Finishing hole proves pivotal

DULUTH, Ga. - The 18th hole at the Highlands course at Atlanta Athletic Club had plenty of buildup as one of the toughest finishing holes in major championship golf.

But Thursday, it actually added some intrigue when it played as the ninth hole as well. For the first time in 30 years, the PGA Championship started players at both the first and 10th tees. That meant half the field played the 18th as their ninth hole.

The 18th was a stumbling block for the players finishing their rounds on it. There were 23 bogeys among the 75 players who finished their round on 18, compared to just 19 for the players who played it as No. 9.

It damaged the hopes of Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson. Els came to the 18th in the morning with a one-shot lead, but dropped a 7-iron in the water and took a double-bogey. Mickelson was tied for the lead with Grant Waite coming to 18 in the late afternoon, but took bogey after hitting his drive into the left-hand rough. It was Mickelson's only bogey of the day.

"Once you miss a fairway, you have your work cut out for you to make par," said Mickelson, who laid up with his second shot. "There are going to be a lot of bogeys out here, and it's just part of the 72 holes, so I really don't look at 18 as being that big of a deal because I made bogey."

Several of the leaders had an interesting trip following some hardship at the 18th. Niclas Fasth bogeyed it, then shot 30 on the front side. Brad Faxon took bogey, then shot 31. Fred Funk took bogey, then shot 32.

"I was really happy coming back in 30," Fasth said. "It's hard to tell how you can make a lot of birdies here, but I did. I played wonderfully. My iron shots were great."

On the other hand, Stuart Appleby birdied the 18th -- one of just 15 on the day -- to shoot 31 on the back nine, but he couldn't get it going on the front, settling for nine straight pars and a 66.

It wasn't kind to Jonathan Kaye and Carlos Franco, either. Both bogeyed it to fall from 4- to 3-under.

But it was good to Waite, who hit his approach shot to within 10 feet and made the birdie putt to close out a 6-under 64.

"Any time you get 7-iron in your hands on 18 is a major bonus," said Waite, who drew his ball around the dogleg and had 179 yards to the pin. "It was a nice way to finish. Very exciting for me."