Kapalua offers a test like few others

Kapalua, 2009 Mercedes Championship, first hole
Robert Beck/SI
Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — From the left side of the 12th fairway about 145 yards from the hole, Geoff Ogilvy hit a low, boring shot well to the left of the green. It landed short, crawled onto the green and rolled hard to the right with the grain to about 25 feet.

Sean O'Hair was next to hit from 125 yards. He hit a high shot at the flag that checked up about 20 feet above the hole.

That snapshot - both made pars - is but one example why the Plantation Course at Kapalua is perhaps the most unique golf course on the PGA Tour. Not only was the course carved out of the side of a mountain by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, each round can bring so many elements that change the strategy.

Beyond that, consider some of the nuances:

- It is the only PGA Tour course that plays to a par 73.

- Only one other course has six par 4s that measure under 400 yards - Pebble Beach, which is played at sea level in soft conditions.

- No other PGA Tour course has seven holes that are longer than 500 yards. Stephen Ames figured one exception might be the U.S. Open, "and that's with no elevation change." Alas, he was mistaken. Bethpage Black only had five holes over 500 yards with very little elevation change, and a lot of rain.

The elevation change at Kapalua is best captured from the 17th tee down the mountain to the first green. Those three holes combine to play at 1,691 yards, with only one of them a par 5. That would be the 663-yard 18th hole.

With no wind, Ernie Els set a PGA Tour record for 72 holes at 31-under par. With a lot of wind, Stuart Appleby won for the third straight time at Kapalua in 2006 at 8-under par.

David Duval won by nine shots, Els won by eight and Ogilvy won by six. There also have been four playoffs in 11 years.

"There have been cases where guys go crazy and win by a lot because it gives you a lot of birdies if you play really well," Ogilvy said. "But it keeps guys in it if they're not driving it quite as well. It's easy to hit the fairways. It can bunch guys, as well."

There have been some peculiar sights this week, such as Troy Matteson staring in disbelief at his pitch mark on the 18th fairway. Playing down the right side with hopes of catching the slope and grain, his ball actually bounced sideways and slightly backward. It landed in a tiny area next to three sprinkler heads. His bad luck.

Maui has not received much rain over the last month, and the course doesn't look overly lush, even though players feel as though they are not getting the roll they have received in years past.

Slugger White, the PGA Tour official in charge of the course, said the only watering this week was by hand to catch "hot spots" that are brown and can die.

Chalk that up to windy conditions.

The course was built with trade wind in mind, yet this week featured the Kona wind. The trade wind blows toward the ocean, meaning the wind goes in the same direction as the slope and the grain. The ball then rolls for miles, or at least it seems that way. This is the week to record 400-yard drives, and there have been six of them going into the final round.

With the Kona wind, it blows up the hill and into the grain, which reduces the roll.

One hole that speaks to the wind change was the 17th on Saturday, which is 508 yards down the hill as a par 4. O'Hair pounded a driver and hit 3-wood for his second shot in the opening round. The tees were moved forward Saturday because of the opposite wind, yet when O'Hair reached the 17th tee, the conditions had switched to a trade wind.

He hit a 3-wood to the right to avoid running through the fairway, leaving him an 8-iron to the green. A 9-iron would have been more appropriate, for he flew the green.

Next week is the Sony Open at Waialae, where about the only elevation change is three steps leading out the clubhouse.

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QUICK TRIP: Heath Slocum was bringing up the rear at the SBS Championship going into the final round, although it was a minor victory that he even made it to Kapalua.

Just his luck, when he finally wins again to qualify, the tournament is right around the time his wife, Victoria, is expecting their second child. She is not due until next week, yet Slocum took every precaution.

He was standing at the ticket counter in Atlanta earlier this week, ready to check his luggage, when he made one more phone call. His wife was at the doctor and reported no indications of impending birth.

Slocum turned to the baggage clerk and said, "Here you go," and away he went.

He planned to leave Maui on Sunday night, and the plan was to induce labor on Tuesday. Slocum said he likely would return at the Bob Hope Classic, assuming all goes well.

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PHILLIES & PEREZ: Pat Perez is desperate to make the Ryder Cup team and believes he can bring a lot to a team room. He already has some experience, although not in golf.

Perez has been part of the Philadelphia Phillies the last few years through Pat Burrell, his neighbor.

"I was part of that (2008) team because I know all of the guys, I had my locker there, I would come and see them all the time," Perez said. "I would really root for them like I was part of the team."

Locker? During spring training?

"No, the whole thing," Perez said. "I would hit balls with Jimmy Rollins, go out on the field and play catch, whatever. I was like one of them team for that year."

Sadly, Burrell was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, and Perez was devastated.

"Worse than me getting hurt," Perez said.

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