By Fred Albers, PGA TOUR.COM Correspondent
ATLANTA -- Every champion has a moment of truth. That one moment when he realizes the tournament could slip away. For Henrik Stenson, that moment came on the 14th hole.
The Swede looked to be on cruise control until both Jordan Spieth and Steve Stricker made a run to within a couple shots.
While those two were charging, Stenson drove into the rough and caught a flier from 153 yards away. An aggressive line to the green turned into too much club. A double bogey loomed but Stenson turned six into five with a chip and two putts.
That was his only bogey of the final round and that’s what Stenson did the entire week. He was able to save strokes and avoid disaster. Stenson did not have a single double this week and while he did have seven bogeys, four of them came during Saturday’s rainstorm.
Every metric indicates Stenson was the best player at East Lake Golf Club. He was T3 in hitting fairways at 35-for-56, T1 hitting greens (56 of 72) and third in strokes gained-putting at 2.047.
Assist: Steve Stricker stood in the 15th fairway knowing he needed to make something happen. He was 245 yards away at the par-5, but with the hole cut 29 paces onto the green and just four yards from the left side, it was going to be hard to get a ball close. Stricker’s caddie, Jimmy Johnson, reminded Steve he could play the approach out to the right hand side and use the contours of the green to feed the ball to the cup. That’s exactly the way Stricker played the shot to within 24 feet and then made the eagle putt. Stricker and Johnson are one of the better player-caddie teams on the PGA TOUR.
Comfortable: Jordan Spieth made the statement as just a casual comment but its ramifications could affect everyone on the PGA TOUR. Spieth said on Friday that he finally felt comfortable while putting. The 20-year-old Texan backed up that statement with results. He finished first this week in strokes gained-putting, gaining 6.440 strokes on the rest of the field. Spieth has not been great on the greens this year but everyone on the PGA TOUR should be wary if he has truly found a key to his putting.
Dufnering: Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner are best of friends and are not above giving each other the “needle” on occasion. At the 7th hole, Bradley holed-out for eagle from 170 yards. Keegan immediately sat down in the fairway and gave his best “Dufnering” imitation. Jason got back at his friend on the green, when he walked up to the cup, removed Keegan’s ball and threw it away into the gallery.
Best line: Dustin Johnson proved prophetic on Friday when he was asked what he would need to shoot on the weekend to catch Henrik Stenson. Johnson replied, “I probably need to shoot Henrik to have a chance.”
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.
Henrik Stenson closed out the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola with a 2-under 68 to win both the tournament and the FedExCup. Want to congratulate Stenson on his big wins? Leave a message in our comments section below and we'll get it to him.
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM contributor
The casual golfer might find it easy to overlook East Lake Golf Club’s 17th hole, juxtaposed as it is between the picturesque No. 16 that overlooks Atlanta’s skyline and the daunting par-3 18th over East Lake itself.
For drama, though, No. 17 has proven the place to keep watch on TOUR Championship Sunday.
Last September, Brandt Snedeker’s chip-in at No 17 provided the final birdie in an eventual three-stroke romp to both the TOUR Championship and FedExCup crowns. A year earlier, Bill Haas saved par from the muck by the water’s edge to extend a playoff with Hunter Mahan, which Haas won on the next hole.
And in 2010, Luke Donald put some pressure on eventual winner Jim Furyk with a chip-in of his own.
Note that in each case, the protagonists failed to hit the green in two.
“You pick your moments to be aggressive,” Snedeker said. “That's not a moment to be aggressive. That's why you play great for 16 holes – so you have a shot to play with there if you need it.”
No. 17 ranked merely as East Lake’s eighth-toughest hole last year, with 23 birdies and a 4.067 scoring average. It’s been as high as No. 2 in difficulty, though it typically settles in somewhere between fourth and sixth.
The lake runs down the entire left side at No. 17, jutting in for several yards before the fairway begins. Three fairway bunkers guard the right side of the fairway, near the 300-yard mark, to guard against those bailing out.
The approach is played to a raised green that’s bisected by a distinct ridge, making it difficult to reach any back pins as shots drift to the edges. And there’s still that water looming on the left.
“Anything long of that green – center or left long – would probably flush down and possibly go in the water,” Furyk surmised.
That’s what happened to Haas, who didn’t realize his ball had dribbled off toward East Lake’s waters until he got near the green. Fortunately for him, it had been a drought-like summer and the low water level left the ball only partially submerged.
Haas didn’t even take off his shoes before wading in, sending a splatter of muck flying as his ball cleared the rise and came to rest perhaps 2 feet from the flagstick.
“When I see the ball [poking up from the water],” Haas noted, “I say in my head, ‘I have a shot.’ I don't know how it came out perfectly like that.”
Considering this year’s cloudy, wet summer in Atlanta, a similar approach shot likely would wind up resulting in a penalty drop.
By Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM Fantasy Insider
If you ever wondered how much of a quantifiable difference that grass can contribute to scoring, consider that in its last edition with Bentgrass greens in 2007, East Lake Golf Club ranked third-easiest in putts per greens in regulation at 1.732. Given that the field of that week's TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola hit a beefy 71.76 percent of its GIR, it was a feast. Zach Johnson carded a course-record 60 while Tiger Woods established the tournament record of 23-under 257. The overall scoring average was 68.325, second-lowest of any par 70 since record-keeping began in earnest in 1982. (Sedgefield Country Club averaged 68.183 for the 2010 Wyndham Championship.)
