10 Toughest Holes of the FedEx Cup

Kevin CaseyContributor IAugust 23, 2012

10 Toughest Holes of the FedEx Cup

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    In its maiden year, the FedEx Cup Playoffs served up a quartet of courses that players just feasted on.

    Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson opened up the low-scoring bonanza with 16-under-par performances in their respective victories at the Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship, and the red figures would soon climb higher and higher.

    At the BMW Championship, Tiger Woods stormed to victory with a 22-under total and topped the feat the very next week at the playoff finale (the Tour Championship) with his red number reaching 23.

    Overall, the winners of the four events that comprised the 2007 FedEx Cup went a whopping 77 strokes below par in their victories.

    It seemed that every playoff event would become a shootout every single year, making these venerable courses appear no more difficult than your average pitch-n-putt.

    But, that 2007 birdie barrage turned out to be an anomaly.

    In the four years since that red-splattered opening salvo, the courses have become more stingy, only allowing cumulative totals of somewhere between 51 and 55-under par each year.

    While that may still be far from the test that say a U.S. Open presents, these higher scores show that these courses aren't pushovers.

    And with the addition of a U.S. Open site in Bethpage Black (instead of the ripped apart Plainfield layout) for the Barclays, matters may get even tougher (don't expect Bethpage to play quite like an Open though).

    Where will players face their greatest challenges among the 72 separate holes of the four FedEx Cup courses?

    Here are the 10 toughest holes.

No. 5, Bethpage Black

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    After an opening four holes that is far from daunting, Bethpage Black shows its teeth with the demanding fifth.

    This testing par-4 is not only long (at 478 yards), but also quite treacherous.

    Oddly, the dogleg-left hole calls for a fade off the tee, as any player on the left side of the fairway (or rough) will be forced to play a large hook around an imposing set of trees in order to find the putting surface.

    Not exactly an easy situation, especially when considering that players must also contend with a huge elevation change that perches the putting surface well above the fairway.

    Players have to deal with this elevated green even if they hit a perfect drive, and with deep bunkers surrounding the surface, a slightly misjudged approach can be severely punished.

    This hole could be manageable at 400 yards, but at that 478 number, players are forced to use a mid-iron to a well-protected and secluded green. This combination makes this one of the toughest approach shots competitors will face on any hole throughout the FedEx Cup.

    The fifth put Tiger Woods off track in his opening round of the 2009 U.S. Open with a tough double-bogey, and he wasn't the only victim.

    There may be at least one hole at the Black that may be tougher, but few in the FedEx Cup stack up to this brute.

No. 12, Bethpage Black

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    There's not much deception on this hole. It's just a straightforward hole that proves difficult in the most obvious way: length.

    Yes, apparently even 500 yards was not long enough for this par-four (it's 501 yards), and it sometimes plays more than its yardage when the prevailing wind blows into players' faces.

    The tee shot produces an interesting dilemma, a player has the option of either hitting safely out to the right or trying to carry a cross-bunker (at 260 yards) out to the left.

    The approach is a long one to a relatively large green, not a terribly difficult shot except for the length (and the fact that the green is two-tiered).

    This is simply just a very long hole. Today's equipment mitigates most length, but not on this hole. Players will struggle to deal with all 501 yards in just four strokes, so plenty of bogeys should come.

No. 15, Bethpage Black

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    The hardest hole in both U.S. Opens Bethpage Black has hosted, the 15th is not one to mess with.

    The now 478-yard par-four is a place where red scores go to die.

    On the tee, players don't face a particularly tough tee shot, but finding the fairway is a must. Approaching this green from the rough makes this hole a lot more difficult than from the short grass.

    The approach shot proves why.

    Likely with a mid- to long-iron, the pros have to find a green that climbs severely uphill. If that still seems rather easy, this won't: the putting surface contains a ridge in the middle, propelling any ball that doesn't quite climb over to the much-lower front portion of the green.

    With the pin likely cut in the back portion all four days, this can be a damning result, as that ridge can leave what seemed like good approaches to finish a full 50 or 60 feet from the cup (not to mention that the resulting long putt will be a great deal uphill).

