Although Jose Maria Olazabal reduced the course to a mere 61 in 1990 and last year Tiger Woods carded a 62, The rest of the world face a tough challenge at fabled Firestone Country Club in Akron.
With $1m at stake for the winner, the pressure is bound to bear down on anyone who is in the hunt on Sunday afternoon in Ohio.
There is no doubt the format will provide excitement, and Firestone has a rich history of testing the world’s best players, which it did for 22 years as the site of the NEC World Series of Golf and last year for the inaugural NEC Invitational.
Noted for its length, the par-70, 7,189-yard South Course includes a series of intimidating, long par-4 holes and one of the longest par 5s anywhere. The 16th hole plays to 625 yards. A pond in front of the green captures its share of errant shots. Usually, the casualties aren’t the result of futile attempts to reach the green in two. They are third shots from players who hit errant tee shots and find the woods. A well-placed long tee shot does not preclude the opportunity to get home in two.
Players, however, have a birdie opportunity on the only other par-5, the 497-yard second hole.
The 18th hole, though, is all the par-4 anyone would ever want to play. At 464 yards, it is long, narrow and has a green defended by bunkers. It’s not a place to expect to make a birdie to win.
The 16th hole doesn’t have the market covered on length. Before you even get there, the par-3, 221-yard 15th provides enough of a challenge. The flat green makes for a straight putt but getting the ball close to the hole can be a problem. From the tee, bunkers on the left of the green are hidden and provide for unpleasant surprises.
If a 221-yard par 3 isn’t enough, try the 234-yard fifth hole. The small green can be reached with a 5- or 6-iron but you might need as much as a 3-iron when the wind is blowing. Strange as it may seem, it is not one of the toughest scoring holes.
That honour goes to two of the par-4s. The sixth is 469 yards of heartburn. It has ranked as the second- and first-toughest challenge for professionals at Firestone over the years. When Robert Trent Jones redesigned Firestone into “The Monster” in 1959, this hole made par an excellent score.
The 458-yard fourth hole is another test. All the hole asks a player to do is hit a long and straight tee shot followed by a approach shot that must come in high to hold the elevated green. Easy for Tiger Woods. Hard for mere mortals.
But then again, that is the best way to sum up Firestone Country Club’s South Course.