LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The typical closing hole for major championships is a long, challenging par 4 that makes it difficult for someone to protect his lead with par.
The most exciting closing holes are the par 5s.
It's rare to have two majors in one year that end with a par 5 — Pebble Beach and Valhalla in 2000, for example — and even rarer to have back-to-back majors end with a par 5. Royal Liverpool is the only links course on the Open rotation that ends in a par 5.
There wasn't much exciting at Hoylake the last two times because Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy had the tournament in hand.
Valhalla is a different. It was the decisive hole in the last two PGA Championships here, both times in a playoff. In fact, just about every time the PGA Championship is held on a course that ends with a par 5, that becomes the decisive hole.
Here are five of them:
The inaugural PGA Championship was held in 1916 at Siwanoy Country Club in New York, and it turned into a dandy championship match between Jim Barnes and Jock Hutchison that was decided on the last hole.
Hutchison led most of the 36-hole match, but he missed a 5-footer on the 35th hole to leave it tied with the par-5 18th remaining.
Both hit their second shots just short of the green and pitched up to about 5 feet away, so close that an official was called out to measure the distance to see who was away. Hutchison was about an inch farther away and missed another 5-footer. Barnes knocked in his putt and won his first PGA Championship.
He never gets much credit as the first repeat winner of the PGA, mainly because the championship was not held again until 1919 because of World War I.
4. PGA NATIONAL
The PGA Championship first went to its Florida headquarters in 1971 when it was held in February, making it the first major of the year. Jack Nicklaus won wire-to-wire, closing with a 73 for a two-shot win.
It was far more dramatic in 1987 when the PGA was held in the heat of August.
Larry Nelson and Lanny Wadkins finished at 1-under 287, neither making birdie on the par-5 closing hole with a chance to win. Nelson won in a sudden-death playoff, though that took place at No. 10.
Overlooked at this PGA was the first blown chance by Scott Hoch. He was well off ahead of the final group and had an 8-foot birdie putt for a 67 — no one shot better than 69 the last day — that surely would have given him his first major. Hoch missed the 8-foot birdie putt — and then missed from 3 feet for a bogey that ultimately left him one shot out of the playoff.
Two years later, Hoch would miss a more famous 3-foot birdie putt at the Masters against Nick Faldo.
3. PEBBLE BEACH
The 1977 PGA Championship was held at Pebble Beach for the only time, just five years after Pebble hosted its first U.S. Open. Gene Litter, out of golf for six weeks because of a back injury, returned at the PGA and appeared to be headed to an easy victory until a collapse on the back nine when he lost a four-shot lead.
Lanny Wadkins, who started the final round six shots behind, made his only birdie of the final round on the par-5 18th to close with a 70 and force a playoff when Littler had to settle for par on the closing hole.
Wadkins won with a par on the third extra hole.
It was the first time a major had been decided by sudden death. Back then, the playoff began on the first hole. It wasn't until 1993 that a sudden-death playoff at the PGA Championship began on the 18th hole.
At Baltusrol, two is better than one. The New Jersey course closed with back-to-back par 5s, and that was decisive for Phil Mickelson in the 2005 PGA Championship.
He was tied for the lead in the final round when he drilled his tee shot on the 554-yard closing hole, perhaps the most critical shot. That left Mickelson a 3-wood to try to reach the green, and for an extra dose of luck, he walked forward and tapped the plaque that commemorates the 1-iron Jack Nicklaus hit in 1967 when he won the U.S. Open.
Mickelson's shot was just right of the green, and he chipped to 2 feet, raising his arms because he knew he had won. He tapped it in for birdie and his lone PGA title.
Valhalla Golf Club might be viewed as among the more ordinary championship sites, though no one can argue with the drama.
Kenny Perry had a two-shot lead in the 1996 PGA Championship, playing before a home Kentucky crowd, when he hit his tee shot on the par-5 18th well to the left and made bogey. Mark Brooks made birdie to force a playoff, and Brooks beat him in the playoff when Perry again failed to find the fairway.
Nothing topped 2000, however. Tiger Woods, going for his third straight major, was tied for the lead and had a 6-foot birdie putt on the 18th. That putt became even more critical when Bob May knocked in an 18-foot birdie putt. Woods had to make it or his unprecedented sweep in the majors would not have happened. He made the putt to force the first three-hole playoff in PGA history. On the 18th in the playoff, Woods got up-and-down from a bunker for par to win by one.