    You can see why finding the fairway here is imperative. Attempting to land and keep the ball on that top ridge will be nearly impossible from the rough, as it's already hard enough from Position A on this hole.

    This was the place where Tiger Woods' and Phil Mickelson's chances died last time the U.S. Open was played here.

    Expect more grief to come here this time around, as this may be the deciding hole of the championship on Sunday.

No. 11, TPC Boston

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    The 16th at TPC Boston may be the course’s most entertaining one-shotter, but the 11th is its most intimidating.

    The first par-three on the course’s back side, this hole definitely does not give a player much relief. At 231 yards and uphill, the 11th plays very long and will require a long-iron, and for shorter hitters, likely a wood into the green.

    Left here is a pretty good miss, as balls over there will just trickle harmlessly into the wide fringe area.

    Coming up short is not as grand, as a deep front right bunker is lying in wait for balls that don't quite reach the putting surface.

    Overall, this is a hole that asks a player for a great deal of precision on a tee shot that must go what feels like more than 250 yards.

    That is a tough ask and although, for the most part, missing the green isn't a severe penalty, it still leaves players scrambling for par.

    And when that happens the bogeys will come.

No. 12, TPC Boston

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    If one can't salvage a par on TPC Boston's tough par-three 11th, the 12th doesn't offer any forgiveness.

    It seems that players are destined to find at least a bogey or two during this stretch throughout the tournament, because when they go from the 11th green to the 12th tee, they've actually moved to a more demanding hole.

    Yes, the 461-yard par-four 12th at TPC Boston is one of the course's most feared holes, and with good reason.

    Although the longer-hitters can boom their drives down the fairway and potentially leave a short-iron into this green, the hole still plays very difficult.

    That's because a (water-less) hazard protects the front right side of this putting surface. This wrinkle is not something to be toyed with, as hitting an approach in here can lead to a big number.

    In fact, it was here during the final round of the 2007 Deutsche Bank Championship where leader Phil Mickelson, who was rolling along without a hitch, hit his second in the hazard and took a double bogey six. Mickelson still won the tournament, but moments like these show just how devilish this 12th hole can play.

    Maybe one can pull out a miraculous birdie here a la Tiger Woods in 2004, but bogey or worse is the far more likely score.

No. 14, TPC Boston

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    OK, so a player has survived 11, 12 and 13 (which is also among the course's five toughest holes).

    That's great.

    They still must face the 14th.

    It is very cruel, but the last hole on this miserable stretch is the toughest on the entire golf course.

    This 495-yard brute actually plays to a par-five for the members, but the pros won't get that luxury. As a par-four for the Deutsche Bank Championship over the years, this hole has been ever bit as unrelenting as it looks.

    Not only is this par-four very long, but it also desires killer accuracy. Misses off the tee to the right are fine, but on the left side, large mounds are there to pick up stray balls and leave a golfer with virtually no other option but to lay-up.

    So, finding the fairway is a good option, but it doesn't alleviate all of the stress of this hole.

    One's approach here will likely be from 200+ to a small putting surface guarded by sand on the right.

    That requires a huge amount of precision, something that many golfers won't be able to produce on their second here.

    Par on this hole is a fantastic score, and after players walk off the 14th green, they'll be glad to be done with the course's most brutal four-hole stretch.

No. 8, Crooked Stick

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    Another new course added to the FedEx Cup rotation (for the BMW Championship) in 2012, Crooked Stick certainly adds to the playoff experience.

    The host of the 1991 PGA Championship, largely remembered for John Daly's shocking entrance onto the golf world's stage, the course has an outstanding pedigree for hosting a playoff event.

    While Crooked Stick is known for having wide fairways, it also can produce quite a challenge. Yes, hitting from the short grass makes things a whole deal easier, but with a myriad of water lurking on the course, no player should feel safe.

    The eighth hole here is the greatest example of that.

