by DAVE SHEDLOSKI of GolfDigestCanada
This week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah’s Ocean Course combines a very demanding layout with several name players out to make a major statement.
Pete Dye has been visiting the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C., every two weeks, on average, he says for the last two years to help prepare it for this week’s PGA Championship.
“I don’t know if there’s a foot of ground that we haven’t looked at,” the alacritous octogenarian said with a knowing chuckle. “I think it’s as good as we can make it.”
By “good” Dye means difficult. When he first designed the Ocean Course in preparation for the 1991 Ryder Cup, Dye said he put a great deal of thought into “figuring out ways to challenge the greatest players in the world.”
He has never stopped trying, and when the 156 players in the 94th PGA converge on the barrier island 15 miles south of Charleston for the first major championship in South Carolina, they’ll discover a layout that will give them as much comfort as sand in their pants. And don’t be surprised if a few of them get exactly that as they tack along the coast on a par-72 course measuring 7,676 yards, the longest in tournament history, and replete with ever-present threats of sand and water. The Ocean Course was ready but rough in 1991. Now it’s refined and maybe not quite as rough as a shot making test—though that’s only if the wind doesn’t blow. If, however, breezes begin to strafe the landscape, there won’t be anything except the good graces of Kerry Haigh, the PGA’s setup man, to save them from dune and gloom.
“The golf course is unbelievable. I think it’s going to be very difficult, especially if the wind picks up,” said defending champion Keegan Bradley, who joined Francis Ouimet and Ben Curtis as winners in their first major start. “I’m interested to see how the PGA sets up the golf course because they can set it up a million different ways.”
“It was interesting … it’s two different nine holes. The front nine is a really nice, playable golf course, and then the back nine is not. It’s very severe,” said Adam Scott, who will be looking to bounce back from his disappointing finish in the British Open, where he bogeyed the final four holes at Royal Lytham & St. Annes and allowed Ernie Els to sneak by him. “There are good scores out there in good weather, but if the wind blows, it’s just going to be very difficult, even if they move tees forward and stuff like that. It’s an extreme penalty for a miss. It’s certainly going to need some ball striking.”
More to the point, drivers could be more integral to success at Kiawah than in the year’s three previous major championships.
“I don’t think there’s any question that you’re going to have to drive it great,” Dustin Johnson said. “Length is going to be a huge advantage—if you can keep it in play.”
“It’s going to be long,” said Tiger Woods, a four-time PGA winner. “It’s going to be close to 7,700 yards, and that’s a big ballpark. It’s going to take a little bit of getting used to. Being seaside, the wind can change. The wind comes out of different directions. There’s so much room out there, but as soon as the wind starts blowing 20,30 miles an hour, there’s not much room.”
Beating the course is only half the battle. Beating the field is another matter.
The roster includes the top 108 on the World Ranking. All four reigning major champions will be in attendance, the first time since the Masters. Thirteen past PGA champions and 32 major winners are entered. This means very little nowadays, however, given that the last 16 majors have produced a different winner. Twelve have been first-timers, including the last three in the PGA: Bradley, Martin Kaymerand Y.E. Yang.
Glory’s Last Shot represents the last chance for Woods and Rory Mcllroy to engage in a head-to-head ‘ major battle this season. A rivalry was anticipated— and given commensurate media hype—after each captured a victory in Florida, Mcllroy at the Honda Classic and Woods at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
What has happened? Woods, 36, had his chances at the U.S. Open and British Open, though he fizzled down the stretch in each. Mcllroy, 23, billed as Tiger’s success or, wasted less time being in consequential, his T-40 at the Masters being his best finish. He missed the cut in his U.S. Open title defense. At the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Woods, who has risen to No. 2 in the world, might have found a solution to his sketchy putting after the second round. “Found some alignment, some posture things and got my feel back,” Woods said after a third-round 68 at Firestone CC. “My blade was releasing properly again, and it felt really comfortable.”
Mcllroy also looked more comfortable at Firestone, getting in the mix after bogeying three of the first four holes of the tournament. “It’s getting there, it definitely is. I’ve worked hard to get it back,” the Ulsterman said. “Obviously, my expectations every time I tee it up are pretty high and not to live up to my own expectations is not nice, but I feel like I’m definitely moving in the right direction.”
Of course, they are not alone in seeking to salvage the season and apply salve to some scar tissue.
Graeme McDowell played in Sunday’s final pairing in the last two majors and came up empty. Jim Furyk had a second U.S. Open title in his hands until a late stumble at Olympic Club, his disappointment every bit as deep as Scott’s. The only difference is the freshness of the wounds.
Unfortunately for them, Dye’s salty Ocean Course awaits.
Photo: Golf Digest/Steven Szurlej