East Lake: signature finish that’s all about par

ATLANTA (AP) - The first year of the Tour Championship at East Lake offered great promise for dramatic theater on the par-3 18th. Hal Sutton saved par from a deep bunker to get into a playoff, then hit a 4-wood to 6 feet for a birdie to beat Vijay Singh.

That was in 1998.

And that was the last time a player won with a birdie on the closing hole at East Lake.

That’s no surprise. The par 3 is 235 yards and plays slightly uphill, guarded by deep bunkers to the right. The green has a false front. Most players would be happy with par. Jim Furyk last year had a one-shot lead, found the right bunker and got up-and-down to capture the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.

But it’s not conducive to excitement.

In fact, most players would say it’s harder to make a birdie 2 than a double bogey 5.

“I’ve had some putts at 2,” Geoff Ogilvy said. “But it’s mostly 3s and 4s.”

Matt Kuchar, who played East Lake when he was at Georgia Tech, called it an “interesting” hole, but maybe not a hole where anything can happen, such as the closing holes at the previous three playoff venues _ a reachable par 4 at Plainfield, a par 5 at TPC Boston where Chris Stroud made eagle to advance, and even the long par 4 at Cog Hill with water hugging the left side of the green and bunkers right.

“It’s fun when you have a finishing hole and you can make a birdie, make a bogey, where stuff can happen,” Kuchar said. “It seems like you pretty much see pars and bogeys on the last hole. You don’t see many 2s. And you see even less 5s.”

Dustin Johnson, who has to hit a 4-iron from the back of the 18th tee, was playing a practice round Tuesday when he wondered how the end of the Tour Championship might be different if officials switched the nine holes. The ninth at East Lake is a par 5 that can be reached in two with a big, and straight, tee shot.

“You’ve got guys who can reach the green, making eagles, or to come from one or two back to tie or win,” Johnson said. “I think that definitely makes for a little more excitement.”

East Lake is among the few courses that finish with a par 3. Another one is at The Greenbrier, which was a wedge or a 9-iron. Scott Stallings made a birdie in regulation and in a playoff to win. It was exciting.

Then again, most people are used to the par-3 finish at East Lake.

“It’s kind of become a signature hole, and I guess a birdie there would certainly look pretty cool,” Kuchar said. “To finish with a 2 there is kind of a heroic effort.”

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