The 580-yard 14th hole is a true three-shotter, a rarity for pros these days.
"If there's no wind, you can get there," said Phil Mickelson about the 14th, which traditionally plays into prevailing summer winds. "If there's any wind, you can't."
The 14th hole became notorious for yielding four 9s during the final round of this year's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, including a quadruple-bogey by then co-leader Paul Goydos. The hole had a scoring average of 5.507 on Sunday, or .131 strokes tougher than the entire 2000 U.S. Open. Mickelson also made an 11 there in 2008.
"That hole will absolutely be a terror in the Open for a 5-par," said Johnny Miller, who will be an NBC analyst for the championship.
The main culprit in the AT&T was the green, which spins around one of the biggest bunkers on the course like a spiral staircase. The left side of the green was especially punishing, as it was bordered by a shaved bank that sent balls more than five feet below the putting surface and under a tree.
"What people don't realize is what makes that hole so hard is that the green effectively is only 1,800 square feet, that little pad up top," said Mike Davis, the United States Golf Association's senior director of Rules and Competition. "It's hard enough for the AT&T, but it's twice as hard for the U.S. Open."
The good news is the USGA decided to grow rough halfway up the hillside left of the green immediately after the AT&T.
The green is challenging enough, as only the pad directly above an intimidating bunker is usable for pin placements. To the right of the green is a false front that shoots balls in front of the bunker, forcing players to hit a flop shot from the fairway. There is also a shaved apron behind the green.
"I personally think that No. 14, maybe only with No. 12 at Oakmont, I think those are the two toughest par 5s that we use in the U.S. Open rotation," Davis said. "Those are two not only strategic holes, but I'll tell you, very, very difficult holes. That is such a rarity these days with par 5s for Tour level players."
But that's just the green. In 2003, the Pebble Beach Company added three bunkers in the landing zone off the tee — two left and through the dogleg, and another further down the right side to protect the inside of the dogleg. There are now five bunkers you have to skirt to stay in the fairway on the dogleg right.
"We didn't try to make it harder, we just tried to make each of the three shots count," said RJ Harper, senior Vice President of Golf for the Pebble Beach Company. "You have to think off the tee shot instead of just getting up there and smacking it."
Even the layup shot demands precision now, as the USGA added some curves to the slithering fairway, like it did to No. 11.
"With the second shot you've got to be so mindful to make sure that you get it in the fairway," Davis said. "When you get to that third shot, I think it's definitely the hardest shot here at Pebble Beach. You have to be exacting, particularly under windy conditions with a firm green."
In 2000, No. 14 played as the seventh toughest hole. But Davis is putting even more importance on it this year.
It will effect the outcome of who "wins the Open and who doesn't win it," Davis said.
Kevin Merfeld can be reached at 646-4457 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
·Yardage: 580 yards
·What's new: Three new bunkers in driving zone; grew rough up hillside left of green