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Archive for Sunday, August 18, 2002

Weather scares PGA into shortening 16th

August 18, 2002

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— The signature hole at Hazeltine National lost some of its identity for the third round of the PGA Championship on Saturday.

Worried the relentless prairie wind and an overnight storm that drenched the course would make the par-4 16th far too difficult, PGA officials moved the tee up approximately 60 yards.

The change effectively turned the difficult 402-yard, waterfront hole into a much more manageable 340-yarder, especially once the leaders arrived under improving conditions late in the day.

Without the change, tee shots into wind gusting 30 mph and higher would have had to carry 220 yards across Lake Hazeltine to a narrow fairway guarded on both sides by water.

"When you're coming off 15 and you are walking down there, you are thinking, 'This is going to be a hell of a tee shot,'" said Kevin Sutherland, who had a 1-under 71. "So I'm thinking driver, hit it good and, hopefully, get it to the fairway.

"Then I get there and the tees are up, so I hit a 2-iron and a 6-iron. Obviously, it was still playing very difficult, but it made it quite a bit easier."

It isn't common for tournament officials to radically adjust any championship course's best-known holes, but the extreme weather conditions at the start of play Saturday led to the exception.

The golfers' response: Whew.

"You still had to hit a great tee shot or else," Rocco Mediate said. "It could have been (unfair). It could have made some of us and maybe the PGA look a little silly, because if you got a gust, and it's 220 to 225 to carry and you mis-hit it a little bit, it's see you later."

Unlike Friday, when nearly all the low scores came early in the day when it was sunny and calm, it was preferable to play 16 late in the day Saturday, once the wind calmed down somewhat.

Justin Leonard, who takes a three-shot lead over Rich Beem into Sunday's final round, birdied 16, as did two others in the top 10. Of that group, only Mediate and Mark Calcavecchia bogeyed it.

"I think if they would have kept it way back there, some of us guys might not have gotten over the water, as hard as the wind was blowing," Tiger Woods said. "It gave us an opportunity to at least get it up there with a reasonable chance."

Even with the change, No. 16 was the second toughest hole in the third round, with an average score of 4.528. It was the toughest hole in the second round (4.445) and the first round (4.699).

Of course, the weather could have been worse. It could have been the third round at the British Open last month, when the strong wind was accompanied by rain that blew sideways and wind chill factors in the 30s, or the rain-soaked second round of the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

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