Originally created 08/16/98

Cathedral-like No. 18 can drive golfers mad



REDMOND, Wash. -- Two-time PGA champion Paul Runyan, the first head pro at Sahalee Country Club, once said that hitting down the course's tight fairways was like having to play in a cathedral aisle.

Only in this cathedral there seems to be a lot of cursing, especially down the 18th.

"It's a ridiculous hole," said Andrew Magee, one of the few players to manage a par 4 on the 475-yard hole through two days.

Heading into the third round of the PGA Championship, Sahalee's closing hole has yielded only 10 birdies to 299 players, the fewest of any on the course, and forced 126 bogeys, the most of any hole.

And with a leaderboard jammed with big names and little separation -- courtesy of a course that takes the driver out of play -- the winner of the PGA Championship could very well be the player who survives the 18th.

"The championship will be determined on the 18th, yes," said Colin Montgomerie. "There's no question about that."

The 18th is one of two holes that the PGA of America converted into a par 4, its best defense against players who have become longer and straighter off the tee.

The tee box was moved up about 60 yards, which makes the landing area extremely tight, sloping to the right. And the fairways are running like hallway carpet in a four-star hotel, which makes it even more difficult to find the short grass.

If that's not enough, the landing area can't be seen from the tee.

"We're landing our balls off the tee shot into an area where we're not supposed to land," Montgomerie said. "It's almost too tight to land it in that particular area. That's the problem. I've hit two drives straight up the middle as I've felt. They've both run into the rough on the right.

"The 18th, I don't think, is a favorite of all the players. I think I speak on behalf of them all in saying it was designed as a par 5, and a good one."

Miss the fairway, and there's virtually no chance to reach green from at least 200 yards away from thick, matted rough. And with a green that's 120 feet deep, getting up and down after laying up is no small task.

"You're talking about the final hole of the tournament, and you can't get home a lot of the time," Magee said. "It's a beast."

That's been the trend the past couple of years. At Southern Hills in 1994, the PGA changed number No. 16 into a 468-yard par 4. Two par 5s became par 4s at Winged Foot last year.

The last time a closing hole at a major championship was changed into a par 5 was at Oakland Hills for the U.S. Open in 1996. Tom Lehman hit what looked to be a perfect drive, but it took a funky hop into a bunker and he took bogey. Steve Jones won with a par on the 72nd hole.

"The PGA of America and the USGA are reducing the par in these major tournaments," said Steve Stricker. "I don't know for what reason, if they're protecting the course, or the tournament, or the history of it. But the 18th hole isn't a par 4. It's meant to be played as a par 5.

"I don't understand it, but I guess I'm not the person that has to understand it," he said. "I just play it."

The toughest hole on the course after two rounds has been No. 6 -- another par 5 changed to a par 4 at a whopping 480 yards with a green that's not too receptive to a long iron or a 3-wood.

Despite the length of those two holes, not everyone is hitting driver -- in part because the landing areas favor less club, and also because it is critical to keep the ball in play.

And it's not just Tiger Woods. Montgomerie has left his driver in his locker for two days, replacing it with a 5-wood that he has yet to use.

"It's the type of golf course where nobody has an advantage," Frost said. "The long hitters don't have an advantage over the shorter guys. I think it's anybody's game."

And when it comes to No. 18 today, it could be anybody's tournament.

The last three PGA champions have made birdies on the 18th hole in the final round, although the 10-footer by Davis Love III last year at Winged Foot was a mere formality.

At Sahalee, closing with a par might be good enough.