By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- The PGA Tour is back in Massachusetts this week, after taking a year out of the spotlight in 2019. Though fans unfortunately won't be in attendance due to the coronavirus pandemic, the stars of golf should make for a captivating tournament for the first playoff event of the FedExCup.
A number of pros spoke to the media on Tuesday ahead of the event, which begins in earnest with round one on Thursday. Each of them was asked specifically about the challenging stretch from holes 11-14 -- holes that can make or break a round.
Here's what each player had to say about that stretch, as well as their general thoughts on the TPC Boston course in Norton.
"I played the front nine yesterday and played the back nine today, and I love it. I think it's a great course. There's some holes, a lot of ball-striker approach shot holes with some greens that have a lot of undulation, a lot of run-offs in certain areas and a lot of thick rough, thick fescue.
"So for me, I think it's going to be great. I've got to map it out. I think it looks really good. I've heard it's -- I've already seen it but I've heard it's a lot softer compared to other years, so we'll see how that kind of plays out to certain people's advantage and missed shots and good shots. But you know, there's some really good holes out there and I really look forward to this week."
What's your strategy through the stretch on holes 11-14?
"Yeah, I played it about two hours ago and I can't really remember every single one. I just remember a lot of 530-yard par 4's into the wind.
"I think out there, I definitely hit a couple hybrids into par 4's today, and 11 is the par 3, I believe, which is also a hybrid for me.
"So what is my strategy? Still try and make birdie, but knowing that, OK, center of the green, especially a few of those holes where you have long irons in, the greens are small enough to where if you hit the middle of the green, you're going to give yourself a good look. You look at a course like Colonial, at Charles Schwab, hitting the middle of the green is great because the greens are so small you're going to have a great birdie look.
"Not every green out here is like that but a few of these greens out here on the long par 4's that are a little smaller than what you are used to, there's nothing wrong with hitting to the middle of the green and giving yourself a 30-foot birdie chance, because the greens look really good. Obviously they are going to speed up and get a little firmer or drier if it doesn't rain. But right now, the course looks awesome."
Bryson DeChambeau (2018 winner at TPC Boston)
"No doubt. TPC Boston is an amazing place. I have a lot of great memories from there. Playing with Tiger, playing well with him, and just honestly winning back-to-back [weeks] was something I never dreamed I'd do, and very fortunate to be able to do that, complete that, and come back here on good terms."
How do you manage your strategy on the back nine?
"Well, I haven't played with my new game this year yet. Tim, my caddie, was out there scouting the course yesterday, and said that these holes are going to play a lot different for me this week. We were even talking about I think on 12, hitting it down the slope potentially past that drop-off.
"So there's just going to be some interesting things on those difficult holes personally for me to try and accomplish. I think if I can figure those holes out and get to that easy stretch, I'll do what I did a couple years ago. I felt like I played really well on this back nine, especially the difficult holes. I was able to accomplish a couple birdies and keep my momentum going that week."
Justin Thomas (2017 winner at TPC Boston)
"Yeah, you know, this is obviously the first I'm I've played this golf course for this tournament. It used to be a little bit different. But very fortunate to come back to a place that I've won before, and it's a fun golf course. I would say the biggest part about this place is always having the very passionate, intense Boston fans, which will be a bummer that we won't get this week. But I'm sure they will be watching on their TVs come these next couple days and this weekend."
What's your approach on holes 11-14?
"There's not like any crazy strategy. I mean, any time I have a 4- or 5-iron in my hand, I'm just trying to make par -- hit it on the green and try to get it down in two from there. You just so happen that you have a couple holes in a four-hole stretch where that is the case. 12 has played very different over the years. I don't know if there's any changes done to it or not from , but you know, it's played many different ways. I've played it many different ways. And 13 is pretty in front of you, but 14 is another very difficult hole with a pretty small green for a 6- or 7-iron, depending on the wind that you get.
"Yeah, you kind of need to man up and just play well when you get on those holes."
Patrick Reed (Winner of 2019 Northern Trust, which was played at Liberty National Golf Club)
"I think the biggest thing is I feel like I can work the ball both ways off the tee. There's not many tee shots I step up on this golf course I don't feel comfortable over, and to be able to feel confident and comfortable over the tee shots is key, because any time you play any kind of golf course on the PGA Tour, you have to be playing from the short grass. And because of that, I feel like I've done a pretty good job here playing from the fairway. A lot of the contours on the greens allow me to great creative with iron shots coming in and I get to see different types of shots. That being said, I'm able to use my creative side, and whenever I get to use the creative side I'm able to kind of get a little more aggressive and kind of play more freely on the golf course.
"I feel like I've always putted and chipped pretty well here around here off the bent, and any time you get bentgrass greens, I feel like I can really just kind of attack and get that flat stick hot."
