One of the top five swings of Hannah Green’s major-clinching, 72-stroke day was the second one she struck late Sunday morning at Hazeltine National.
Leading the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship by one over Thailand’s big-hitting Ariya Jutanugarn, the 22-year-old Australian pulled her opening tee shot into the left fairway bunker at the 410-yard, par-4 first hole.
With Jutanugarn’s tee ball in the fairway of the week’s hardest hole statistically, Green had 153 yards to the pin with a lip, wet sand and trees to contend with. She pulled 7-iron, made perfect contact, reaching the back fringe and tapping in for par to match Jutanugarn’s stress-free two-putt par.
“I had a pretty good lie so I was pretty confident I could advance it onto the green,” Green said. “It was a bit further left than I intended, but it was fine. And it definitely helped me make par … just to make sure I wasn’t getting too nervous and could continue the positive momentum for the rest of the round.”
Green maintained her 1-shot lead at 9 under. And about five hours later, she won by that same 1 shot over defending champion Sung Hyun Park.
Green and her 21 closest pursuers went into the final round in red figures at a combined 79 under par on holes 2 through 18.
As for that first hole?
Not so good. As in 15-over-not-so-good. As in In Kyung Kim playing the hole in bogey, bogey, bogey, par while finishing 2 under overall.
“Well,” she said when asked about the hole’s difficulty, “when it was raining on Thursday, I hit driver, 3-wood and still didn’t reach the green. I should have spent more time on that hole in the practice rounds.”
But even on Sunday, with no wind, a tee that was moved 10 yards forward and the easiest hole location of the week, the top 22 players in the final eight groups were a combined even par with two bogeys — and a double that turned rookie Lauren Stephenson’s 3 under into 1 under in a blink.
When the final numbers were crunched, the first hole ranked as the most difficult with an average score of 4.407. Rounding out the top three were the par-4 10th (4.329) and the par-4 12th (4.321).
“That surprises me that it was the toughest hole,” said Mike Barge, Hazeltine’s top teaching pro the past 33 years. “For most of us, it’s certainly not the hardest tee shot. I think it’s a fairly simple tee shot.”
It’s a downhill shot, typically into the wind, to a generous enough fairway. The length usually ranks third among the par-4s behind the 421-yard 12th, which has the same wind direction, and the uphill 18th, which played 13 yards shorter at 408 on Sunday but was the hardest hole of the day (4.375).
“I think 12 is a harder hole,” Barge said. “And 18 is tougher. It’s harder to get it close and a trickier putt.”
Barge thinks the first hole played the hardest because of the hole locations. He’s right, of course.
With the pin tucked back right behind the bunker on Thursday and Saturday, the hole ranked first in difficulty with scoring averages of 4.477 and 4.4, respectively. With a back middle pin on Friday, the hole ranked second (4.447). And with Sunday’s most accessible back left placement, it ranked sixth (4.2).
Maple Grove’s 23-year-old Sarah Burnham struck the first tee shot off No. 1 on Thursday. She carded a double and went 3 over on the hole for the week.
Asked about the hole, she said, “Really long. I’d say No. 1 and 12, they’re just a bomb.”
There were 15 double bogeys on the hole. Stephenson was tied for seventh when she hit the fairway on Sunday.
But her second shot found the front right bunker. Her third ended up in the back left bunker.
“No way you can stop it close to a back left pin from there,” Barge said.
He was right. Stephenson three-putted from 25 feet.
Two groups later, Green was looking at a big number in that fairway bunker.
“Par from there is impressive,” Barge said early in Green’s round. “That could go a long way.”
He was right, of course.
Mark Craig is a reporter for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @markcraigNFL