Overpower this course? PGA Championship leaders are outsmarting it instead
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — The conventional wisdom was that long and mostly straight would be the winning recipe at the 93rd PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club. Very straight, no matter how long, is proving much more effective.
More than anything else, that explains the assortment of cagey veterans and largely anonymous pros on the leaderboard halfway through the season's final major. The common denominator that runs from co-leaders Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley, who are five under, through the four men just a shot behind them? They're the ones doing the best job of avoiding the course's nine water hazards, Bermuda rough and the week's big surprise: sand that's giving players fits out of the fairway bunkers.
"The bunkers aren't playing that well to hit approaches into the greens," said Dufner, who eagled the fifth hole on the way to a 65, the second lowest round of the day, and who has never won on Tour. "And the rough is probably even worse. So being in the fairway is paramount in being able to score."
That's especially true on the long par 4s like the uphill, 468-yard 16th and the loathed, 486-yard 18th. Dufner has hit 18 of 28 fairways, which seems good but not great until you realize he's gone 14 for 14 on the tougher back nine.
Everyone knew Atlanta Athletic Club would be rife with water hazards, but the quality of the sand in the bunkers has taken players by surprise.
"The sand is very heavy," said D.A. Points, who shot 67 and was at four under with John Senden, Jim Furyk and Scott Verplank. "The sand is very powdery, so if your ball rolls into it, it does not sit on the top of the sand. It sits a sixth of the golf ball down or it just nestles into the [sand]. It's almost better if you can somehow hit a shot into a place where somebody has already raked."
Amateurs often hit the ball fat out of fairway bunkers, but pros don't — usually. Even multiple major winners like Angel Cabrera and Phil Mickelson have fluffed fairway bunker shots this week, watching the ball fly only 50-75 percent of the way to its intended target. The solution? Don't hit into them in the first place.
Points has hit an uncanny 24 of 28 fairways over the first two rounds. Perhaps his full name is Darn Accurate. (It's actually Darren Andrew.) He and Mark Wilson (71-140) are tied for the lead in driving accuracy percentage.
Meanwhile, crooked hitters are getting punished.
"I need some work," Tiger Woods said after shooting a 73 to miss the cut for just the fourth time-his third time as a pro-in 62 major championship starts.
Woods can talk about hitting the ball too far, or too straight, as he did after his round, but the fact is he hit too few fairways, just 12 of 28, to play well here.
"You've got to hit a great tee shot on the long holes," said Senden (20 of 28 fairways), who shot his second 68 on Friday. "Sixteen and 18 are crucial with the driving. You have to hit fairways to have any chance of making the green."