Formidable finish

By Randall MellJune 14, 2011, 11:25 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – Mesmerizing and terrifying.

The 18th hole at Congressional Country Club is as beautiful as it is daunting.

Standing in the fairway at the top of the hill, players marvel at the vista that opens to them as they look down at the green, at the spectacular stage built around the U.S. Open’s finishing hole.

They do this while swallowing hard, because this final full shot will substantially challenge their skill and nerve in trying to close out a victory in the final round.

It’s a gorgeous setting, with the hillside forming a natural amphitheater around a long, narrow green that juts out into a pond. There’s water behind, left and right of the green, with the majestic clubhouse as a backdrop.

“It’s everything you expect of a finishing hole,” Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee said taking in the vista during Tuesday’s practice rounds. “It’s also as mean a hole as you can get.”

The 18th hole is 523 yards of wonder and woe, a par 4 requiring two strong shots to avoid trouble.

“You’ve got to hit a good drive first, and then you look down and you see nothing but water,” Jeff Overton said. “It’s going to make for a phenomenal finish, with the water, with the clubhouse in the background. It’s pretty neat. I’m looking forward to Sunday and how this pans out.”

This hole wasn’t technically the finishing hole the last time the U.S. Open was staged at Congressional in 1997, but it’s where the tournament was ultimately won and lost.

Colin Montgomerie’s bid to win ended here back when the hole was played as the 17th. Tied with Ernie Els for the lead on Sunday, Montgomerie fussed over a 5-footer while wary of the distractions at the nearby 18th, now the 10th hole. He missed the putt.

Tom Lehman’s chances ended here, too. He was a shot down, 189 yards away from a back pin with a 7-iron in his hand and an uneven lie. He hit his approach slightly fat and watched his ball draw too hard left and run into the pond.

Els made par and went on to win.

“It takes two great golf shots to play this hole,” Overton said.

Nobody’s won the U.S. Open with a birdie at the final hole since Bobby Jones won at Scioto in 1926.

“And I don’t think you’re going to see that happen here this week,” Chamblee said.

Phil Mickelson got a taste of the challenge in Tuesday’s practice round. Teamed with Overton in a match against Dustin Johnson and Hunter Mahan, Mickelson was over what appeared to be a 7-iron, needing to make birdie with the pin at the back of the green, in one of its most treacherous placements. His team was 1 down in their money match.

Mickelson’s towering shot slammed into the bank on the left side of the green, kicked backward and trickled down into the water.

Still, Mickelson walked away admiring the challenge the hole presented.

“No. 18, to me, is the epitome of a great golf hole,” Mickelson said. “The reason I say that, is everybody can play it. If you miss the fairway, it’s downhill, with an opening in front. You can still chase the ball down there.

“If you’re an average guy, a high-handicapper, you don’t have to have a forced carry to an elevated green to get the ball stopped . . . But if you get a little greedy trying to make a birdie, there’s water short left as well as long. There’s that challenge for a good player to make birdie, but yet it’s very playable.

“It’s just a very well thought-out, well-designed golf hole; I think one of the best that we play.”

Congressional’s Blue Course was originally designed by Devereux Emmet and opened in 1924. It’s been renovated a number of times, most recently by Rees Jones. The hole will play 40 yards longer than it did in ‘97, when Els won the U.S. Open here.

Hunter Mahan said he hit sand wedge into the 18th when he shot 62 at the AT&T National in 2009. He hit 5-iron into the green in Tuesday’s practice round.

“No lead is safe here,” Hunter Mahan said.

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Bjorn adds four Ryder Cup veterans as vice captains

By Will GrayMay 22, 2018, 1:05 pm

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn has added a quartet of vice captains for the biennial matches this fall in Paris.

Bjorn had already named Robert Karlsson as his first assistant, and he announced Tuesday at the BMW PGA Championship that his group of advisors will also include major champions Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell, and former world No. 1s Lee Westwood and Luke Donald.

Westwood is among Europe's most decorated Ryder Cup players, and his addition in this role signals he likely won't participate as a player in the matches for the first time since 1995. The Englishman has spoken openly about his desire to captain the European squad at Whistling Straits in 2020, but he's been quiet on the course in recent months, with a missed secondary cut at the Houston Open his only start since mid-February.

Harrington is seen as another possible captain for the 2020 matches, and he'll don an earpiece for the third straight Ryder Cup, having represented Europe as a player on six straight teams from 1999-2010.

Donald played on four Ryder Cup teams from 2004-12, with the Europeans winning each time he was on the roster. This will mark his first stint as a vice captain, as Donald announced last month that he would be sidelined indefinitely while recovering from a back injury.

At age 38, McDowell will be the youngest vice captain in the room, having holed the winning putt eight years ago at Celtic Manor. He won the French Open in both 2013 and 2014 at Le Golf National, site of this year's matches, and will also be making his debut as a vice captain.

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Bidder pays $50,000 to caddie for Woods

By Grill Room TeamMay 22, 2018, 12:28 pm

Someone has paid $50,000 to caddie for Tiger Woods at this year’s Hero World Challenge.

An unnamed bidder paid for the opportunity at an auction Saturday night at Tiger Jam, where monies are raised to support the Tiger Woods Foundation.

The Hero World Challenge will be contested Nov. 29-Dec. in Albany, Bahamas. The pro-am is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 28.

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:28 am

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams have advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals will be contested on Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


TV Times (all times ET):

11AM-conclusion: Match-play quarterfinals (Click here to watch live)
4-8PM: Match-play semifinals

4-8PM: Match-play finals

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Arizona grabs last spot with eagle putt, playoff win

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2018, 3:18 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – With her team freefalling in the standings, Arizona coach Laura Ianello was down to her last stroke.

The Wildcats began the final round of the NCAA Championship in third place, but they were 19 over par for the day, and outside the top-8 cut line, with only one player left on the course.

Bianca Pagdaganan had transferred from Gonzaga to compete for NCAA titles, and on the 17th hole Ianello told her that she needed to play “the best two holes of your life” to keep the dream alive.

She made par on 17, then hit a 185-yard 6-iron out of a divot to 30 feet. Not knowing where she stood on the final green, Pagdaganan felt an eerie calm over the ball. Sure enough, she buried the eagle putt, setting off a raucous celebration and sending the Wildcats into a play-five, count-four team playoff with Baylor at 33 over par.

Their match-play spot wasn’t yet secure, but Ianello still broke down in tears.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

“Bianca is such an inspiration for all of us,” she said. “She’s the kind of kid that you want to root for, to have good things happen to.”

Arizona prevailed on the second playoff hole. As the 8 seed, the Wildcats will play top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals Tuesday at Karsten Creek.

Though the finish had plenty of drama, no teams played their way into the coveted top 8 on the final day of stroke-play qualifying.

Baylor came closest. The Bears barely advanced past regionals after a mysterious stomach virus affected several players and coaches. They competed in the final round with just four healthy players.

On Monday, Gurleen Kaur put Baylor in position to advance, shooting 68, but the Bears lost by three strokes on the second extra hole.

Arkansas finished one shot shy of the team playoff. The second-ranked Razorbacks, who entered NCAAs as one of the pre-tournament favorites, having won seven times, including their first SEC title, couldn’t overcome a 308-300 start and finished 10th. Player of the Year favorite Maria Fassi finished her week at 19 over par and counted only two rounds toward the team total.