The closing holes on the Ocean Course deliver nerve-jangling unpredictability
Nowhere does the Ocean Course flirt more intimately with its namesake than on the final three holes: a wind-whipped par-5, par-3, and par-4 stretch that hugs the northeastern shore of Kiawah Island. Locals will tell you that the wind, depending on its direction and velocity, can result in as much as an eight-club difference on these holes -- a wedge approach one day could be a hybrid the next -- which will make setting up Pete Dye's masterwork, and in particular these three holes, an exacting job for the PGA's setup man, Kerry Haigh.
When Haigh decided on the tee locations for the 1991 Ryder Cup at the Ocean Course, he was still fiddling with the markers up until 15 minutes before each session's first group went off. In a stroke-play event, however, he won't have that luxury. "The morning is the only time that you can make that decision," Haigh said recently. "If the winds switch, as they often do along the ocean, it becomes a challenge to select the fairest tees so that the holes play as they were meant to be played." In other words, expect some kvetching from the pros. Here's a closer look at the finishing trio, and why they'll play a key role in determining the 2012 PGA champion.
16TH, PAR 5, 581 YARDS
KEY SHOT: The second shot. The biggest hitters will have 200 yards or so into a green perched on a dune ridge and guarded left by a 10-foot-deep waste bunker. Shots that find the sand leave a nasty pitch, sometimes to a blind pin.
IT HAPPENED HERE: In the first round of the 2007 Senior PGA, Hale Irwin's ball plugged in the face of the bunker left of the green. Extracting it proved difficult, and Irwin wound up with an 8. The club later grassed over the faces of its waste bunkers to prevent such unfairly penal lies.
Dye recently altered the fairway bunkering here (and on 18) to reclaim the course's original bunker lines, which had morphed over time with the shifting dunes.
WIND WATCH: There are no prevailing winds at the Ocean Course, which means that the same hole can require a different strategy from one day to the next. Into the wind, 16 can play like a true three-shotter; downwind, the challenge is stopping the ball on the elevated green.
17TH, PAR 3, 223 YARDS
KEY SHOT: What else -- the tee shot. From the tips, the green looks like it's a zip code away -- it's all carry, and with a hurting wind, it can play almost as far. The bail-out zone is a collection area left of the green, but it's hard to justify missing over there when the hole is cut on the right side of the sprawling green. Come Sunday afternoon, any dry tee ball here is a respectable one, because hitting into a natural amphitheater that can seat between 8,000 and 10,000 people is nothing short of nerve-shredding.
IT HAPPENED HERE: At the '91 Ryder Cup, Mark Calcavecchia arrived at this tee with a two-hole lead over his singles opponent, Colin Montgomerie. (Calc had let Monty back into the match with a triple-bogey and bogey, respectively, on the previous two holes.) After Monty dunked his tee shot into the pond, Calc followed suit with a cold shank that flew no more than 100 yards. Johnny Miller, calling the event for NBC, said on the air that the 17th was so intimidating that it could "make you choke when you're playing a practice round by yourself." Monty went on to win that hole and the next to halve the match. Calc retired to the beach in tears.
WIND WATCH: The tee shot sets up for a fade, but hitting that shot into a right-to-left cross breeze, which is common on this hole, can be a dangerous proposition, particularly when you're aiming for a front-right pin.
18TH, PAR 4, 501 YARDS
KEY SHOT: The tee shot. The shortest, most direct approach into the green is set up by a drive up the right side. But beware: Trouble lurks in the form of bunkering that Dye added to the interior of the dogleg in 2003. Players driving over the crest will see their ball run down the fairway to a point where mounds were created to stop balls before they reach the rough.
IT HAPPENED HERE: During the first three rounds of the 2007 Senior PGA Championship, Denis Watson played Nos. 17 and 18 in 6 over par, which included a pair of double-bogeys during his second round. On Sunday, he parred both holes for a 68 -- and a two-shot victory.
WIND WATCH: The wind at 18 generally mimics the wind at 16. The tee shot is toughest in a left-to-right breeze, because a strong gust can blow even well-struck balls off course and into the dunes.
In 2002, Dye elevated the green complex and moved it approximately 25 yards closer to the Atlantic.