA Championship, the 18th hole became the site of some drama as well, most of it perilous.

With the tee moved up to bring more water into play, the par-4 18th averaged 4.67 strokes, higher than the par-5 fifth and just two-tenths of a shot easier than the par-5 12th. And that was with 30 yards of teeing area left behind Friday’s markers. 

The heartache came early and often. Gary Woodland birdied the 17th to get to 3 under, a shot out of the lead at the time. But he followed it up with a triple bogey at 18 to fall back to even par. 

At least Woodland gets to play the weekend, which is something that PGA Club Professional Bob Sowards cannot say. Two shots under the projected cut line after making pars at 16 and 17, Sowards could have made bogey on 18 and stuck around for Saturday and Sunday. Instead, he made triple and missed the cut by two. 

Y.E. Yang made 7 on 18 after battling back to even par for the tournament. First-round leader Steve Stricker was at 4 under and a shot back of the second-round lead when he dunked one on the water at 18 and made bogey. D.A. Points was leading at 5 under when he found the bunker off the tee, laid up and failed to get up and down. He finished the day one back.

“It’s a hard hole; you can’t escape that,” Adam Scott said. Scott also found trouble at the last. After making great up-and-down pars at 15 and 17 to get to the final tee at 4 under, Scott hit a 3-wood too far right. He was over the bunkers and in the trees with a narrow opening through which to hit a punch shot.

“I was only trying to fly it 70 or 80 yards,” he said. “I thought I hit a quite good shot.” 

He appeared to hit it perfectly, but the ball bounded down the hard, fast fairway. It trickled over the rock wall and into the water. Scott made double bogey for his second straight round of 69. 

“It’s an easier tee shot the further the tee goes back, definitely,” Scott said. “Today, really, the best play would probably be to hit a 3-iron or a hybrid off the tee, but then you’re faced with 250 yards to the green. So if the tee goes back, it’s an easier tee shot.” 

Easier maybe, but far from easy. Nick Watney was 4 under for 34 holes, but 5 over in his two trips down 18.  Matteo Manassero was 2 under for all the holes other than the 18th, but he made 5 and 7 in his two visits. No hole had more triple bogeys, and no closing hole in a major has played harder in recent years. 

“Yesterday I stood in the middle of that fairway with a 3-iron, and didn’t feel great about hitting it at that green,” Scott said. “There are a lot of things that can go wrong. In all likelihood, if I needed a 4 to win, I don’t know whether I would be going for the green with a 3-iron on Sunday. I would probably lay up even if I was in the fairway. I could lose it by hitting 3-iron.”