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Venturi’s Congressional conquest set the standard for major heroism on Old Blue. And a dozen years later, after a series of massive thunderstorms forced a Monday conclusion to the 1976 PGA Championship, Dave Stockton unlocked the layout’s second secret to success.

While Stockton came nowhere near matching Venturi’s ball-striking brilliance, he did flatstick his way to the title with just 53 putts over the final 36 holes. And when he jarred a 15-footer for par at the 72nd hole to edge Floyd and Don January by a stroke, a star far brighter than Stockton was born: Congressional’s epic 18th hole.

Never was the import of Congressional’s downhill, right-to-left, 488-yard hole to a peninsular green more keenly felt than during Ernie Els’ one-stroke victory at the 1997 U.S. Open. Logistics and player flow prompted the USGA to play the hole as No. 17, but Old Blue’s customary finishing hole would not be denied its rightful place as the layout’s signature stage.

The 1997 Open was defined by two final-round strokes at the 17th: Colin Montgomerie’s missed 6-foot par putt and Tom Lehman’s slightly pulled, water-logged approach. Montgomerie bogeyed the hole all four days en route to yet another tantalizing near-miss at the Open.

“I love the variety of holes at Congressional,” said Els recently. “Take last year’s U.S. Open site, Winged Foot. Now, that’s an incredible course. But compared with Congressional, you don’t take that many holes home from Winged Foot, maybe two or three. At Congressional, [using the 1997 U.S. Open] routing, you have a number of unforgettable holes. Speaking very conservatively, I’ll give you No. 6, No. 9, No. 10, No. 17 and No. 18.”

The conundrum of Congressional’s tournament finish was forever solved this offseason, when the club built a new par-3, 10th (218 yards), flipping the direction of the previous tournament 18th to ease player flow and ensure that future events at Old Blue will finish on the layout’s signature hole.

“If I had to pick one thing that separates Congressional from every other championship venue, it’s that hole,” said Greg Norman, who collected his first PGA Tour victory at the 1984 Kemper Open at Congressional. “The approach to that peninsula green with a mid-iron is one of the most intimidating second shots imaginable. I’ve always thought that was the best closing hole in golf.”

Tiger Woods concurs. This week’s host, who finished T19 at the 1997 Open, immediately pinpointed the finishing hole when asked to discuss the layout in his May press conference at Congressional: “It’s extremely fair, but it’s a tremendous challenge because people don’t realize how much it swirls down there near that green. You have to try to pick a club and be committed to it. And if you tug it a little bit, you’re wet; block it, and you’re in one of those bunkers.

“You have to hit a precise shot with everything on the line. And now with it being the 18th hole, it makes it even more difficult.”

With it’s heroic scope and unforgettable finish, Congressional has always provided one of the game’s premier backdrops. Starting this week, the game’s best players will resume providing the one commodity standing between Old Blue and ultimate veneration: history.