It’s called Quail Hollow, bringing visions of a golfing Eden deep in the Carolina woods. Do not be fooled. The pros in the 99th PGA haven’t been. They’ve learned exactly how nasty the place can be.
Every hole is an adventure. Or a disaster. Jason Day was rolling along close to the lead in Saturday’s round, having birdied 14, 15 and 16. He closed bogey, quadruple-bogey, hitting shots everywhere on 18, including the trees and water.
Even the leader, Kevin Kisner, wasn’t immune. He double-bogeyed 16 and bogeyed 18. And the only reason Kisner still is in first — he’s at 206, seven under par and a shot in front — is that the two men tied for second, Chris Stroud and Hideki Matsuyama lost strokes on the back nine. Also, Kisner got a great bounce on No. 18 that kept his bogey from being worse.
Kisner shot a one-over par 72; Matsuyama, with bogeys on 12 and 13, a 73; Stroud, with bogeys on 17 and 18, a 71. Day, who seemed in perfect position after birdies at 14, 15 and 16, shot 77.
The one who conquered Quail Hollow was the Canadian Graham DeLaet who went birdie, eagle, eagle, birdie on the back nine, and shot 68 and tied for seventh.
“I had a chance to run away from guys and take people out of the tournament that were four, five, six back, and I didn’t do it,” Kisner said. “But I’m happy with the position I’m in.”
Who wouldn’t, especially a 33-year-old like Kisner who never has finished in the top 10 in a major, whose brother-in-law was one of Quail Hollow’s founders and who lives a couple hours away in Aiken, S.C..
“I really like that I know the course and think it’s going to be really helpful tomorrow,” Kisner said.
Still, knowing and doing are different things.The shots have to be played.
Matsuyama has been one of the hottest players on Tour, winning last Sunday after shooting 61 at Firestone in the last round of the Bridgestone Invitational. Yet Saturday he conceded he isn’t quite the same.
“Probably the pressure had something to do with it,” Matsuyama said. “I’m disappointed the way I played today.”
Stroud is the surprise contender. Last Sunday, after 11 years and 289 tournaments, he got his first victory, in the Barracuda Championship at Reno, the secondary event to the Bridgestone.
“In college [at LaMar University in Texas] my name was Mr.Positivity,” Stroud said. “It definitely helped me early in my career. To finally win is really magical. I’m still on cloud nine.”
It doesn’t hurt that he’s on a leaderboard that other than 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen at five under, has no one who has won a major.
DeLaet, tied for seventh at two under, never has won in the United States. He came close to a couple of holes in one on his hot stretch, including on the par-four 14th. “I hit the hole,” he said.
Told that Rory McIlroy was ruminating about how hard Quail Hollow was playing, DeLaet said, ”It was difficult. He was not lying to you guys. It’s a really, really challenging test out there, especially with the greens as firm as they are.”
That’s what the course for a major should be, although there’s a difference between tough and almost impossible.
Did Day take an eight on last hole because of vegetation or because he played some reckless shots?
Kisner said the idea is to be aggressive but within reason because as Day learned painfully, Quail Hollow makes one pay for mistakes.
“It’s a difficult mind-set where you’re holding on and then it’s like. ‘Oh,I’ve got to birdie,I’ve got to birdie,’” Kisner said. “You’ve got to be ready to handle the situation and the change, take your 30 feet and take your medicine.”
At Quail Hollow that medicine can be very bitter.