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A Par Three by Whose Estimation? : Golf: Bradley’s troubles are the perfect example of why No. 4, which has given up only 23 birdies in two days, is anything but easy.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It has been called one of the finest par-three holes in America, but there’s no water to hit over and you get in the sand only by hitting an 18-handicapper’s shot.

The green is no living room carpet-sized island, surrounded by alligators. There’s a sea breeze in your face, but it’s not a hurricane and the nearest sea lions are miles away.

There’s no picture of Riviera’s fourth hole on a postcard, but on a scorecard there’s often a “4" written beside it, occasionally a “5,” but seldom a “2.”

No. 4 is advertised as 236 yards, and it’s a perfect something to every golfer who plays it. But golf is an imperfect game.

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“It’s a perfect one-iron for me,” said Michael Bradley, who didn’t have a one-iron in his bag.

“I figured I’d get to use a three-wood more often on this course,” said Bradley, who had led the PGA Championship overnight and had scored the requisite birdie on the first hole, making him nine under and one shot ahead of the field as he approached the fourth tee Friday morning.

He was seven under minutes later, on his way to falling off the leaderboard.

“Where’s my ball?” he asked Gonzo Paigen, a marshal on the 17th fairway, 32 yards off the fourth green after a three-wood shot sailed left, hit a cart path and bounded into the rough.

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“Down there,” answered Paigen, pointing to a patch of kikuyu so thick that Bradley had to take Paigen’s word for it.

“He was [angry],” Paigen reported, after Bradley had sized up the situation, then had the day’s only double bogey on No. 4.

The method: After the errant three-wood, he asked PGA official Tom Vanhaaren for relief, but was turned down because the TV tower behind the green wasn’t really in the way. “I had to try,” said Bradley, who was hoping for a free drop because his lie would be better than the one he had. He then hit two wedge shots and two putts for the double bogey and brooded so much he hit a tee shot out of bounds on No. 5. It’s what No. 4 will do to you.

On the first wedge shot, he called to the gallery, “Watch it, guys, this could do anything.”

There’s nothing about the hole that hits you in the eyes, except its length, and there’s no one in this field who should shudder at 236 yards, but most of them do. On Friday, it was merely a matter of standing on the tee and sighting down the “Y” of the bunker in front of the green, 53 paces from foot to the end of each wing, with more kikuyu in the middle of the “Y.”

But the sand wasn’t a problem, except for Nick Faldo, Robert Gamez and Sam Torrance, and their embarrassment at hitting tee shots only a duffer would love was salved when all three parred the hole after blasting out of the trap and onto the green.

Misfire and hit left, and you have Bradley’s problems. Hit right, bailing out onto a member’s fairway that’s banked like the fourth turn at Daytona, and you can still par the hole with a good pitch if you don’t mind being called chicken.

Hit down the middle and, maybe, the ball stops near the hole. Maybe it goes all the way across the green into another patch of kikuyu, the way Fuzzy Zoeller’s did. Chip from the kikuyu, then chip again after your hands quit buzzing because you chunked the first one when the grass grabbed your club. Then putt. Zoeller had one of the 35 bogeys Friday on No. 4.

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Mark Brooks had one of the 15 birdies, and he is the only one to have two of the 23 birdies No. 4 has given up over the tournament’s first two days.

“It’s a perfect three-wood for me,” said Brooks, who hit his three-wood shot 15 feet from the pin and made his putt.

“Actually, the idea is to just get the ball on the green--anywhere, maybe within 30 feet. It’s a tough par three because of the distance, but I’ve probably made more birdies on it in the years I’ve played Riviera than I have, for instance, on 16, which more people consider a birdie hole.”

It’s a case of familiarity breeding content for Brooks.

“Well, there’s a hole just like it on my home course, Colonial [in Ft. Worth],” Brooks said. “Actually, that hole is a little harder than this one because the green doesn’t hold as well, but it’s about the same length.”

A perfect three-wood for Brooks. An invitation to imperfection for Bradley.


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