PGA Tour looking at switching 9s at Tour Championship, not all agree
By Doug Ferguson
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 FedExCup 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."
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