A major mystery await at Whistling Straits
by Associated Press
HAVEN, Wis. (AP) - Already billed as a major full of mystery, the PGA Championship got another surprise Wednesday.
Ben Curtis pulled a ski cap over his ears - common attire in Wisconsin, just not in the middle of summer. As Steve Lowery walked up to the 18th green, his frosty breath was visible with every step. The most popular place was next to the fireplace inside the locker room.
The frozen tundra of Whistling Straits?
Not quite, but temperatures in the low 50s approached the record low (48 degrees) set 50 years ago for this date.
It was just another reminder that players have no idea what to expect when the 86th PGA Championship gets under way Thursday on a course that is the longest (7,514 yards) in major championship history and one of the newest (opened in 1998) to stage a major.
No one is willing to guess what kind of score it will take to win, although any of the 156 players would gladly take anything under par - or even par, for that matter.
Someone asked Sergio Garcia if he would like to be at even-par 288 by the end of the week.
"Yes," he replied. "And I'll win by four."
The defending champion is Shaun Micheel. The hottest player in the majors is Phil Mickelson. The curiosity centers on Tiger Woods, who has not won in the last nine majors. Ernie Els has a chance to become No. 1 in the world.
But everyone is on equal footing at Whistling Straits, if that's even possible considering the sand dunes and moonscape turf on the links-style course along Lake Michigan.
"I think it adds to the suspense," Davis Love III said. "It might be good for the experienced players because they say, 'Hey, we don't know what's going to happen, so we're just going to go play and not have any target score or expectations in our head.' Just go play and do the best you can."
Then again, Love spoke at length with his shrink to get ready for the week.
"I've talked to Bob Rotella a lot about that," he said. "How do you approach an unknown like this? Do you throw par away? It is going to be an unknown and a mental test."
The only easy part about the week is finding a winner.
"If I had to predict, it would be somebody that's been around a lot of big tournaments, and also has the total package," Love said. "You don't have to hit it long, but you have to hit it solidly in this wind. You have to be a pretty good shotmaker, and then you're also going to have to chip and putt and scramble really well."
Is that all?
"That's not asking much," he said with a smile. "That's why majors are hard to win."
Some of the answers will be available Thursday, when the first round begins under a 30 percent threat of rain with highs in the mid-60s. The forecast for the tournament is not nearly reliable as the weather.
Woods was asked if there was any one hole that concerned him.
"No," he said. "There's 18 of them."
That uncertainty is what awaits the final major of the year, where the course is a greater focus than any one player. Still, several story lines are expected to unfold.
Mickelson finally has the majors all figured out, researching every course as if he were studying for a final exam. He played three practice rounds at Whistling Straits last week, taking almost nine hours to play one of them so he could chart when to attack and where not to miss.
No one can argue with the results. He won the Masters for his breakthrough major. A three-putt double bogey from 5 feet left him two shots behind in the U.S. Open, and he missed out of the British Open playoff by one shot.
"I'm three shots away from having the Grand Slam," Mickelson said. "I think about that, but I don't dwell on it. I'm constantly thinking of how to salvage a half a shot here or there. I've been able to do that well this year, but had I been able to do it just a little bit better, it could have been an incredible year."
It's already been great, and another major would clinch player-of-the-year honors for Lefty.
If Els finishes second, he could leave Whistling Straits for a strait jacket. He is two putts away from winning two majors this year - Mickelson made an 18-footer at Augusta, Els missed a 12-footer at Royal Troon on the final hole. Instead, he has been shut out, and the motto for the PGA - "Glory's Last Shot" - takes on a special meaning.
A victory, however, could return him to No. 1 in the world for the first time in six years.
Woods still has control of that situation, even though he has lost control off the tee at times.
This isn't his longest drought in the majors - he went 0-for-10 while working on swing changes in 1998 and finally won the PGA Championship in 1999 at Medinah. Woods sees a lot of similarities - not between Medinah and Whistling Straits, rather the state of his game.
"The things that are starting to come together, it's very exciting, just like it was back in '98 and '99," he said.
This also is the last chance to get Ryder Cup points, and because points are only awarded to the top 10 finishers, the closing holes could make all the difference.
The par-3 17th is 223 yards with no room for error left of the green. There is a 40-foot drop into shaggy grass, some of the 1,400 bunkers and eventually Lake Michigan. The par-4 18th is 500 yards and has played dead into the wind during the practice rounds, so it likely will play as the toughest hole at Whistling Straits.
Micheel, whose only victory was the PGA Championship last year at Oak Hill, already is edgy about being the defending champion. Having to do it on a course like Whistling Straits doesn't help.
"No one has an advantage here," Micheel said. "It's unlike anything we've played before. So, there's a little apprehension in that respect."