A major breakthrough
by Associated Press
The season's final major has been called "Glory's Last Shot," but it also has been slagged as the punk little brother compared to the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. But the PGA Championship has made a determined charge to be considered fit company, and here are five reasons why it has succeeded:
1. The venues. Nitpicking about a few ill-advised choices -- like Valhalla (too new), Crooked Stick (too unremarkable) and Shoal Creek (too white) -- ignores the fact that the PGA of America overwhelmingly selects great old courses like Riviera, Winged Foot and Oakland Hills. Last year, Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., set an admirable standard in course setup. This year, Wisconsin's Whistling Straits, which opened in 1998, gets a chance to become a modern classic. If the winds blow, the 7,500-yard Pete Dye creation along two miles of Lake Michigan shore could produce an over-par winner. Bottom line: Only the British Open has better course rotation.
2. The winners. The PGA Championship has the strongest field of the four majors, despite the obligatory presence of 25 club pros. While its champions include the usual Hall of Famers, this tournament has a history of producing unlikely winners such as John Daly, Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel, Wayne Grady and John Mahaffey. Why? The theories range from the lack of hype surrounding this tournament to the previously toothless course setups. Bottom line: The most unpredictable final day of all majors.
3. Glory's Last Shot. While this phrase generally describes the event itself, in that it is each season's final chance for a player to win a major, it also can encompass that one shot, a stroke of genius on Sunday, that defines this tournament above all others. Witness Micheel's magical 7-iron to within 2 inches in 2003, Beem's 35-foot birdie on the 70th hole in '02 to hold off a charging Tiger Woods, David Toms' controversial layup on the 72nd hole in '01. Even though he didn't beat Tiger in 1999, Sergio Garcia's huge slinging slice around a tree on 16 and his subsequent sprint to see the result is burned into golf's collective consciousness. Bottom line: The most memorable individual shots of the majors.
4. The Ryder Cup. On the Monday after the PGA, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton will announce his 12-man team for the September 15-17 international competition at Detroit's Oakland Hills. The top 10 spots are based on points, and Sutton gets two wild-card picks. To collect Ryder Cup points, a player must finish in the top 10 at a PGA Tour event. A victory is worth 150 points with the scale sliding down to 10 points for 10th place. Points are doubled for majors, making PGA Championships, especially those in even-numbered years, particularly meaningful. Bottom line: For those players on the bubble, the PGA becomes the most crucial major.
5. Changing of the guard? If Tiger can hang on to his world No. 1 ranking through the PGA, he will break Greg Norman's record of 331 total weeks at the top. If Tiger doesn't win, then it will be his 10th major start without a victory, matching his career worst, and raising more doubt about his chances to equal or surpass Jack Nicklaus' 18 career victories in majors. Mind you, Nicklaus had dry spells of 12, 10 and 20 majors. A Woods stumble combined with an Ernie Els victory would give us a new king of golf. Bottom line: The most potential for golf history since Tiger won six of the nine majors between the 2000 and 2002 U.S. Opens.