KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Tiger Woods was in a tough spot in a bunker on the left side of the 13th fairway Thursday in the PGA Championship, needing to get it up quickly over a lip to cover the 178 yards remaining to the green. His caddie leaned toward him with one last reminder, and it had nothing to do with the yardage.
This really wasn't a bunker.
Because of the amount of sand and waste areas at Kiawah Island, the PGA of America has declared the entire course "through the green." That means players can ground their clubs in the sand and take practice swings — even in bunkers that look like sand traps found on any other course.
Woods set his club in the sand at address and let it rip.
"It felt a little weird to put my club on the ground," he said. "It just felt weird, it really does. Because then it gives a whole different perspective now. It feels like, 'OK, well it's from the fairway, but it's not,' because the club settles and as you take it back, there's an imprint."
Woods took practice swings into the sand behind the second green, though he chose not to set the club in the sand behind the ball.
He wasn't alone.
Paul Casey was in a sandy area to the left of the ninth green, his final hole. He took a practice swing with his sand wedge, and was startled at the firmness of the ground. After three more swings, he summoned his caddie and chose a different wedge to play the shot.
Too bad this rule wasn't in effect two years ago at Whistling Straits for Dustin Johnson. He had a one-shot lead playing the final hole on a course with more bunkers than anyone could count, some of them so sprawling that fans stood in them and children built sand castles. Not realizing he was in a bunker, he grounded his club, leading to a two-shot penalty that kept him out of a playoff.
PGA officials said this was not a reaction to Johnson's blunder.
They said these were the same rules in effect for the 1991 Ryder Cup, along with two other PGA tournaments. It's the nature of The Ocean Course.
But it took some adjustments.
"The first couple bunkers I got in, I just played it like a normal bunker," Adam Scott said. "But then about the fourth one, I thought, 'Just have a practice swing, just to see what it feels like.' I think that's the most odd thing I've ever experienced. Playing this course, there's actually not a bunker on it.
"I took a practice swing and it looks kind of funny," he said. "And I think the guys in the group were snickering at it, as well."
Evidence of this decision on bunkers is shown on the PGA Championship statistical page that typically lists the number of fairways hit, greens in regulation, putts and sand saves. Everyone received 0-for-0 in sand saves.
Not many found it as peculiar as Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, who opened with a 67. He went for the par-5 11th hole in two, and the ball just went over the back. It was up against a small pile of sand created by ants, and was allowed to take a free drop. The closest place was in the bunker.
"I got a free drop — a drop into a bunker, which is quite unusual — even though they are not playing as bunkers," he said, smiling.
He still got his birdie.