Golfers criticize Cog Hill; Charlie Wi, Matt Kuchar lead

Want to watch a PGA Tour player squirm? Ask him about Cog Hill, a jewel of Chicago public golf that’s taking an absolute beating this week.

Many have ripped on its condition, with Tiger Woods saying, “They’ve kind of lost a few of these greens. They’re slow and a bit bumpy, but we all have to putt them.”

Phil Mickelson, a critic of “Dubsdread” course renovator Rees Jones, said: “I played really good golf the first two days, and I’m over par. I just don’t think I’m good enough to play this golf course.”

If Mickelson’s criticism was akin to a needle, Stewart Cink’s was a hacksaw. And Cink is one of the most respected voices on the PGA Tour.

“I am going to echo what Zach Johnson told me,” Cink told a few reporters after his second-round 73. “That on a scale of one to 10, this course is a minus-3.”

The virulent reaction has, unfortunately, overshadowed a tournament with a tight leaderboard: Fifteen players, including Luke Donald and 2008 BMW champion Camilo Villegas, are within four shots of co-leaders Charlie Wi and Matt Kuchar.

Mickelson is seven shots back. Woods trails by nine. He’ll need a huge weekend — and probably a top-five finish — to qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship.

Kuchar shot a seven-under 64 on Thursday but gave back four shots early Friday with a bogey binge. Then he recovered enough to equal Wi at six under.

“It was a struggle,” said Kuchar, who won the 1997 U.S. Amateur at Cog Hill, “but I learned young that you never quit.”

Cog Hill Chief Executive Frank Jemsek feels much the same. In an effort to land a U.S. Open, he spent more than $5 million and hired “Open Doctor” Jones to sharpen his course’s fangs.

Last year Woods broke the course record with a third-round 62. So in 2009 it was too easy, and this year it’s too hard.

“The course is length on top of length on top of length,” Cink said. “It’s too hard for the average player. And anybody good enough to play it knows what a wreck it is.”

Mickelson said: “There’s been some interesting things said in the locker room. The owner here has done so much for golf and we all hoped this [renovation] would turn out well and that he could bring a U.S. Open here. I just feel bad for him.”

The BMW will return to Cog Hill in 2011, then move to Indianapolis’ Crooked Stick in 2012, the year Medinah Country Club in suburban Chicago plays host to the Ryder Cup. Jemsek said he hopes to host the BMW in 2013 and beyond, but the avalanche of player criticism makes that prospect seem remote.

“I wish they were saying good things about the golf course,” Jemsek said, “but it’s hard to fight the facts … Heavy rain and hot weather is just really tough on grass. The greens are badly ballmarked-up.”

Jemsek closed “Dubsdread” for the usual two weeks before the BMW Championship, but the greens, as described by Retief Goosen, are “slow but very firm.”

“With some of the shots downwind,” Goosen added, “there’s no chance of stopping them.”