During the second round of the 2000 U.S. Open, Tiger Woods pushed his drive right of the sixth fairway at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
His tee shot on the uphill par 5 was swallowed up by 4-inch rough, which actually saved his ball from flying off a cliff and into Stillwater Cove.
Woods pulled out a 7-iron — yes, a 7-iron — from 205 yards and gouged a blind shot over a towering pine, to a green perched atop a cliff some 30 feet above him. Woods two-putted from 20 feet for a ho-hum birdie.
"It's not a fair fight!" NBC golf analyst Roger Maltbie prophetically shouted as the 7-iron impossibly ran up to the green.
It was Woods' most impressive shot in a championship where he simply overpowered Pebble Beach, finishing 12-under to win by 15.
But if Woods loses a tee shot right this month like he did in 2000, he will be dropping and hitting three from the bottom of the hill — although at least he will be playing a much simpler shot from the fairway.
The iconic tree that Woods hit over in 2000 fell into the ocean during a storm two years ago.
But Arnold Palmer and the Pebble Beach Company have since managed to make the tee shot even more demanding.
A long bunker that ran up the left side has been replaced by five staggered bunkers that creep toward the middle of the fairway.
The United States Golf Association also decided to eliminate the rough along the right side of the fairway, which served as a buffer and prevented Woods' tee shot in 2000 from rolling into the ocean. The idea was born from studying photos of the course from the 1920s through 1940s, when there was no rough along the edge of the cliff.
"That's what the ocean is there for, to catch off-line shots," said Luke Donald during this year's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. "If you have thick rough, one bounce and it just stops, that takes away an extra shot. Why not let the lay of the land determine what happens to your golf ball?"
The loss of the tree Woods launched over has also given the hole an intimidating look, as pros now stare at a 30-foot sheet of rock that was previously obscured.
The sixth hole is the No. 2 handicap for amateurs, mostly because they have to climb that 30-foot hill with a blind lay-up shot and find a second fairway. If they don't carry the face of the cliff, or if they fan their lay-up shot to the right, they are in the ocean.
But in 2000, it played as the easiest hole, with a stroke average of 4.830. It should play that way again, since the 523-yard par 5 will be reachable for just about everyone in the field, even with the dramatic climb up the hill.
But the difference this year is players have to think off the tee. They can pull out a driver and bash it, but they run the risk of finding bunkers left and ocean right. Or they can decide to play it short of the bunkers to a more generous landing area, and have 250 yards into the green.
"I think what's significant about the sixth hole is it will probably play as the easiest on the course relative to par, but when you're on the tee, now you actually have a choice, assuming you're not into a gale-force wind," said Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director of Rules and Competition.
"Do I want to hit driver and try to hit it as close as I can to have a relatively short second shot in? Or do I want to back up maybe with a 3-metal to a wider part of the fairway and have a much longer shot in?"
From the fairway, players can't see the flag. They have to aim at a tree that sits behind the middle of the green, which has a bunker to the left and two more to the right. And of course, to the right of those two bunkers is the ocean.
There are also two bunkers to the left of the lay-up zone, which starts atop the hill 100 yards out from the green.
Kevin Merfeld can be reached at 646-4457 and email@example.com.
·Yardage: 523 yards
·What's new: Five news bunkers on the left push fairway to right; rough to right of fairway has been shaved