While Rees Jones did more than just plant Miniverde Bermudagrass greens during his overhaul of East Lake following the first TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola of the FedExCup era, the highest GIR clip that any field since has registered is 67.92 percent in 2011. (The low of 59.95 percent occurred in 2008.) The putts-per-GIR splits have ranged from 1.773 (in 2010) to 1.791 (in 2008). Fewer birdie opportunities and an increase in puts translates into higher scores. To wit, defending champion Brandt Snedeker owns the lowest winning aggregate on the Miniverde at 10-under 280. He led his field in par-4 scoring and putting inside 10 feet (60-for-63).
With only 30 in the field, at least one-third will crack the top 10 in every statistic, but of relevant angles, consider that the last six champions share top 10s in only strokes gained-putting, par-4 and par-5 scoring. As it often is on most weeks, distance off the tee is irrelevant, but hitting fairways at East Lake carries value. Woods (T14) and Phil Mickelson (T12; 2009) are the exceptions, but both cleaned up on approach and with their putters.
Bill Haas sets up as the outlier. He ranked a set-worst 11th in greens hit and 29th in scrambling, but converted on all but two chances from eight feet and in. He's also the only champion of the FedExCup Playoffs finale to lead his field in strokes gained-putting.
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM contributor
The sight of a few clouds rolling in can be a welcome relief on a summer day in Atlanta. In certain cases, though, there also can be too much of a good thing.
Too much cloud cover this summer put the Bermudagrass greens at historic East Lake Golf Club into slow-grow mode, never really taking off until sunlight regained the upper hand about three weeks ago.
“Bermudagrass in summer usually grows a lot, and it just never really seemed to take off this year,” said Ralph Kepple, East Lake’s superintendent for the past two decades.
“It’s just kind of a domino effect, I guess. Without sunlight, plants don’t do well. Bermudagrass in particular doesn’t, and it was the cloudiest summer I can remember here.”
Complicating matters, too, was the discovery that some greens had gotten low on nutrients, requiring an infusion of extra potassium and phosphorus in recent weeks.
“Once we got that straightened out,” Kepple said, “it seemed to really jump-start it again. That and just seeing some sunlight.”
The entire South, it seems, spent the bulk of its summer under cloud cover, with most states reporting below-normal temperatures in both July and August. The Wyndham Championship faced similar worries a month ago, with Sedgefield Country Club nursing its still-maturing greens to be ready for the the last event before the Playoffs.
It isn’t nearly as much concern at East Lake, where the month of FedExCup Playoffs bought time for patterns to change and sunny weather to finally break through.
“It’s starting to come back around,” said Kepple, whose main priority now is getting the greens to firm up. “As long as we have firm greens, it’ll play pretty difficult.”
The 30-man field also may notice more open fairways at East Lake, which undertook a widening project earlier this year to return fairways closer to bunkers as in the original Donald Ross plans.
Kepple said nine fairways were widened, adding up to four yards of extra landing area but bringing more potential trouble into play.
“If anything, it might help a ball roll into a bunker,” he said.
Forecasts call for more sunshine throughout the week, with no more than a 30 percent chance of rain. To Kepple’s chagrin, though, breezes also are expected to be moderate.
“[Wind] seems to be the one thing that all TOUR pros struggle with,” he said, “with the exception of apparently Jim Furyk.”
Blustery conditions at Conway Farms didn’t seem to faze Furyk during last week’s momentous 59 in the second round of the BMW Championship.
The TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola gets under way this Thursday with the top 30 in the FedExCup standings teeing it up at East Lake with a chance to win golf's biggest prize.
Below are the first-round pairings.
|Tee times: TOUR Championship by Coca Cola, Round 1|
|Group number||Time||Players (FedExCup rank)|
|1||11:40 a.m.||Luke Donald (29)||Dustin Johnson (30)|
|2||11:50 a.m.||Brendon de Jonge (27)||D.A. Points (28)|
|3||12 p.m.||Sergio Garcia (25)||Boo Weekley (26)|
|4||12:10 p.m.||Charl Schwartzel (23)||Roberto Castro (24)|
|5||12:20 p.m.||Webb Simpson (21)||Billy Horschel (22)|
|6||12:30 p.m.||Kevin Streelman (19)||Jason Dufner (20)|
|7||12:40 p.m.||Gary Woodland (17)||Bill Haas (18)|
|8||12:50 p.m.||Hunter Mahan (15)||Keegan Bradley (16)|
|9||1 p.m.||Jordan Spieth (13)||Jason Day (14)|
|10||1:10 p.m.||Jim Furyk (11)||Nick Watney (12)|
|11||1:20 p.m.||Justin Rose (9)||Brandt Snedeker (10)|
|12||1:30 p.m.||Graham DeLaet (7)||Phil Mickelson (8)|
|13||1:40 p.m.||Matt Kuchar (5)||Steve Stricker (6)|
|14||1:50 p.m.||Adam Scott (3)||Zach Johnson (4)|
|15||2 p.m.||Tiger Woods (1)||Henrik Stenson (2)|