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Par-3 17th hole not diabolical, merely difficult

Tiger Woods watched his 6-iron shot at Quail Hollow Club’s par-3 17th hole frame itself against the blue sky, turn gently from right to left and land 15 feet short of the hole during Wednesday’s pro-am round.

Pleased with what he saw, Woods told a hole marshal, “We used to play this as a short par-4.”

Woods was talking about the change this year from a controversial right-side tee at the water-guarded 17th to the hole’s original tees 40 yards to the left. It’s a different shot and a different hole, the acute angle from the right minimized by the move to tees on the opposite side of the 16th green.

It’s easier. Not easy. Easier.

“It’s better,” Woods said, looking across the lake to the green approximately 190 yards away.

“Know what I didn’t like about that shot over there? With a right to left wind like this, if it lands on the green, it’s out of here.”

That was the prime frustration among players with using the right side tee markers, which were listed at 217 yards. Because the green was built to accept shots hit from the original tees, players were going into the green at an angle, landing mid and long-iron shots on a surface where the back half runs away from the tee.

Hitting it short or left meant water. Hitting the green meant being precise and, sometimes, lucky. The popular shot was to play to the right fringe and try to make a par from there. It was a double bogey waiting to happen.

Phil Mickelson knows.

In the 2005 Wachovia Championship, Mickelson played the 17th hole 7-over par with three double bogeys. He’s improved through the years but it’s not his favorite hole. Each of the past three years, Mickelson has played the 17th hole 2-over par.

Obviously, he likes the change.

“I think it’s a great decision just because the way the green is designed,” Mickelson said. “It’s designed to receive a shot from over there. When the green gets firm like it’s going to be this week, it’s a much better hole from over there.”

It’s a change that has been discussed through the years, only to be rejected. For nine years, every tournament round has been played from the right-side tees, though the length of the hole has varied.

“It was one of those places on the golf course that needed to be addressed,” Lee Westwood said.

Historically, it’s the second-most difficult hole on the course, averaging 3.238 strokes (No. 18 is the toughest). It’s the second hole in the three-hole ‘Green Mile’ finish and organizers were concerned about the closing holes losing a bit of their bite.

Earlier this year, tournament officials decided to try the left-side tee for two rounds and stick with the right-side tee for the other two rounds. To eliminate confusion – and pacify the players – the decision was made to play all four days from the left side.

It can play as long as 205 yards and as short as 165 yards. It’s likely to be played from a shorter tee at least once during the tournament.

“Clearly Tom Fazio and I didn’t get the message like everyone else did,” Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris said.

“We finally decided to listen to the pros. We can make the course unplayable if we wanted to but that’s not our intention. We have nine years of data from the right side. Now we can get it from the left side.”

Dillard Pruitt, the PGA Tour official in charge of the course setup, endorsed the change.

“I like everything about it,” Pruitt said. “The green is more receptive from there. With the firmness of the greens this week and the speeds we have, the angle from the right side (tee) would be very difficult.”

The potential exists now for a player to make a move forward rather than backward at the 17th hole. There’s a hole location midway back on the left side that allows players to work their tee shots off a slope and have it feed toward the hole, similar to the way the 16th hole at Augusta National plays with its traditional Sunday pin, though it’s more subdued.

“At least guys have got a chance to maybe make a birdie there coming in,” Rory McIlroy said.