A close look at Whistling Straits
It was the longest course in major championship history when we last visited Whistling Straits and there were some nervous voices that thought it could embarrass the best players in the world the same way that Carnoustie had in 1999. The PGA Championship committee, however, is far too savvy to let that happen and despite Singh’s lackluster Sunday round the course was well received by both players and fans. With very few changes from 2004, the course remains essentially the same, but if you’re anything like me, you don’t remember much about the holes because of all the visual distractions that steal the show.
Having just spent a few days there with the course all to myself I can tell you that there is enough ebb and flow to the layout to provide some salve to the brutality that deep rough, deep bunkers, fast greens and strong winds will inevitably cause. The first three holes – a short par 4, a relatively easy par 5 and beautiful but somewhat soft par 3 – allow the players to ease into the round before they are hit by everything that Pete Dye, Herb Kohler and Mother Nature can throw at them on the 489 yard par 4, fourth hole.
With the prevailing summer breeze in the players' face, a sloping fairway that weaves its way through bunkers and fescue and green that is long but narrow and is perched on a cliff, No. 4 could easily prove to be the hardest hole of the week. The par 5, fifth hole is a double dog leg that will produce some heroic moments with a lake that is shallow enough in front of the green to lure players into bold plays and exploding from its banks should they come up short. The sixth hole is a drivable par 4 that may be one of the more interesting holes I have seen. Disaster awaits should a player miss the fairway left and for the last 100 yards into the green the fairway slopes downhill so shots will feed into the green. The most prominent feature of the hole, though, is a new bunker that essentially divides the green and is about 7 feet deep and leaves a sliver of green on the right that will probably see at least two hole placements.
No. 7 is a par 3 that will take the breath away of players and fans but for different reasons. Sitting on the lake’s edge it is a photographer’s dream and at 221 yards, with a green that is 43 steps deep and about 15 steps wide, surrounded by harrowing lies, it is a player’s nightmare. The eighth is a par 4 over 500 yards, with a blind tee shot to one of the widest fairways on the course but if a player misses that fairway, he will do well to make bogey. The ninth, a mid-length par 4, will most likely give the players a crosswind to deal with and 7 mile creek to the right of the green will catch a few balls, especially in a south wind.
Another potentially drivable par 4 starts the back nine, which was the site of one of the most memorable shots from the 2004 PGA. Singh took driver out and with one swing set up a birdie that would lead to his victory. The eleventh is a long par 5 that is reachable in a south wind but by no means a birdie otherwise. The 12th is a short 3, but pure genius in its design, with one of the most unique greens I’ve seen. If the pin is back right the drama is not to be missed. Thirteen and fourteen are short par 4s that give a little breathing room before the final four holes that rivals the toughest finish in golf.
Fifteen is yet another par 4 of well over 500 yards that like Nos. 4 and 8 has a fairway that sits at an awkward angle from 150 yards out so if a player misses it, the layup or the run-up to the green is extraordinarily difficult. The par 5, 16th is along the shore of Lake Michigan and is going to give us a mix of highlights and disasters as it is reachable by everyone. It also has some of the thickest rough on the course, framing a fairway that weaves through a graveyard of bunkers and cliffs. The par 3, 17th is 223 yards and can play as long as 240 yards and, like all the other par 3s at Whistling Straits, sits on the water’s edge and intimidates all who stand on its tee. The finishing hole is a 500 yard par 4 that is as complicated as it is demanding because of a sloping fairway that makes one play away from a straight line to the hole, a creek that cuts across the hole at about 320 yards from the tee and runs up to the green making a missed tee shot a problem of enormous proportions. The green is both large and busy and will give players fits as they try to read its many obvious and equally many, not so obvious, subtle breaks.
This is not a course that allows for recovery or allows for anyone looking to build as the week goes on, as it will severely punish miscues and give us a wide dispersion of scores both good and bad. It will separate the field quickly and without bias to the world ranks. Only those in control of their tee shots have a chance here. Period. After that, you can separate with the normal prejudices to nerves and short game but if a player is missing fairways here he can pack his bags Friday night.
Because of the course’s unforgiving nature it’s likely we will get a surprising winner. Course set ups, in the last decade, have acquiesced to the best players visiting the rough often but that leniency is not subscribed to by the PGA or Whistling Straits.
