PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Standing in a sand trap, Scott Verplank poked his head up over the high, grassy ridge that blocked his view of the 14th green as he tried to get a feel for the pin placement on what has turned into one of the trickiest holes at the U.S. Open.
It’s a frustrating spot on Pebble Beach’s back nine. The hole of doom, to do it proper justice.
“If you’re in that bunker, you’re not seeing much, you’re just seeing the rescue,” Verplank said. “It’s tough.”
Verplank wound up with a double-bogey on the par-5, 523-yard hole Thursday. It caused Yuta Ikeda absolute fits, too. And many others. Golfers often have to contend with hitting into the wind on No. 14.
It didn’t get any easier Friday.
This is one hole that everybody in the 156-man field would probably prefer to scratch from the course and tournament altogether if they could.
No. 14 has been brutal for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am held here each February – and for the U.S. Open, a major, it’s tougher still.
The rolling green sits atop a plateau and gives golfers very few spots to safely place the ball. There’s often the risk of watching a shot trickle off the green and back down the slope any which way, sometimes right back to a player’s feet. That was the case for Paul Casey on Friday morning, when he triple-bogeyed 14.
Later in the day, Zach Johnson made a 9 to move him from 4 over to 8 over. He punched from the back of the green, caught a ridge and his ball went down the slope and settled in front of the sand trap. His next attempt traveled over the slope on the left side, and his next back down the slope again.
Kenny Kim, Ian Poulter and Y.E. Yang were also all over the place. They each scored 8. Poulter watched his chip go up the slope and right back down.
“We’ve talked about that all week, it’s probably the hardest third shot in all of golf,” Tiger Woods said. “The way the green is right now, during AT&T it’s no big deal, it’s just going to plug up there, but not right now. It’s very tricky.”
Nick Faldo knows this spot all too well. It was in the second round here in 1992, back two Opens ago played on the picturesque Monterey Peninsula, that Faldo had to go into the oak tree to the left of the green looking for his ball. He shook the branches and never did retrieve it, and instead was forced to play his provisional.
Dustin Johnson, winner of the past two AT&T’s here, four-putted on 14 during Thursday’s round for a 7. He was near the top of the leaderboard after shooting a 1-under 70 on Friday, and would surely have been in better shape with a lower score on the 14th. Johnson made par on 14 Friday.
“It becomes a tough hole if you get too aggressive,” Tim Clark said. “It’s one of those if you do take on the flag and make a mistake you can bring in a big number.”
He doesn’t have to remind Ikeda.
An Open first-timer from Japan, he chipped up his third shot Thursday only to see the ball land short and roll all the way back down the slope some 20 feet to his right, setting up a tougher one still. Then, on his next try, he chipped too hard and the ball traveled down the hill on the far side of the green back toward the fairway. He was baffled, in disbelief at his suddenly lousy fortunes.
Ikeda tapped his right foot and held his hands together behind his back as he waited for the others to finish up following his 8 for triple-bogey.
“I’m sure there will be plenty more,” Adam Scott said. “If you play good shots and they don’t pan out, you pay a big penalty there. So, frustration.”
Casey, who was in a three-way share of the lead after the opening round, hit his third shot to the middle of the green, it spun back more than 100 feet and traveled down the front slope. Then his next chip did the same thing and Casey had to hop out of the way as the ball settled right back in front of him. He hit his fifth shot over the green, then needed three to finish.
Scott’s first-day playing partner and fellow Aussie Geoff Ogilvy chopped his iron several times through the grass when his third ball at 14 didn’t cooperate, settling to the left in the second cut of rough below the green.
Scott didn’t like his shot, either, and tossed his club at his golf bag standing nearby. Both stood in silence, arms crossed as they waited.
“You have no option, really. You have to try to hit it up on the top shelf there because if you’re on the right side it comes down the front,” Scott said. “You have to hit a good shot – pinpoint accuracy. It’s probably going to play one of the toughest this week.”
Matt Bettencourt didn’t even bother getting angry when his flop shot from the rough came up short. He signaled to the ball with his right hand as if to guide it as it rolled right back to him.
The USGA has no plans to make the 14th much different in the later rounds, either.
Mike Davis, the USGA’s senior director of rules and competition who set up the course, said all four days will feature pin placements in the upper left quadrant of the green.
“That right section just has too much slope to use it,” he said. “You’re going to see the same thing on the eighth green, where we really can only put it on that ridge in the middle, same thing on the 11th green on the ridge, same thing on 13th down left. It’s the nature of Pebble Beach’s greens.”
Woods played his first two shots Thursday at 14 perfectly, then his third wedge shot went long and over the green. Some golfers opted to putt off the rough and made par. In hindsight, Ikeda probably wishes he’d done just that.
K.J. Choi concentrates on making a right-side lie – though he still scored a double-bogey there Friday.
“It’s very tough on the left side, so it’s a very scary shot to the left,” Choi said.
Verplank insists it takes near-perfect shotmaking on this pesky hole.
“You just have to hit good shots,” he said. “I thought I hit a good third shot. To be honest with you, actually I hit it perfect, and it went about 10 yards shorter in the air than I thought it was going to and plugged in the lip. Then I was done. I couldn’t even get it out. Unfortunately, that’s how that hole is sometimes.