    A 456-yard par-four, Crooked Stick's most challenging hole is a mental breakdown waiting to happen. Similar to The Belfry's finishing hole at the Brabazon Course, the eighth offers a tee shot that involves a great deal of risk and, potentially, a great deal of disaster.

    Because the hole doglegs to the left, players must carry their tee shots directly over the water that guards that left side. Not only that, these players face a tough decision, in deciding just how much of the water to bite off.

    The safe shot is out to the right but it leaves a longer approach, a braver player can bite off much more distance and potentially leave himself a wedge second if he takes the ball well down the left side. With the water lurking so ominously though, that can be an incredibly dangerous option.

    If the tee shot is survived, there is no guarantee that one will come out of the hole alive yet.

    That water to the left of the fairway runs all the way to the putting surface, making what should be a simple approach shot a surprisingly difficult one.

    In fact, the water cuts to the right as it reaches the green, making the hazard something players must carry on their second shots as well.

    A defibrillator may be a necessary item for some after having to deal with this monster.

    For those who like to see players suffer, this is the spot to do it.

    With what seems like enough water to fill an ocean, the eighth at Crooked Stick will give players fits and almost certainly produce a long list of heartbreaks.

No. 14, Crooked Stick

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    Another Crooked Stick hole buttressed by water to the left, the 14th here is another hole players will wish to avoid.

    OK, it's not quite a pond this time, but the creek on the left side on 14 is still quite imposing.

    Indeed, on the 483-yard par-four hole, players are faced with a tantalizing option off the tee. The safe route is to play out to the right and leave an approach north of 200 yards. If players want to get aggressive though, they can play out to the left.

    This option brings the creek well into play and, in fact, if one hooks their tee shot on that aggressive left line, out of bounds is there to gobble up any ball that comes its way.

    So, like the eighth, danger is not lacking on the tee shot.

    The approach on 14 is at least a little bit easier than on the eighth though.

    There's still hazard out to the left but it is well away from the putting surface, and only a really wide miss will end up in there.

    Instead, players will be worried about missing to the right, as that side leaves a relatively delicate pitch or bunker shot.

    The left bunker is in fact the safe miss and not a very difficult up-and-down.

    Notwithstanding the relatively harmless approach shot, this hole spells trouble. With a creek and out of bounds hanging on the left side on the drive, there is plenty of reason for competitors to resent this hole.

    The closing holes at Crooked Stick provide more potential pitfalls yet, but the 14th is its last great test.

No. 5, East Lake

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    The yardage on the fifth hole at East Lakereads like a par-five: 520.

    Yet, four is the par here, making this possibly the toughest hole on the golf course.

    The drive must be accurate on this hole, as trees line both sides of the fairway, but if one finds the short grass, a downhill slope will kick the drive forward a long way.

    While that sloped does shorten the hole, it also causes some discomfort as players must hit their second shot from a downhill lie.

    That's a tough proposition and if players miss the putting surface they will likely land in one of the large bunkers that surround the green.

    A four is a great score here and it should feel a bit like a birdie on a hole that plays closer to a par-five.

No. 17, East Lake

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    The closing stretch at East Lake is one of the most daunting golf, and if any of those final three holes strikes fear into players, it’s the 17th.

    The penultimate hole of the East Lake layout challenges from start to finish, as water runs all along the left side, reminding players that a big number is just one pulled drive or approach away.

    Bill Haas’ miracle aside, putting it in the hazard on this hole can be a very costly affair and must be avoided at all costs.

    However, if players think they can get a reprieve by hitting it short or to the right, they are in for a rude surprise. A bailout, while better than dunking one in the water, won’t necessarily work out

    Any ball that comes up short will find a large sand trap that festers far below the putting surface, making bogey a much greater possibility. To the right isn’t as bad, but a large bunker off to that side isn’t so easy to make par from either.

    This hole is really a duffer’s nightmare. It takes about 240 just to carry the water off the tee, and with the hazard still present all the way to the putting surface, matters don’t get much easier.

    The pros shouldn’t have much trouble with that initial carry, but don’t expect them to ever be comfortable on this hole.

    Only a select few will find birdies here, as the others find trouble.