Fleetwood fires 63, waits to see if score is enough
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Tommy Fleetwood became the sixth player to shoot 63 at the U.S. Open, and just the second to do it in the final round. Now he waits.
Fleetwood teed off almost 2 ½ hours before – and six strokes behind – the leaders at Shinnecock Hills on Sunday, but stormed into the hunt thanks to four consecutive birdies starting at the 12th hole. The Englishman’s round was even more impressive considering he didn’t birdie either of the layout’s par 5s.
Fleetwood finished at 2 over par – after missing a 9-foot putt for birdie and 62 at the 18th – which was tied for second place and one stroke off the lead held by Brooks Koepka when he completed his round.
After speaking with the media, Fleetwood went to the locker room to await a possible playoff, which was changed this year from an 18-hole overtime to just two holes of aggregate play.
“We'll go and relax a little bit and just see,” said Fleetwood, who rolled in 159 feet of birdies putts. “Only time will tell what's going to happen today at the course. If it was like yesterday, I'd feel a little more comfortable than now.”
Fowler follows 84 with 65, praises Shinnecock setup
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – As promised, the USGA dialed back Shinnecock Hills for Sunday’s final round, watering the greens overnight and deferring to more user-friendly hole locations.
The evidence of this was on the leaderboard, with four early finishers having shot under-par rounds, including Rickie Fowler, who closed with a round-of-the-week 65. There were just three under-par cards on Saturday.
“That's the golf course I enjoy playing. Obviously, pin placements were a lot safer,” said Fowler, who had just one bogey on Sunday and opened his day with a 4-under 31 on his opening nine. “The pins today will definitely allow for the greens to firm up and get fast, and we'll see how much they dry out. It was definitely more receptive this morning than yesterday, that's for sure.”
It was a 19-stroke turnaround for Fowler, who ballooned to a third-round 84 on Day 3 during what most contend were the week’s toughest conditions. Fowler had put himself into contention going into the weekend thanks to a second-round 69, but struggled on Saturday afternoon like much of the field.
Fowler said the setup was vastly different to what players faced on Saturday and that even if the winds increase for the afternoon tee times the course will remain playable, unlike Round 3 when many players said the USGA “lost” the golf course.
“They did a good job of staying safe,” Fowler said, “because if it does dry out, it will still be very playable.”
Phil celebrates par on 13, ducks media after round
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Phil Mickelson didn’t have another meltdown at the U.S. Open.
Back on the 13th green Sunday – less than 24 hours after taking a two-shot penalty for hitting a moving ball and recording a sextuple-bogey 10 – Mickelson poured in a 10-footer and raised his arms in mock triumph, as if he’d finally won that elusive major title.
He’d simply made par.
“It looked like he won the Masters,” said playing partner Rickie Fowler. “He didn’t jump, but he had a little celebration there.”
Phil's return to 13 today pic.twitter.com/vxNNEcUxpx— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) June 17, 2018
The par save and the final-round 69 were one of the lone bright spots during what was an adventurous week for Lefty, even by his unpredictable standards. Mickelson’s shocking swat was still the talk of this Open, especially after USGA executive director Mike Davis revealed Saturday night that Mickelson had called him to ask for more clarification on the rule he said that he knew he’d broken.
Despite some calls for him to withdraw from the tournament, Mickelson displayed his usual cheerful demeanor inside the ropes with Fowler.
“He joked about it right as we went down the first hole,” Fowler said.
Fowler said that he didn’t know “if I would have had the wits like Phil to run after it” on 13, but added that it never should have come to that in the first place.
“He could have saved himself a shot by just letting it go and taking unplayable, but then that would still look pretty funny too,” he said. “The course shouldn’t play that way.”
If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.
“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”
USGA slows greens, alters hole locations for Sunday
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – After admitting that it went too far with the setup Saturday at the U.S. Open, USGA officials made some modifications for the final round.
In a statement released Sunday morning, the USGA said that it watered Shinnecock Hills’ greens an “appropriate level” and slowed down the surfaces nearly a foot on the Stimpmeter.
That was in anticipation of a sunny, dry forecast that calls for temperatures to reach 80 degrees and wind gusts up to 20 mph.
They said the setup for the final day is similar to what was used in Round 1, when officials braced for 30-mph winds.
Some of the hole locations were also adjusted based on the forecast – changes, the USGA said, that were meant to “maintain a challenge yet fair U.S. Open test.”