Amid the predictable toing and froing in steamy Atlanta yesterday, there was a common theme among those candidates involved in what has become quite a rowdy battle to land the 93rd US PGA Championship: no touring professional is particularly fond of the 18th hole at the Highlands Course. It leaves them feeling low.
In fact, let us rephrase that: some professionals visibly hate this finishing hole so much that they are actively campaigning to see it reworked from a hate-filled par-4 to a more relenting par-5. The 18th hole is 507 yards of water, sand and much wailing. Oh, how they lament the unfairness of it all.
Shaun Micheel won the US PGA Championship in 2003, but does not care much for a closing stretch of soil that has had a stroke average of 4.57 over the first four days. It is ranked as the toughest hole on the course. It is surely among the most arduous closing holes in Championship golf.
"There's no place to hit the ball there," opined Micheel. "That hole should be a par-5, if anybody is listening. I'm just going to start hitting it in the crowd and just take my chances on hurting somebody."
With players knocking the ball over 350 yards with drivers the size of clubhouses these days, one might ask what is the problem with the 18th hole? The answer seems to be in the general design. There is a lake on the left and four bunkers waiting to catch an errant tee shot on the right. The straightest of straight hitters does not have to err much to be caught out with the sand only six feet away from a landing strip so tight one could barely plant flowers on it.
If a player gets the first part right, it could yet go wrong with more water needing to be confronted from over 200 yards out with the second shot. If a player is facing this beast with a comfortable lead on Sunday evening, the wise move may be to knock three irons to the green and two putt for a five - but even that is easier said than done.
Luke Donald, officially ranked as the world's best player, departed the 18th tee on three under par yesterday. He was left looking dazed and confused when he meandered off the closing green 10 minutes later at one under.
His drive found the sand forcing him to lay up for his second, but the third shot provided enough trepidation for Donald to find the water with his approach. He escaped with a double bogey six, but his hopes may already be sunk in a watery grave with pacesetting US pair Brendan Steele and Jason Dufner six strokes ahead of Donald.
Jim Furyk, one of the more dependable drivers of a golf ball, followed that path well-trodden later in the day when he walloped his drive into the drink before skelping his third shot into more water. A wedge and a putt salvaged a six, but Furyk fell back to join Donald on one under. He must now rely on mistakes from other players.
Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott have all been in the lake on the 18th hole. Phil Mickelson cannot seem to find a way to make a four.
Mickelson has gone five, six, five when three pars would have left him only three strokes behind the leaders approaching the final round. As it stands, 'Lefty' is seven behind and unlikely to make off with the loot on Sunday evening.
Mickelson managed to manoeuvre his ball on to the dance floor with a two iron on Saturday moments after he had flirted with the water from the tee, but left himself so far from the hole that he three putted. The 18th hole is a wolf in sheep's clothing.
"It is very important not to get caught up in the scorecard, and not to think too much about the par," said Robert Karlsson after completing the hole as a regulation par-5.
Adam Scott has confessed nothing will be settled in the tournament until the leader has negotiated the 72nd hole of this US PGA.
"I stood in the middle of the fairway with a 3-iron on Thursday, and didn't feel great about hitting a 3-iron into that green. There's a lot of things that can go wrong doing that," he said. "In all likelihood, if I needed a four to win, I don't know whether I would be going for the green with a 3-iron on Sunday.
"I would probably lay up even if I was in the fairway because I could lose it hitting 3-iron."
The bewitching factor about the 18th hole is that every player out there knows that it is coming up, but can be left paralysed by its effect. They have to walk up a steep hill from the 17th green to the 18th tee probably gulping. They know they face a potential dreamwrecker, an impending car crash in the death throes of their round.
Some look like condemned men heading for the gallows. Whoever finds a way to deal with 18 may yet hold the key to greater riches at the season's final Major. It is said Robert Trent Jones devised the original back nine at the Georgia course, but surely the devil had a hand in it. The final hole of the day is truly wicked.
SHOT OF THE DAY
He has not had much going for him this week with the wrist injury, but Rory McIlroy's approach to the 17th hole is worth shot of the day. The young Northern Irishman looked to be heading for water with his approach to the long par-3, but the ball hit off the concrete surrounding the green before bouncing up and landing 10 feet from the hole. In keeping with his general struggles at seven over par for the three rounds, he missed the birdie putt.
JOHN DALY OUTFIT OF THE DAY
Nobody can match Daly for colour, but the zestful Jhonattan Vegas was spotted in a lemon yellow polo shirt. He has obviously been checking out the other Johnny Vegas and his annoying adverts for the larger men in our midst.