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Saturday, June 19, 2010

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14th Hole 'On Harsh Side'

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Pebble Beach, Calif. - The No. 14 is a distinguished one in sports. It was worn by basketball great Oscar Robertson and baseball's hits leader Pete Rose. It belonged to A.J. Foyt, Bob Cousy, Otto Graham, Ernie Banks and Y.A. Tittle.

Fourteen also is special this week at the U.S. Open. In fact, it is dominating the opposition in much the same manner all of those other 14s did. "Fourteen is a little on the harsh side," said Ian Poulter in one of his many Tweets this week.

If he were here, Ed McMahon might ask, "How harsh is it?" Well, uh... it's so harsh, the field is averaging a score of 5.451 on its par-5 parameters. It's so harsh it has produced just 34 subpar scores to 130 over-par scores.

It's so harsh that landing a golf ball on its green is like trying to land a superball on a crowned coffee table - only 44.2 percent of the field has hit the green in regulation. It's so harsh it knocked Paul Casey right out of the U.S. Open lead, saddling him with a triple-bogey 8 on Friday, pushing him back to par and three strokes off the lead. It's so harsh former Masters winner Zach Johnson will be seeing it in nightmares for days to come, after it punched Johnson in the gut with a quadruple-bogey 9 on Friday.

"It's probably the hardest third shot in all of golf," said Tiger Woods, who has managed to escape with one under par in two trips past.

"It becomes a tough hole if you get too aggressive," said Tim Clark, who also is one under at No. 14. "It's one of those if you do take on the flag and make a mistake, you can bring in a big number."

While the big crowds gather along the ocean for the postcard holes of Pebble Beach, the real action has been taking place up the hill, marked by a large oak tree on the left side and an ominous bunker on the right. Just beyond the small green, the ground slopes dramatically away, cut to carpet length.

On Friday, Poulter was in prime position, 130 yards from the floor. He hit a parachute wedge that landed some 5 feet from the flag, right where he was aiming. By the time the ball stopped moving, it was beneath the tee in thick grass. Poulter's next shot rolled back to him. His fifth shot rolled off the green on the other side and left him even farther away. Fortunately, he was able to get down in three from there.

The hole doesn't promise to get any friendlier over the weekend. USGA senior director of rules and competition Mike Davis, who set up the course, said the remaining rounds will feature hole locations in the upper left quadrant of the 14th green - otherwise known as "no man's land."

"The right section just has too much slope to use it," Davis said. "You're going to see the same thing on the eighth green, where we really can only put it on that ridge in the middle. ... It's the nature of Pebble Beach's greens."

The rock band Three Dog Night once warbled that, "One is the loneliest number you'll ever do." The 83 players remaining in the field at Pebble Beach might sing a slightly different refrain. For them, No. 14 "can be as bad as one, it's the loneliest number since the No. 1, ooooh."

USGA news services.


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