Jay and Lisa Carothers have been members at Pinehurst for more than 30 years, living on course No. 7. Their front door is also roughly 800 yards from the fifth green on Pinehurst No. 2, where they were situated in their chairs Saturday morning. They wanted to see how the professionals navigated a deceptively tough green, one that appeared wide but invited disaster thanks to its pin placement in the front-left. Any ball a few feet short in front of the pin or just a smidgen to the left would roll down a severe fall-off and drop into a tricky bunker.
The Carothers and their neighbors weren’t the only ones expecting to see that spot on the famous course dominate the best golfers in the world. On Thursday, Henrik Stenson recommended spectators hang out in on that turtleback green as well.
“If you guys want to see some disasters,” he said after his round, “You should get a hot dog, Snickers and Coke and head down to 5 green, because that’s as hard as it can ever get.”
Through three rounds, it hasn’t played out that way. The fifth hole has been the easiest on the course, with golfers averaging a 4.8 on the par 5 (it has played as short as 528 yards and as long as 563). On Saturday, with the 67-player field, the average score was 4.4. The greens many expected to be one of the most challenging yielded just one double-bogey (to Kevin Tway) and five bogeys against eight eagles.
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“Five has been reachable (in two shots) every day, the tee’s been up,” said Rickie Fowler, who has birdied the hole each day. “It is a bit of a risk-reward. But if you put yourself in the right position around that green, you can give yourself a good look at 4.”
The risk lies in that front left bunker. Even shots that look to be safe, landing on the green and seemingly stopping momentarily would, sure enough, start rolling backward and disappear down the drop.
“If it gets down there on that left side, you could spend all day there chipping,” said Erik Compton, who eagled the hole Saturday.
The left bunker did snare a few big fish. Justin Leonard had such a bad lie that he had to hit his third shot backward before coming out of the bunker in four and hitting about a 10-foot putt to save bogey. Ernie Els failed to get it out of the bunker twice before the third time was a charm, his fifth shot landing about four feet from the hole for an unlikely bogey. Phil Mickelson and 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose were also too far left, and so was Rory McIlroy, whose 7-iron from the fairway landed in the sand.
McIlroy’s third shot appeared good on contact, but then it stopped rolling forward before revising course and coming back into the bunker. He gave it another whack, which landed in nearly the identical place — but this one hung on as he hustled out of the bunker to mark it, drawing audible amusement from the crowd.
“If you miss it in the right spot, it should be a relatively simple up and down to make your birdie,” McIlroy said. “It shouldn’t have been as tough as I made it look.”
The not-quite-as-challenging-as-expected fifth green was a leftover reminder, in some ways, of the first two days of the U.S. Open. A man, Martin Kaymer, who thought 8-over would be the winning score was atop the leader board at 10-under (and 8-under now). Thursday produced 15 rounds in the 60s, Friday 18. Saturday served as a market correction, with just Fowler and Compton under par on the day. But still the three men at the top of the leader board – Kaymer, Fowler and Compton – combined to score 5-under on the turtleback green at No. 5.
The fifth hole wasn’t easy, though, for Stenson, who is tied for fourth at 2-under par. He found himself in that left bunker after two shots and took a five.