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Challenging par-3 17th could prove pivotal at PGA Championship

CBSSports.com wire reports
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KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- The long, narrow green looks a lot smaller from back at the tee box, especially with about 200 yards of water in between.

On Sunday, when the PGA Championship is wrapping up, the final, crucial test could take place right there at No. 17.

On a 223-yard par 3 next to the shore of the Atlantic, golf's top players will test their precision and their nerve, trying to withstand perhaps the most challenging spot on Kiawah Island's Ocean Course.

"Depends on where the flag is, depends on where the tee box is situated, and depends on where the wind is coming from," said Ernie Els, listing just a few of the variables. "[Tuesday] evening I played it and I had to hit a 3-iron in there, and that's a difficult hole."

At 7,676 yards, the Ocean Course will be the longest in major championship history if officials decide to play it all the way back. The 17th hole has a number of tee boxes, including at least one that requires a diagonal carry over water to the green -- from a tough angle if the pin is in the middle.

A miss short or to the right could end up in the water, and there are two bunkers to the left that create small ridges at the edge of the green. From the tee, players should be able to hear the waves from the ocean rolling ashore, but even that might not be enough to calm anyone down.

"Those two pot bunkers on the left might get a lot of play," Els said. "The wind switches here as you guys have noticed quite a bit throughout the day. When it's coming into you, you're going to have a very difficult shot, so 17 will be a pivotal hole."

During Tuesday's practice, the pin was near the back of the green. Phil Mickelson's shot skipped off the back and into the rough -- not necessarily the worst spot. His practice partners weren't too close to the hole either.

No. 17 played as the hardest hole on the course for the 2007 Senior PGA Championship, when it was listed at 197 yards and the average score was a 3.49. There were more double bogeys than birdies.

It should be a spectator's delight this time, with a grandstand and plenty of hill space nearby. The 17th runs parallel to holes 10 and 11 and, of course, precedes No. 18, a 501-yard par 4.

The 17th hole is one of two par 3s on the back nine. The 238-yard 14th should be no picnic either.

"They kind of sit right in with the whole back nine -- it's all difficult," Adam Scott said. "Certainly there is going to be some drama there Sunday and somebody who plays a great nine holes could possibly make up a lot of shots on the leader or completely run away with the tournament."

Scott was on the wrong end of some Sunday drama at the British Open, when he lost a four-shot lead by bogeying the final four holes. Els won instead.

After a rainy Tuesday and Wednesday morning at Kiawah Island, it was hot and sunny Wednesday afternoon as players tried to finish preparing as best they could.

Tiger Woods already said he wanted the course to firm up, but it's hard to say whether that will be possible this week.

"The last couple of days have been very difficult from a preparation standpoint," Graeme McDowell said Wednesday. "The golf course has taken a lot of rain. It seems to drain extremely well, though. It seems to flood quick and it seems to drain very quickly, but there's no doubt, this golf course is a long course, and this little bit of rain is going to make it play a lot longer, and certainly is changing the dynamic of it."

Woods is trying for his first major title since 2008. Scott is after his first, period.

Woods will play in a group with Martin Kaymer and defending champion Keegan Bradley. As usual, the three major champions from earlier in the year -- Bubba Watson (Masters), Webb Simpson (U.S. Open) and Els -- will play together.

Scott came so close to joining that group, but instead, he's scheduled to tee off for the first round immediately before the trio.

By the time Sunday rolls around, nobody knows what the standings will look like -- just that they could change quickly on the back nine.

"It's going to be exciting, for sure," Scott said. "You just have to get out there and hit the best shots you can, and if you hit a good shot, they will be rewarded."

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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