'Southern Discomfort'

Many golfers this week have referred to the last quartet of holes as arguably the most difficult four-hole closing stretch in golf. They played that way Thursday, vexing challengers from Tiger Woods to Phil Mickelson.


The par-3 15th played to 253 yards and a stroke average of 3.436 on Thursday. (Getty Images)

By T.J. Auclair, Interactive Producer

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- The first round of the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club’s Highlands Course was an ugly one for Tiger Woods.

How ugly? The ugliest start to a major in his career – a 7-over 77.

“I'm not down,” Woods said. “I'm really angry right now.  So there's a lot of work I could use beyond that.”

Playing the back nine first, Woods was cruising along at 3 under through his first five holes. And then, just like that, four holes later, he was making the turn at 2 over.

That’s right. The 14-time major champion played a four-hole stretch in 5 over par. This isn’t just any four-hole stretch, though. This is a four-hole stretch that many golfers this week have referred to as arguably the most difficult four-hole closing stretch in golf.

Hole Nos. 15-18 at Atlanta Athletic Club don’t have a nickname, but a reader offered up a great one on Thursday: “Southern Discomfort.”

That string contains four of the 11 most difficult holes on the course.

First in line to greet the players is the 260-yard, par-3 15th, with a green protected by water. That led Bo Van Pelt to refer to the hole earlier in the week as a, “reachable par 3.” It played the second-most difficult on Thursday with a stroke-average of 3.436.

Woods dropped two shots there, taking a double bogey after his tee shot found the water. In all, there were 42 double bogeys or worse on No. 15.

No. 16 is an uphill par-4 measuring 476 yards. It’s far more intimidating in person than on paper. No. 16 was the sixth most difficult hole in the first round, playing to an average of 4.218.

No. 17, a 207-yard par 3, might seem like a bit of a breather for the boys, but it’s AAC’s signature hole with a green guarded by a huge lake. It’s scoring average on Thursday? Also over par at 3.160 -- the 11th hardest.

And last, but not least, the biggest beast of them all -- the 507-yard, par-4 18th. It was the most difficult hole on the course in Round 1 with a stroke average of 4.712. It was also the site of Tiger’s second double bogey in four holes.

No. 18 yielded just nine birdies in the first round to go along with 63 pars, 56 bogeys, 17 double bogeys and 19 in the “other” category.

“You know the thing about 18 is it's a great par 5 in the back,” joked Phil Mickelson about the par 4 after a 1-over 71. “But the landing area has to be the same area, even though the tee is moved up 60 yards, you still have to hit it to the same area because of the way the water has cut in, and the fairway that turns left banks into the bunkers. So it's a great par 5, and it's just, you know, it's a great par 5.” 

All in all, Padraig Harrington (3-over 73) said aside from No. 15, the last three closing holes actually played easier than he expected.

“I think the way it played today was an excellent finish, yeah,” he said. “It will be tough now off the plates as we played it in the practice rounds, but today the finish was very stern.  No. 15 may be a bit too tough.  But, the other ones certainly played a lot easier today and it was nice to walk up to each tee and get the extra 20 yards.”

One thing is certain -- no player will feel safe with a lead facing the last four holes come Sunday.