ollowing through on my notion that holes fourteen through eighteen was the toughest stretch on the course, I caught up with the group of Bernhard Langer, Mark O’Meara and amateur Paul Simson.
By the time they had reach the fourteenth, Langer was -1; O’Meara, -5 and Simson +2.
O’Meara’s tee shot off 14 was down the left side; not the best result for the sweeping curve of this hole. There are trees there that would block his shot.
Langer, also hitting a driver, drove it stright right toward the creek; the draw didn’t take, and the ball bounded visibly over the edge of the creek bed. His ball in an unplayable position, he would have to take a drop.
Simson had the best shot of the three, placing the ball in the middle of the fairway.
It appeard as though O’Meara had no real view of the green; he was behind that outcropping of hill you see in the photo above on the left.
“Fourteen wasn’t too bad because I was just off the edge fo the fairway there on the left,” he said later. “I hit a five iron to keep it under the branches.”
O’Meara’s shot landed near the front of the green, rolled up and then—as I thought—rolled right off the green. Then, luck intervened. He hit a sprinkler head and stopped.
“That’s what happens when things are going your way,” O’Meara said. O’Meara got a nice drop out of that one.
Simson also fell victim to the green’s contours. He hit the front right and rolled down the slope toward the creek. He’d have an uphill chip. Two putts later, he was in for a bogey.
Langer was in the best position, in the middle of the green, some thirty feet away.He finished off with a bogey. O’Meara made two putts for par.
n the par 3 fifteenth, O’Meara was right of the hole, and Simson left. Langer rolled somewhat left and then off the back side of the green.
Langer managed to chip back up to a couple of feet and tap in. O’Meara’s first putt was wide, forcing him to make an unnecessary comebacker. Simson made a steady two putt. All three escaped with pars.
ith the honors on 16, O’Meara drove the ball left into the rough, about 190 to the center. Langer was just inside that on the left side of the fairway. Simson had a perfect placement at about 200 right.
For all three, the second shot is severely uphill— a full club at least—to a green shat slopes sharply to the front.
Langer’s second caught the front edge and trickled a few yards down. Simson caught the same plane, to right.
O’Meara had trouble, though.
“I had a fairly decent lie in the rough, but it wasn’t the greatest. I was trying to hold the face open, and it was a little on the upslope. I just dropped my head back and kind of hit behind it and the face turned over on it. It wasn’t very pretty, but that’s golf, you know.’
The ball carried perhaps 120 yards uphill and left along the rope line. He still had 75 yards to go, but from there, it was a flat shot. O’Meara hit a nice pitch that landed 12 feet from the hole. The putt went in for par.
Langer’s first putt was straight uphill, and a couple of feet short. He tapped it in. Simson also two putted for par.
ff the tee on seventeen, it looked like O’Meara again was headed for trouble. The shot took off to the side of the left bunker toward the trees. Langer curved it over the facing cliff bunker, hitting fairway. Simson hit a great shot right down the middle, but short of the other two.
Simson, playing steadily, took a wood to the green, landing it softly on the left side. A curious choice, though, for the flag was right.
Langer placed a perfect shot on the steeply sloping green just below the hole.
O’Meara’s tee shot turned out to be perfect—right in the fairway—but he was destined for more trouble:
“I was pretty disappointed. I mean, 127 yards to the hole from the middle of the fairway with a wedge and I pulled it way left. So that was a pretty bad shot.”
The ball caught the top edge of the bunker and dribbled in. It got worse. O’Meara “chunked” (his words) his bunker shot and left it way short. But his putting skills saved him again. It was a sidehill shot, and he played it a little high, letting the ball drift into the hole.
Later, at the media center inverviews, a reporter asked if he felt his putter was letting him down. That reporter surely did’t see any of O’Meara’s performance on the back five. O’Meara kind of shot the guy down by saying that his statistics lately belied that notion.
Simson’s first putt—also across the slope—was high, leaving him with a tap in.
Langer had to be disappointed with his result.He had the easiest putt of the three, but it glanced a little left.
imson’s shot on the eighteenth was a beautiful drive to about 100 in. Langer was perhaps 120. O’Meara again flirted with disaster, pushing the ball a little left, where it hung up in the second cut.
Furthest away, O’Meara hit a shot that I was sure would carry the green. Instead, it caught the very back right corner rolled a bit and stopped. He was flirting with trouble. An inch futher back, and it would have rolled right off the green.
Langer and Simson both hit steady shots, in good position.
O’Meara was hesitant, and left the ball short. Nerves? Fatigue? Probably a little of both. He tapped it in.
Simson two putted for par, but Langer finished in grand style with a birdie.
For this group, the last five holes didn’t prove as much trouble as I thought—even for amateur Simson. But I think that might be a result of the overnight rain and the generally damp conditions.
O’Meara—and Mark Allen in an interview before him—noted that the wet conditions were’t nearly as important as the lack of wind:
“Today, not much wind, some of the shorter holes you’ve got to take advantage of, and then the longer holes if you drive the ball well, I think the longest iron like I said was probably a 5 iron I hit in, but that’s only because I was driving the ball well.”
No one seems to be going low on 14 through 18, though. Co-leader (as of this writing) Mark Allen started on the back nine, getting to two under by 12, and then going par through 18. He went to three under on 2, four under on 4 and five under on 7. That’s pretty much a mirror image of what O’Meara did. O’Meara went to one under on 2, two on 3; 3 on 4, 4 on 10 and reached five under on 11 before finishing out in par.
Right now, Peter Senior of Australia is six under on the tenth, with the hard stretch ahead of him.
Conditions must be favorable because there are a lot of red numbers on the board today. As of this writing, sixteen are in the clubhouse under par.