- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

Having to hit a 220-yard iron shot over water isn’t an ideal way to start a round. But with groups going off on both the front and back nine before the cut is made in the AT&T; National, that’s the task facing everyone in the field.

The par-3 10th hole is one of the more dangerous holes at Congressional Country Club, ranking seventh-hardest Thursday with 26 scores of bogey or worse. Just three other holes have water in play, but none of them require a shot to clear the hazard except the par-4 sixth.

“[The 10th] might be the hardest starting hole we play all year,” said Chris DiMarco, who made a 4 after failing to get up and down from the back right bunker Thursday morning.

Playing it first makes it even more difficult. Golfers who began on the back nine played the 10th hole one-tenth of a stroke worse than those who started on the front, with the morning groups having the hardest time.

“It’s not what you want first thing in the morning,” said Paul Casey, who teed off at 8:12 a.m. and two-putted from 33 feet for par. “You want at least a little bit of bailout room, and there isn’t any on 10.”

In addition to the water in the front, the 10th hole is guarded by two bunkers behind the green and another in front on the right side. Because of the tendency to overcompensate for the hazard and go long, there is a lot of action in the back bunkers.

Though they’re better than hitting it in the water, the sand traps aren’t particularly appealing options, either.

“The bunkers have got so much sand in them that you can’t even spin it out of there, so you’re dead,” fifth-year PGA Tour pro Will MacKenzie said.

The Thursday pin position was fairly favorable, tucked in the back right portion of the green. As a result, only two people found the pond. All the greens were more receptive Thursday as well because of the overnight rain. When the hole is front-center later in the tournament, more balls are apt to end up in the water.

Amateur Matt Hill might have been as nervous as anyone standing on the 10th tee Thursday morning. In addition to playing it as his first hole of a tournament, the NCAA men’s golf individual champion from N.C. State was faced with the difficult 10th to start his first PGA Tour event. But he ended up making birdie after hitting his shot to 10 feet.

The length of the par 3 is especially problematic for some of the Tour’s shorter hitters. A few golfers can reach the putting surface with a 5-iron, but most need a club with less loft, which makes it harder to hold the green.

“You’ve got to hit a long iron or a rescue club or something like that in there, and you better hit it solidly or else you’re in trouble,” said Corey Pavin, who will captain the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2010.

The shot isn’t easy to practice on the driving range, either.

“It’s just totally different - you don’t quite work on a shot like that,” MacKenzie said. “Half the range is going uphill, and you’re hitting a shot that you’re going downhill.”

Another downside to starting on the 10th is that the statistically most difficult hole on the course is coming up next. The 11th is a par 4 with a narrow fairway and water guarding the right side of the green.

That makes it easy to dig a hole early in the round. No one had it worse than Chris Stroud, who started with a double-bogey on 10 and a bogey on 11.

“It’s tough - right off the bat you’ve got to be ready to hit a good shot,” Stroud said. “I was behind the eight ball all day long.”

The 10th hole played as the 18th for the 1997 U.S. Open and 2005 Booz Allen Classic. Even though it always played tough at the end of a round, the 10th might be even more challenging at the beginning.

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