What's your strategy on holes 11 through 14?
"I was lucky enough to play the back nine today and they are playing long. I mean, they had a decent amount of rain on Sunday here, and then last night it rained pretty hard. So that being said, I mean, they played ... so 11, 12 and 14 played into the wind today. I hit hybrid, 4-iron, hybrid, into those holes. That being said, you know that's kind of the hard stretch. So you just have to basically play smart. You can still be aggressive but you have to play smart on those holes. That's a stretch that if you go and play that stretch even par for the week, you're going to earn probably one, maybe two shots on the field, easily, especially over guys that are top of the leaderboard.
"So that being said, those are ones that you don't need to go out and try to be really aggressive or overconfident on those holes and try to really attack because they can really bite you. And I think that's the biggest thing is a golf course like this, you've gotta pick your poison, where to attack, where not to attack.
"And on those holes, pars on those four holes consistently will actually gain shots on the field. So you don't have to go out and be a hero and make a bunch of birdies on that stretch. If anything, you need to make sure you play from the fairway and try to minimize the mistakes on that little stretch."
What do you think about the rotation between the two courses for this tournament?
"Honestly to me, it doesn't -- to me, it doesn't really matter if they stay in one spot or if they bounce around. You look at this tournament, for example, you go Boston and Liberty National, two amazing golf courses. And the amazing thing is when the PGA Tour comes into town, they are always in immaculate shape.
"That being said, it just gives you kind of different looks, and you see how your game travels. Because you could play one golf course really well but at the same time, you need to learn how to play everywhere, and to be a top player, you have to be able to play on all different surfaces, all different golf course, ones that fit your eye, some that don't.
"So for me, I don't mind it bouncing around. I actually think it's probably a good idea, especially during playoffs, especially with how important each week is. You don't want just to have, say, one week the first week, say it sets up perfectly for only long hitters, or it sets up perfectly for guys that hit draws or hit fades. You don't want that to be the advantage for each week. You want to be able to move around and have guys be challenged in all aspects of the game. For me, I don't mind it bouncing around."
Jon Rahm (World No. 1)
"Focusing on this week, it's a golf course I really like. I enjoy it. I know I can play good here. Hopefully I can do it again for a third time."
What's your approach on the back nine?
"Well, I think in the past, I could be completely wrong, but the feeling I have is that I haven't been able to play 12, 13, 14 -- 11, 12, 13, 14, as good as I could have. And even 13 and 14, if you can put the ball in the fairway on those two holes, it's not the hardest iron shot into the green -- especially 13, it's a wedge shot, right? So I think if you can manage 11 and 12, it would be good. I know I've struggled on 12 in the past. It's a difficult hole now. It's a very long par 4. Could easily be a par 5 with a couple yards added to that tee box.
"Honestly, my strategy hopefully is to play a little better. There's no way around it. 11 you need to hit a great iron shot on the green and hopefully a makeable chance. 12 you need to hit a good tee shot and a good iron shot. I would say 13, 14, comes more with the tee shot than the iron shot, right?
"Hopefully I can get it done this year, but whoever is a stats guy out here who can probably figure out, I would say I'm not too far off. I haven't played those holes very well in the past. So yeah, maybe come back to me on Sunday and I'll tell you if I've done anything better on that. Maybe I need to put a little bit more thought into those four holes or emphasize the importance of those four a little bit more."
Adam Scott (Winner of first TPC Boston tournament in 2003)
"Certainly TPC Boston has kind of been my adopted home, being my first Tour win so many years ago and a lot of very familiar faces who have been here that entire with me that entire time, always so welcoming. The course has changed a lot over the years, a lot of improvements and it's really kind of come into its own and matured. We've seen some great events. Fond memories to be here and I have good vibes."
More thoughts on the course:
"I think it's proven itself to provide some exciting events over the years. The modifications to the course have certainly enhanced that, I feel. So I think the course offers a lot of variety and that's nice to see, certainly as you come into the FedExCup Playoffs. That's what you want to see -- some strategy, you know, where the guys are going for it or not on many holes out here. So I mean, I think it's worthy of holding this spot and hopefully it stays in the rotation."
What's your strategy on the back nine?
"You've just got to survive, really. That is a brutal stretch of holes. You know, you are really hoping to get off to a good start here and get your round going, and if you've done that, then you are looking to just get through there at even par. That would be a result. I wouldn't even be disappointed if I was 1-over par on that stretch. You've got a chance then to close out strong, as well.
"So it's an interesting flow to a round because you can kind of really run the tables the first ten and then you've got to hang on. And if you can hang on, you finish strong. If you don't hang on, it can really get away from you on those holes because there's a lot of trouble. Certainly 12, 13, 14, you can find yourself in all kinds of trouble."
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