Field Loaded For PGA Championship
by Alan Robinson
CHASKA, Minn. (AP) ? The PGA Championship finally arrived at Hazeltine National Golf Club, and there wasn't a grand slam in sight. Not that it seemed to matter.
No, Tiger Woods' this-can't-be-real 81 at Muirfield made certain this late-summer week in Minnesota won't be one for the history books or story books - a historic convergence of a superstar athlete and a once unthinkable but suddenly obtainable achievement of a lifetime.
Still, Woods' bid for the calendar year grand slam sweep of the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA may be all that's missing from a tournament that looks very major league for what often is the least-watched and least appreciated of the four majors.
Woods' presence alone - he's won seven of the last 12 majors - makes any tournament big, but not even the Masters boasted this: 99 of the world's top 100 players, a real-life field of dreams.
"This may have the strongest field of any tournament that we play all year," Tom Lehman, a Minnesota native and the 1996 British Open champion, said Monday.
Woods, one day removed from his Buick Open victory, was a first-day no-show, although his caddie, Steve Williams, was spotted rechecking all 7,360 yards of one of the longest courses in PGA Championship history.
As a result, it seemed as if every one of the tens of thousands of fans who streamed onto the course Monday - a lot of PGA events would love crowds this big Sunday - wondered where Woods was, and when he was coming.
"Maybe he's shopping, I don't know," said Tim Herron, who jokingly suggested that his own family members were curious.
"They all said, `We'll be the ones with signs for Tiger,"' he said.
They won't have to wait long; Woods is scheduled for a practice round Tuesday that may draw a throng big enough to make the Twins envious.
And if the crowd is as large and as revved-up as Monday's gathering on a windy, overcast day, even Woods might be asking: Is this August - or is this Augusta?
"This is Minnesota," said Lehman, a Minnesota native who will wear his Golden Gopher pride on his head covers this week. "This is the land of the greatest golf fans in the world, so I'm not surprised at all. People are very excited about this championship."
The only surprise, he said, might be for those who haven't seen Hazeltine since its infancy during the 1970 U.S. Open, when Dave Hill described the immature, built-in-the-middle-of-nowhere prairie course as a "cow pasture."
Now, urban sprawl has brought the Twin Cities nearly to Hazeltine's door step, and numerous alterations have been made to a Robert Trent Jones-designed course once known for its boomerang-like doglegs, blind shots and unchallenging finishing stretch.
Now, the par-3, 636-yard No. 3 hole requires a monster mash of a drive, even by Tiger standards. No. 16 has been transformed from a laughingly easy par 3 to the course's signature hole, a 402-yard par-4 that requires a pinpoint drive to a fairway guarded by Hazeltine Lake and a 150-yard approach to a peninsula green.
"The setup is very much like a U.S. Open," Lehman said. "The length is not going to kill you. The only hole that I think is Bethpage-ish is No. 3. If you get a good wind in your face, some guys won't be able to reach that fairway.
"Other than that, it's all right there in front of you. That's what I like about the course. It's not untricky, it's not unfair."
It's also not for the pros who disdain using the driver. Lehman figures he'll use a driver on nearly half the holes. Woods squeezed in a practice round with buddy Mark O'Meara last week before the Buick and proclaimed it a long hitter's course - and who better fits that description than Tiger Woods?
"Even though the length is long on the scorecard, it doesn't play that long," Lehman said. "There's so much in the par 5s here. The other holes are much more target golf, put it in the right spot thing, as opposed to taking a driver out and bombing it."
The week's story lines go beyond Woods trying to become the first to win three of the four majors in the same calendar year for a second time, and the second time in three years.
There's also the anticipation this could be the week that Sergio Garcia, who's challenged for the lead Sunday in five of the last six majors, takes one from Tiger. Or that Phil Mickelson, so close but yet so far away so many times before, finally adds a major to the 21 PGA Tour victories he already has. Or that Padraig Harrington will become the first European-born golfer to win the PGA in 72 years.
"The favorites are still the favorites," Lehman said. "There are still the handful of guys that are the guys to beat."
As always in a major, the question is: Can Tiger Woods be beaten unless, as in the British Open, he beats himself?
"If you can't beat the guy, you can't beat the guy," Lehman said.