Bunker mentality daunting

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / August 14, 2011

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. - As the crow flies, it’s roughly 250 miles from the Atlanta area to the nearest coast, either Savannah to the southeast or Destin due south in the Florida Panhandle. That’s not to say the players at the 93d PGA Championship haven’t had a few days at the beach this week.

This sand, though, is best avoided at all costs, because the 88 bunkers strategically sprinkled throughout Atlanta Athletic Club aren’t firm and wet enough to build castles in, and they don’t yield seashells or other treasures. Just misery and dropped shots.

Through three days, TNT and CBS are probably tired of showing recovery attempts made from one of the deep fairway or greenside bunkers. Everybody is finding them - an unofficial count had Tiger Woods playing 22 shots from the sand, and he played only two rounds - and hardly anybody is liking them.

“They’re ridiculously penal,’’ said Paul Casey, who shot 78 yesterday and is 12 over par. “As soon as you see a ball going into a bunker you just . . . I don’t know, you cringe, you curse, you say a prayer.’’

What’s making these bunkers so difficult, Casey and others say, is the texture and consistency of the sand. It’s mostly light, which has prevented balls from rolling to the bottom once they get in there. Instead, they’re settling down almost as soon as they land, leaving players with plugged and semi-plugged lies and awkward stances.

“The way they rake them, instead of down the line of play, they rake them across, so you get in the rake marks as well and it sits down even further, so it’s incredibly difficult to get to the back of the ball,’’ Casey said. “So guys are either thinning it on purpose, and you’re seeing very low shots coming out of the bunker, or guys are chunking it.’’

“Fairway bunkers are some of the most difficult things. It’s just the lie that you get, you can’t hit a solid shot,” said David Toms, who managed to hole a bunker shot on the 14th hole for birdie, part of a third-round 65.

“We were on the fifth hole today and I was about 80 yards short of the green in the bunker and I tried to chip an 8-iron out of it. I’d never even tried that shot, but I knew that I couldn’t hit any kind of a wedge solid.’’

Many weeks, the rough is high around the greens at PGA events, and players can put so much spin on the ball coming out of bunkers that they sometimes specifically play at them, knowing that sand is more appealing than heavy rough. Not this week.

Good shots can be played out of the bunkers, though. Casey needed a par on the brutal 18th Friday to make the cut, and like most players, hit away from the water down the left side and into a bunker right of the fairway, some 230 yards from the green.

Fortunately for him, dozens of players had been in the same spot, and caddies had done an impeccable job of raking. Casey caught a perfect lie.

“Most of the time this week I’ve done really badly, but that time I hit a 4-iron to about 10 feet, and two-putted for the par I needed to make,’’ Casey said. “Without that, I wouldn’t have made the cut.’’