BETHESDA, Md. — At 3 p.m. on Saturday, Andres Romero was on the ninth tee and looked to be running away with the lead at Congressional. With some dazzling iron play, he had birdied four of his first eight holes and led by two over Bill Haas — the only other PGA Tour winner on the first page of the leaderboard.
Haas himself had a wild front side. He didn't record his first par until the seventh hole, but with laser approaches on Nos. 5 and 6 for birdies, and 14- and 18-foot putts for two more on Nos. 8 and 9, respectively, Haas had surged up the leaderboard to eight under par.
Just one stroke behind him was Haas' playing partner James Driscoll and the hulking Canadian Jason Kokrak. Both were having quieter rounds, but creeping up the leaderboard, nevertheless. Kokrak bogeyed two of his first three and seemed to be "the other guy" in a threesome that included the "Belgian Bomber," Nicolas Colsaerts, himself at seven under, as well, thanks to a scorching hot putter — and D.H. Lee, who will regrettably be remembered here for flipping the bird in view of a television camera.
And then came No. 11 …
The par-4 11th at Congressional's Blue Course had been the toughest hole in the first two rounds. The same was true Saturday — it played to .571 strokes over par — and it wasn't even close (No. 2 was 0.325 over).
At 489 yards, it's nothing crazy by PGA Tour standards, and it's straight as an arrow. But that's about where the routine part ends. The fairway is tight and has a pronounced left-to-right slope toward a creek that runs the length of the fairway. Up by the green, the creek becomes a green-hugging pond. Right equals death, and the left side isn't much better with one of the course's larger sand traps just yards from the fringe. The back of the green also slopes way down creating a tough uphill pitch.
Asked about it, Driscoll, who was one of the lucky ones to escape with a par, said, "There's no question about it. It's about a par four and a half." He then paused and said, "If not higher."
Brandt Snedeker (69), who is currently tied for eighth, is the only one on the leaderboard with a circle around No. 11.
"It's one of those holes where you kind of need to have the perfect number," he said.
Doesn't sound so crazy when you think about it that way. After all, some pros have the audacity to tear into their caddies on national television (see: Watson, Bubba) or even fire them on the course (see: Korda, Jessica) when they get enough wrong yardages. But Snedeker was one of the lucky ones. Here's how it played out for the final few groups:
3:10 p.m. Bill Haas blocks his tee shot right … way right. He's actually lucky, though, and goes clear over the creek, so he can punch out into the fairway.
3:16 p.m. Haas recovers nicely, and is left with a 135-yard approach into the green from the left side of the fairway. That, however, makes for a tricky shot into the front right pin next to the water hazard. Sure enough, he dunks it.
3:20 p.m. Crowds are starting to swarm around Colsaerts. His spectacular driving is obviously part of the draw, but he's also generated a few of the largest roars on the course with some clutch medium-distance putting. His driver fails him here, though, as he hits a lazy snap hook 263 yards to the tree line on the left side. He's in the tall grass and calls over a rules official.
3:22 p.m. After a drop, Haas pitches to just under four feet from the hole, but his putt to salvage a double bogey lips out. He walks off the green a full five strokes behind Romero. After the round, he seems befuddled discussing what happened. "It's just that one hole is really hard," he says, "but I think we make it harder on ourselves. It shouldn't be that hard."
3:27 p.m. After discussing his lie with the rules official, Colsaerts takes an unplayable. Kokrak, from the middle of the fairway, finds the greenside trap. He's got a flat lie in the middle, but he'll have to hit out toward the pond — it's a treacherous shot.
3:32 p.m. Roberto Castro pushes his drive to the right. It's within the red stakes by the creek, but he's not actually in the creek itself. Romero doesn't get as lucky and drives down into the water. His bogey-free round is destined to come to an end.
3:34 p.m. Colsaerts flubs his wedge. It bounces off the slope by the pond and in. He stares down at his divot in disbelief for nearly a minute. Kokrak's bunker shot barely hangs on the green. He misses the nine-foot comebacker to save par. He falls back to six under.
3:39 p.m. Castro hacks out of the hazard nicely. He's in roughly the same spot as Colsaerts had been moments earlier. After Colsaerts makes an up-and-down to scamper away with a triple bogey — the second one on the hole in less than 20 minutes — Romero takes his drop and follows the Kokrak route into the left side sand trap. He flails his club in disgust. It's a similar look to the one that comes across his face when talking about No. 11 with the press. His interpreter says only, "Except for 11 and 12, I played really well today."
3:45 p.m. Castro can't finesse his third shot into the green and it sails 20 feet past the hole. It would have been a nice par save, but he settles for bogey — a respectable score when all is said and done. Romero is not so fortunate. He blasts out of the sand, but his four-footer to save bogey goes halfway down and pops out of the cup. When the carnage is finished, he's still the leader by one.
At the end of the day, the scoreboard in Bethesda is about as close to a work of art as a golf scoreboard can get. The left side is littered with pretty red circles, while the right half has blue boxes and red circles that create an almost deliberately abstract asymmetry. But undoubtedly, the focal point is the straight row of blue boxes and double boxes just right of the center of the page. It mocks you almost in the same way that Mona Lisa's stare does.
And we'll do it all again tomorrow.