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    • Big changes has 'The Green Mile' playing meaner, tougher than ever

      Beastly par-4 16th now stretches past the 500-yard mark

    • The watery 17th hole (foreground) can play as long as 217 yards. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) The watery 17th hole (foreground) can play as long as 217 yards. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

    CHARLOTTE -- The Green Mile, which annually ranks among the toughest three-hole finishing stretches on the PGA TOUR, is sporting a decidedly different look this year.

    All 18 greens, which were so damaged by an unseasonably cool, wet spring last year that officials had to take the unusual step of re-sodding two the week before the tournament, have gotten a facelift, as well.

    And by all accounts, Tom Fazio's most recent handiwork has the Quail Hollow Club back in peak form, ready to challenge the TOUR's best as it hosts the Wells Fargo Championship for the 12th straight year.

    The changes to the 16th hole, which is the first of the three that comprise "The Green Mile," are the most significant as the par 4 was re-routed to the left, which makes it snuggle up closer to the lake. The green, in fact, now resides on an acre of the lake that has been filled in and the entire hole plays 20 yards longer at 508.

    How big a difference is it? Well, there was an oak tree that once was used as a sight line to the left of the original fairway -- now that tree is on the right side of the new one.

    "This brings in the water a little bit more and you might see some bigger numbers at times," Jonas Blixt said. "It's a pretty big tee shot right now. It's not as hard as it used to be but the approach shot has more of a risk/reward to it."

    What was formerly the 16th green is now being used for the tee at the par-3 17th hole, giving the pros a more straightforward shot to a green guarded by the lake on the front and to the left. From the back tees, that hole could play as long as 217 yards, another increase of 20 yards to an already daunting shot.

    Webb Simpson, who is a member at Quail Hollow and lives about a mile from the clubhouse, saw Fazio at a dinner recently.

    "I joked with him with that new tee, if we play it back, the tournament's going to need to hire someone permanently to stand on the tee and every time somebody hits just yell fore because people will go right of the green," he said. "... I just think that tee is so long for such a hard hole that you just have to have the right conditions, I think, to put the tees all the way back there.  

    "So it definitely favors the guys who hit it longer and higher."

    Blixt agreed. He said he expects 70-75 percent of the field to bail out right if tournament officials decide to play the challenging par 3 from the tips.

    "If you want to get it all the way back it's probably a hybrid or 3-iron," the Swede said. "You got water everywhere. So when you have a hybrid or 3-iron, if you hit the green you're pretty happy about it. Otherwise you take the safe way and hit it a little right and try to get up and down, try not to make a huge number."

    Changes were also made to two other holes.

    The par-3 13th green has been moved 15 feet left and been completely rebuilt. And the par-4 eighth, which will measure between 300 and 350 yards, is straighter now, with two bunkers added at the landing area, as well as 10 feet of elevation to the fairway.

    And remember those tender bentgrass greens that caused such consternation a year ago? Well, as planned, all have been converted to MiniVerde Bermudagrass, which is more common -- and thrives -- in the South. Many of the contours have been softened, as well.

    "I think the characteristics of most of the greens are the same but some of the slopes aren't as severe as they used to be and I think that's a good thing," said 2010 champion Rory McIlroy.  "... But the greens are firm, and this is going to be the softest we will get it all week after the rain last night. ...

    "But for how new the greens are I think they're in fantastic shape, especially after what happened to the greens last year; it's obviously a great improvement and ... I'm sure they will be looking toward the PGA in '17 (which will be hosted by Quail Hollow). They will be perfect."

    Phil Mickelson, who has five top-five finishes in 10 starts at Quail Hollow, including solo third last year, is another big fan of the changes Fazio made to bring out the subleties of the greens.

    "It's not in your face," he explained. "When the greens are firm, fast and set up the way the PGA Championship is going to have them, the nuances will come out and the greatness of the course will come out.

    "I've always thought this is one of the best tee to green courses if not the best tee to green course I've ever played. I still feel that way, and now that the greens complement it.  It's one of my favorite courses I've ever played.

    Quail Hollow pro Sean Davenport explains the changes to the long 16th hole.
    • How tough is the par-4 16th?

      Quail Hollow pro Sean Davenport explains the changes to the long 16th hole.

    Quail Hollow pro Sean Davenport explains the changes to the long 16th hole.
    • How tough is the par-4 16th?

      Quail Hollow pro Sean Davenport explains the changes to the long 16th hole.

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