Oakland Hills has starring role
BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Sometimes the stage can be as mesmerizing as any of the stars who cross it.
Tiger Woods may not be here to tee it up in today’s start of the 90th PGA Championship, but Oakland Hills is a star to behold onto itself.
This historic Donald Ross design promises to be a force in this week’s competition.
“It’s a beast,” said Rocco Mediate, runner-up to Woods in the U.S. Open.
The South Course, which opened in 1918, is an aristocratic, blue-blooded member of the major championship rotation. It’s as indomitable as was its first head pro, Walter Hagen. The course is hosting its third PGA Championship, to go with six U.S. Opens. It is, most of all, a mercurial test, all about deciphering the puzzle on its confounding greens.
“I love the golf course,” said Kenny Perry, a three-time winner this year. “The greens are a little crazy. There’s a lot of swales out there that you have to figure out and not short side yourself. You’ve got to think a lot.”
Woods, recovering from season-ending knee surgery, is the first PGA champion unable to defend his title since Ben Hogan couldn’t in 1949 as he recovered from a near fatal crash.
“I probably won’t watch any of this one,” Woods told ESPN Radio this week. “This one’s a little more frustrating for me. I’m two-time defending champ and not being able to get out there and defend something I’ve already defended once and can’t do it twice, it’s a little bit frustrating.”
With Woods gone, Phil Mickelson is the official favorite by virtually every bookmaker. Ladbrokes.com has him at 10-1, with British Open champion Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Vijay Singh next at 20-1.
The PGA Championship, however, feels wide open after Mickelson squandered a chance to win the Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday, making bogeys on three of the final four holes.
The PGA’s history of players breaking through adds to the wide-open feel -- 15 of the last 25 winners of the PGA were first-time major winners.
Oakland Hills, though, won’t yield easily to anyone.
“This golf course is set up more like what a U.S. Open was set up like three or four years ago, where missing a fairway by a couple yards is like missing it by 10 yards,” Harrington said. “This is a tougher test in those terms, a more intimidating test and more punishing in that sense.”
This marks the ninth time Oakland Hills will be host to a major, the first time since Steve Jones won the U.S. Open here in 1996.
It was Hogan who first recognized thenature of this course’s personality.
After winning the U.S. Open in 1951, Hogan uttered this famous line: “I am glad I brought this course, this monster, to its knees.”
Hogan’s final-round 67 was one of only two sub-par rounds in that championship. He won at seven over after architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. toughened up Ross’ design.
Nobody’s expecting scores that high this week, even with the course stretched to 7,395 yards as a par 70. Still, the lively contours in these greens require exacting approach shots. Ross built a course that punishes anything above the hole and shots over the greens.
“It’s a great golf course, but it’s probably the toughest PGA I’ve ever played,” Garcia said.
Where: Oakland Hills Golf Club, South Course (7,395 yards, par 70), Bloomfield Township, Mich..
TV: TNT (Today-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 8-10 a.m.) and Ch. 2 (Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.).
Last year: Tiger Woods won the 13th of his 14 major titles, successfully defending his title at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla. He shot 71-63-69-69 to beat Woody Austin by two strokes. Woods, the U.S. Open winner this year, is sidelined by a knee injury.
TEE TIMES: D8
All times Pacific