September 27, 2012 / 5:45 PM / 5 years ago

Driveable 15th could prove pivotal at Ryder Cup

MEDINAH, Illinois (Reuters) - The sprawling Medinah Country Club course outside Chicago is set up so benignly that it should be a shot-making delight at this week’s Ryder Cup, with club members even drooling over the chance to play it.

“This course, with no rough and lots of trees cut down, it’s never played easier,” Mike Kabarec, a 19-year member at Medinah, told Reuters on Thursday. “I‘m looking forward to playing it.”

First crack goes to 24 of the world’s best players as 12-man teams representing the United States and Europe renew their fierce rivalry in the 39th Ryder Cup starting on Friday.

Looming as a possible pivotal hole in the biennial event if the potentially driveable par-four 15th, which can play anywhere from 280 yards to 391 yards, depending on the tee box.

The hole has been shortened 100 yards since Medinah hosted the 2006 PGA Championship and a pond was placed along the right side of the fairway and green to offer a risk-reward option.

“Fifteen has obviously changed quite a lot, which I think will make for a good match‑play hole at that stage in the round,” said Briton Lee Westwood.

Big-hitting American Dustin Johnson looked forward to the challenge.

”It kind of just depends on the wind. For me, unless it’s into the wind, I‘m probably going to hit a three‑wood,“ he said. ”I‘m just trying to get it just short of front edge or right on the front edge and it all depends on where the flag is, too.

“I plan on being pretty aggressive on that one.”

Matt Kuchar said 15 could produce a swing factor in matches.

“It’s an exciting hole,” the American said. “That hole has got potential for a drive to be put on the green and an eagle to be made, or a drive you put in the water. There’s a lot that can happen.”

Some normally daring players are expecting to play the hole conservatively, taking the water and the gaping bunker left of the green out of the equation by laying up and relying on a wedge shot for a birdie chance.

“I think it’s an easy birdie laying up, and as disappointing as the fans are going to be to see that, we have to play what’s there in front of us and try to shoot the lowest score,” Phil Mickelson said. “The lowest score will be shot by laying up.”

Long-hitting Masters champion Bubba Watson said he could use a four-wood to reach it, but agreed with U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, who said going for it, or not going for it would be a “game-time decision.”

“There’s a lot of factors that go on with that - wind condition, pin location, how you’re hitting your ball that day,” Watson said. “There’s a lot of things that are going to determine what goes on at that moment.”

Players expect easier chips from off the green and with some 400 trees cut down last winter, openings could allow them to recover from wayward tee shots in spectacular fashion.

“There’s going to be a lot of birdies out there,” said Briton Paul Lawrie, the 1999 British Open winner. “You’ll see a lot of chip‑ins this week. There’s no rough around the greens. The greens are rolling pretty pure.”

Watson, a master at shaping approach shots, applauded the set-up.

”The way they’ve set it up is built for great golf,“ Watson said. ”It’s built for the fans to enjoy the game of golf.

“You’re talking about no rough. Some of the trees are missing, so you’re looking at great golf out of the trees when you hit one wayward. Let’s see the big hook, the big cuts, over trees, under trees, around bunkers to make birdies.”

Germany’s Martin Kaymer, the 2010 PGA champion, said: “It’s going to be a fun three days of golf.”

Editing by Frank Pingue

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