Monday, June 16, 2008

The USGA finally fired the gun that had been hanging on the wall all week by moving up the tee box on Torrey Pines' par-4 14th hole, shortening it from 435 yards to 277 for the final round. That made it reachable for virtually every player in the field.
The move created a Happy Gilmore atmosphere for fans, who cheered lustily  when a player eschewed the lay-up iron for a 3-wood or driver (or in Sergio Garcia's case, a 5-wood). It also created a pivotal hole in this U.S. Open that actually favored the shorter hitters.
In all, 56 of the 80 players elected to go for it, usually with a 3-wood, but shorter-hitting guys like Jim Furyk and David Toms hit driver, while bombers like Anthony Kim went for the green with a hybrid. The hole was actually too short for Tiger Woods, who said he couldn't hit his 3-wood.
"You couldn't have picked a worse number for me," Woods said. "Because 5-wood is my number to the front, but it's into the wind so I can't get there. 3-wood's too much. ... If we were to play it from the back of that upper tee I could have hit 3-wood and gone for it, but I couldn't  have had a worse situation numbers-wise."
So Woods laid up, wedged it on the green and made par; his rival and Monday playoff opponent Rocco Mediate, whose average drive was almost 40 yards less than Tiger's for the tournament, landed his 3-wood in the left-front bunker and got up-and-down for birdie.
"It was like having a carrot in front of the horse, but very few guys were able to hit this green" said Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Dave Phillips, who teaches in nearby Oceanside. "The long guys didn't benefit, but it brought the rest of the field back in."
Basically, if you could play your 3-wood the hole was perfect, Phillips said, but if you couldn't -- like Woods -- then you had to lay up.
"I thought it was a great thing to do, and it ended up being a pivotal hole" Phillips said.
He added that if the USGA decides to keep the tee box up for Monday's playoff, it wouldn't be unfair to Woods, even though the length favors Mediate.
"Tiger has a major advantage on the par 5s," Phillips said. "It's nice to have a hole where the short hitters can capitalize."

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