NORTON — No hole has played easier in the history of the Deutsche Bank Championship than the par-5 18th, which yielded 150 eagles and 1,667 birdies in the tournament’s first nine years.
The 18th hole received a drastic makeover prior to this year’s event, with the green raised slightly, reduced by one-third, and runoff areas and a small greenside bunker added that gives it a much different look.
But would it play different? Reviews have been mixed.
“They made it harder,” said Luke Donald, who had a par there on Friday. “I guess their goal was to make it a little bit more interesting come Monday, I suppose. There could be a swing there. You could easily make bogey, but you have an opportunity to make eagle.
“It’s a short par 5. It should be a tough green, and I think they’ve accomplished that.”
The 18th was the easiest hole at TPC Boston for each of the first nine years, playing as easy as 4.389 (2010) and as difficult as 4.824 (2006). On Friday, with the pin placed back right (and quite accessible), the stroke average was 4.561, and it once again played the easiest on the course. Forty-three players made birdie, and four (Chris Kirk, Jonas Blixt, Bud Cauley, and 2010 winner Charley Hoffman) had eagles.
“I made birdie, so I found it very straightforward,” said Charl Schwartzel, who shot 68. “This morning with the greens being soft, you can fire at it. But if that green gets firm, it’ll start getting very interesting.”
Punching the clock
Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton was able to take his mind off the NHL’s labor dispute for a few hours. He was forced to, actually, because he was asked to take over the tour’s Twitter account (@PGATOUR) and give his observations while following the group of Keegan Bradley, Matt Kuchar, and Hunter Mahan from inside the ropes.
Some of Thornton’s creative efforts:
“Keegan is on a roll now. He just made his third straight birdie to get back to even. A hat trick joke would be too cheesy.”
“Incredible birdie by Keegan. Pushed his tee shot right and had a blind second over a hill. I easily could have made 9 from there.”
“Good shot by Keegan [on 16]. I may have put it closer in the pro-am yesterday, though.”
Thornton played in Thursday’s pro-am with Padraig Harrington, so he’s accustomed to seeing tour players up close. Being on assignment, though, made the day slightly different.
“I don’t think you’ll see me on Tweeter [sic] again any time soon,” he said. “I was just trying to be myself. I wanted to stay out of the way. I didn’t want to be a distraction, that’s all I was worried about.”
Thornton watched Bradley finish the day right where he started — even par — but it was certainly an unconventional 71. Bradley, who missed the cut in his Deutsche Bank Championship debut a year ago, had six bogeys, four birdies, and an eagle on the short par-4 fourth. His front nine featured just one par.
“I can’t remember feeling that lost on a golf course in a long time,” Bradley said. “But I was able to battle back, it could have been 80, it was so violent. So in a weird way I’m happy shooting even par. I just didn’t hit any fairways, which is normally my thing. I’ll figure it out and come out in the morning ripping it.”
Nick Watney was three shots back heading into the final round last year, within striking distance of Bubba Watson’s lead. Then he played the par-5 second hole and made an 11, putting a ball in the hazard, plus getting called for a two-stroke penalty. It ended his chance at victory, and led to a final-round 80.
So what happened on Friday, the first time Watney played No. 2 in competition since his 11? He bombed his drive deep down the fairway, knocked his second shot on the green — narrowly carrying the hazard — then holed the 7-foot putt for eagle.
“It was really close. It’s a risk-reward hole, a risk-reward shot,” Watney said. “Luckily today was reward, but last year I suffered the wrath of it.”
Watney, who leads the FedEx Cup points race after last week’s victory at The Barclays, opened with a 1-over 72.
With girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki in his gallery, PGA champion Rory McIlroy opened with a 65, good for a tie for sixth. “Obviously, I’d still love her to be in New York playing, but it’s great to have her here,” McIlroy said, referring to Wozniacki’s early tennis exit this week at the US Open. “I think this is her fourth tournament of the season with me. It seems like every time she comes along, I play well.” . . . Tom Gillis had to take a wedge out of play because he damaged it in anger, bending the shaft when he swung at a rake after blading his second shot to the par-4 fourth hole into the bunker. He made bogey, and could use only 13 clubs for his final five holes. He shot 69 . . . Phil Mickelson had his first bogey-free round since early July, shooting 68 . . . Spencer Levin, who missed The Barclays last week after the sudden death of his stepbrother, shot 80 and then withdrew, citing personal reasons. Levin came into the Deutsche Bank Championship 66th in the points race, and is almost guaranteed to drop out of the top 70, thus missing the third playoff event.