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Insider: Trees tell the story this week at Firestone South

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Justin Rose has two top 10s and four missed cuts in his six U.S. Open appearances.

I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree -- Joyce Kilmer

Kilmer could have walked the grounds of Firestone Country Club's South Course to receive inspiration for her poetry. It might be the most impressively forested golf course on the PGA TOUR.

While other courses around the country are thinning their tree populations, they still embrace their oaks at Firestone. The trees number in the thousands and are an integral part of course strategy.

There is no discussion of thinning the forest to improve air circulation or sight lines. When trees are lost to disease, they are replaced. Every hole on the course features a leafy avenue that frames the fairway, but also frustrates players.

None more so than at the 18th.

The 464-yard par 4 doglegs slightly to the left. Guarding the green's entrance is a pair of impressive oak trees. They flank the hole, both left and right, to swat away errant approaches. The pair of silent sentries soar more than 75 feet high and dictate a player's approach.

The rejection of errant shots is clearly audible. It sounds like a Ping-Pong match is taking place, as golf balls ricochet among the trees.

The course almost lost one of its impressive oaks a few years ago on the 13th hole, but tree surgeons saved the tree, preserved the hole's integrity and created an icon in the process. The pulp inside the tree's trunk was decaying. It had stood for decades, causing problems on the right hand portion of the 471-yard par four.

Tree surgeons operated. They carved away the dead wood portion from the base of the tree but that created problems. Without a sturdy trunk, the oak was going to topple. So the arborists created a crutch to save the tree: They sculpted the base with concrete to support the tree. The oak survived, but it made for an unusual looking tree. It's now a 60-foot oak with a concrete base. To soften the look, the tree surgeons drew lines that resembled bricks into the concrete.

The tree has not only survived, it has thrived, and is now known as the "Keebler Oak." It's concrete base resembles the entrance to an elf's house.

Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree, Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

Observations

Length:It's a long golf course this week. Firestone's South Course is a par 70 that stretches 7,400 yards. It also features the second-longest hole on TOUR this year, the 667-yard 16th. It plays slightly less than that yardage, since it runs downhill but it's still takes two impressive swats to reach the par 5 in two. Just a handful of players can reach the green in two, and it's always fun to watch Bubba Watson wind up and deliver.

Rough:The Midwest has been crushed with a year-long drought, and the lack of moisture is evident this week. The bluegrass rough does not have its usual juice. It's thin, wispy and patchy. The rough at Firestone usually gobbles up the errant drive. This week, most lies from off the fairway are playable, but there is a trade-off. While the rough is thin, the greens are very firm. Approach shots are bouncing at impact.

Quick start:The course opens with a short par 4 and a reachable par 5. It is the most scoreable two-hole section at Firestone. At 399 yards, the opening hole has ranked at the seventh-easiest hole on the course over the last two decades, while second hole is the easiest. The 520-yard second plays uphill, but is reachable in two and had a stroke average of 4.556 in 2011. A player who tries to ease into his round with a couple pars is losing strokes to the field.

Winner, winner:How can you not pick Tiger Woods this week? His pattern is to play well at courses he has won on before. Bay Hill, Murfield Village and now Firestone South. Woods has won here seven times. He has struggled to hit fairways here the last couple years, but firm conditions may mean Woods does not have to hit driver. There also seems to be a misconception Woods is having a terrible year with his driver. That's not the case. Woods is ranked 30th on TOUR in driving accuracy and more importantly, he is 19th in greens hit. Woods' errant drives do not preclude him from hitting greens, and that is why Woods leads the TOUR in FedExCup standings. He will win his fourth tournament of the season.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio,click here.

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