Wind, weather, layout proving to be big players at The Ocean Course

Phil Mickelson stares down the par-3 17th at The Ocean Course on Tuesday. (Source: Alex Kreitman / Live 5 News)
Phil Mickelson stares down the par-3 17th at The Ocean Course on Tuesday. (Source: Alex Kreitman / Live 5 News)
Defending PGA champion Keegan Bradley putts on the 16th hole Tuesday. (Source: Alex Kreitman / Live 5 News)
Defending PGA champion Keegan Bradley putts on the 16th hole Tuesday. (Source: Alex Kreitman / Live 5 News)

KIAWAH ISLAND, SC (WCSC) - The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort is no stranger to big events.

In 1991 The Ocean Course hosted the Ryder Cup where the best U.S. and European players battled it out in what was known as "The War on the Shore." Less than a decade later, The Ocean Course was back on center stage hosting the Senior PGA Championship.

Now, the top 108 players in the world are here along the Atlantic Ocean, vying for the 94th PGA Championship. This tournament, and its host course, are already showing the world why they are one of a kind.

"The golf course is in outstanding condition," said Kerry Haigh, managing director of championships and business development for the PGA of America. "Jeff Stone and his grounds crew have done a yeoman's job in putting together almost perfect conditions for the 94th PGA Championship."

Despite a perfect start to PGA Championship week Monday, the golf course was tested a bit Tuesday morning as storms brought lots of rain to Kiawah Island. Players tweeted photos showing the 18th green covered in water with puddles growing in size. Waste bunkers once filled with sand were instantly joined with large pools of water. But, when the clouds finally peeled away and the sun shined through, The Ocean Course stood tall and beautiful again.

"I think that playing through the dunes like we do here; one, it's pretty. You're right along the ocean," Woods said Tuesday. "And two, no matter how much rain we get – we are getting dumped on right now; it's going to rain pretty quickly. And it being paspalum (grass), we're not going to get a lot of mud balls."

The course dried up quickly Tuesday afternoon, allowing practice to continue until the evening hours. Large puddles were visible on some of the walking paths, but it didn't stop the largest crowds of the afternoon from following all-star group that featured Phil Mickelson, defending PGA champion Keegan Bradley, Ricky Fowler and Dustin Johnson.

"I've got a great course here that I feel like suits me very well," Bradley said. "I want to defend my title as best I can."

On the par-5 16th, Bradley and Johnson opted to go for the green in two shots, but both came up short. Mickelson and Fowler laid up and each stuck their approach shots to within 10 feet. The only difference was that Fowler sank his birdie putt and Mickelson missed by an inch, settling for par.

The 16th hole is expected to start the final stretch of crucial holes that are key to winning the PGA championship. Course designer Pete Dye decided to challenge golfers on the 581-yard par 5. Without a stiff wind, golfers may be tempted to go for the elevated green in two, which could lead to birdies and a few eagles later this week.

"I do like Pete Dye courses," Woods said. "He makes you think, which I like, instead of just going out there and hitting the ball. He makes you make decisions off the tees. He makes you make a decision into greens and makes you leave the ball in the correct spot."

If you miss left on No. 16, or if the wind takes it, there is a deep and dangerous waste bunker guarding the green. The elevated greens at The Ocean Course can also be brutal as players try to get up and down. Bradley found out first hand Tuesday after missing his second shot short and to the right. His chip up fell short, and he two-putted for par.

"The course looks like it can be – you can make some birdies if it's not too windy," said Masters Champion Bubba Watson. "But when it gets windy it makes it a little bit more difficult."

The wind will have a great impact on whether players shoot low or high scores this week.

"Yeah, obviously I think weather could play a large part in this tournament," said Luke Donald, ranked No. 1 in the world. "I teed off this morning at 7 a.m. It was 25-mph wind, lasted about 45 minutes. Got called in half an hour, came back out, and the wind was completely different and 5 mph."

Expect some players to shoot low in the morning, and then a change in wind directions alters afternoon play, or vice versa.

"The conditions are changing from hour-to-hour and that's making it difficult, this course," Donald said. "But you catch it (Monday) when I played 18 holes, and really barely any wind, and the course offers you some opportunities."

Tuesday's storms and rain proved that the wind won't be the only weather element the players and course maintenance team will have to deal with.

"I think the golf course is in perfect shape," Watson said. "The greens are nice. They're rolling good. Obviously, weather permitting; it'll be a great test."

Only Mother Nature can predict the weather's role in the 94th PGA Championship.

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