Go for broke or go down in a blaze of glory? The one thing no one really wants to see on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach is par
Should Lucas Bjerregaard pop into the US Open shop for a bit of last minute merchandise it’s pretty certain a portrait of the 18th at Pebble Beach won’t be among his must haves.
The Danish pro dumped two of his tee shots into Stillwater Cove during Thursday’s first round, and then blocked his third drive out of bounds, on the way to a sextuple-bogey 11.
The offending club went the same way as his first two balls – hurled into the water as he turned in 45 on his way to an 80 that would have had him on the phone to NetJets as soon as he left the scorer’s hut.
It was just as dramatic on Friday, Bjerregaard hitting his third off the beach after smacking his approach way too far left. This time, at least, he escaped with a par.
His calamities neatly sum up the challenge posed by this 543-yard finisher. In the modern game, par 5s are largely a giveaway and even on this most beautiful of doglegs there are plenty of 4s and 3s to give a card a final flourish.
But it’s how the players take on the risk that ultimately decides whether their championship hopes will thrive or drown.
In five closing rounds at Pebble Beach US Opens only Tom Watson, in a memorable finish in 1982, managed to post a red number at 18 on Sunday.
So let’s take a look at why this hole is so compelling, and why it can be like spinning a chamber and pulling the trigger for those who bite off a bit more than they can chew…
18th at Pebble Beach: Don’t go left. In fact, don’t go right either…
It’s one of the most amazing sights in golf – the waves crashing against the outcrops all the way down the left hand side of the hole.
That’s a lot of water to make even the most confident of drivers tremble but for the best players it’s how much of that liquid you take on and whether you judge it correctly.
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If bending back a big fade isn’t a strength there’s plenty of danger down the right side as well – as Brooks Koepka almost found to his cost in round one.
The defending champ took his usual smash and grab approach and banged his tee shot as far as possible, only to see it bounce off a hedge that marks out of bounds.
Koepka dodged the bullet, with the ball coming to rest on the cart path. DJ, his partner in crime, almost came a cropper in exactly the same way on Friday.
Patrick Reed, meanwhile, didn’t miss the green by much, but he wasn’t happy with his chip from the thick stuff and his wedge bore brunt.
Patrick Reed snaps his club over his leg on No. 18… 😳 pic.twitter.com/BnOWolZjTC
— FOX Sports: Golf (@GolfonFOX) June 15, 2019
It’s 262 off the blue tees to the famous tree on the right and, if that’s the target, the players trust a little to luck that they don’t cannon off the rather imposing piece of wood.
It’s an easy par if you play it as a three shotter, and plenty have laid up short of the tree with an iron, but where’s the fun in a regulation 5?
Finding the fairway really shouldn’t be the problem – it’s wide enough until it meets the tree.
But the more a competitor craves to get on in 2, the further left they have to put it to shorten the second shot. The more conservative their opener becomes, the more difficult it is to find the putting surface on their next shot.
It presents a conundrum, something to put a small measure of doubt into the mind just as they consider the expanse of water ahead of them.
The problems, however, are only just beginning.
18th at Pebble Beach: Take it on or lay it up?
There were 10 ‘others’, the euphemistic term used for any number that goes above a double bogey, in 2010.
Through the second round this week, a further 12 players had walked off towards the clubhouse with at least a 7 on the card. That was more than the other two par 5s combined.
So even if the tee shot has been successfully negotiated it doesn’t take too much for disaster to strike.
The further back in the fairway, the longer the approach. With the bunker left down the last 100 yards, and a sea wall, the only things protecting a tugged approach from the beach and a watery grave there’s still plenty of pressure as the players hit towards the grandstand.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat almost tipped over he was leaning so much as his second thankfully grabbed the sand on Friday and Henrik Stenson was just another to find some bunker trouble on his way to a bogey.
Those perched on the right hand side, and not in the rough, still have the second tree that’s short of the green and a bunker both in front and to the right.
Not that the sand there caused Justin Rose any trouble. He’s got up and down for birdie on each of the first two days.
18th at Pebble Beach: That’s one sloping green
Just ask Viktor Hovland or any of the others who blew shortish putts past the hole after misreading the break.
On a course where a lot of the putting surfaces are on the small side, the 18th is actually the biggest with a depth of 38 yards.
But it’s pretty narrow at the centre and slopes quite considerably from back to front. Finding the green is one thing, but it’s not a guaranteed two putt.
So how will this finish?
No one has ever birdied the 18th to win a US Open by a single stroke at Pebble Beach. If the leader comes down the last with a cushion, it’s going to be a comfortable par all of the way.
But if the tournament is on the line, if it’s a tight as we hope following the opening exchanges, the desire to win will surely see the gun loaded and fate playing a part.
And who wouldn’t want to witness that?