PGA Championship course could be a beast
Graeme McDowell reads the yardage on the third hole during a practice round at The Ocean Course in Kiawah Island, S.C., Aug. 6, 2012. (MATHIEU BELANGER/Reuters)
Luke Donald started making his way around The Ocean Course here Tuesday morning battling a 45-mph wind.
"After about 45 minutes, I got called in (because of lightning) for about a half-hour, came back out and the wind was completely different and about five miles an hour," said the No.-1 ranked player in the world.
There is little doubt that weather is going to be the dominant feature around this brawny, windswept seaside course the PGA of America has chosen for its 94th championship.
Few, if any of the players in this field have ever played a competitive round on Kiawah Island and they're not yet certain if, beneath that stunning beauty, the golf course is a lion or a lamb.
Most are betting on lion.
But lamb is still in the picture.
"It doesn't look like we are going to get dry conditions all week," said Tiger Woods. "It's soft out there. The fairways are perfect, the greens are perfect."
Depending upon the whims of the PGA's deep thinkers, with a 7,676-yard layout (longest in major championship history) to work with and multiple tees on every hole, they can make the course hard or vulnerable. There will likely be a little of both in the course set-up come Thursday.
"I think that is the great dynamic of this golf course," said Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America's managing director of championships and business development. "The mystique of it is you never know what you're going to get."
Haigh, who has the PGA's last word on course setup, said he will be consulting constantly with meteorologists, to try to find the right mix.
"If the PGA decides to play it all the way back, it's going to be a big ballpark," said Woods.
While The Ocean Course has many similarities to Whistling Straits -- the sandy, Lake Michigan layout in Wisconsin where the PGA Championship was held in 2010 -- one very important thing will be different: with so much sand everywhere, there will be no areas designated as bunkers.
That means that players will be allowed to ground their clubs and remove loose impediments from behind their ball anywhere on the course, outside the water hazards.
At Whistling Straits, Dustin Johnson missed out on a playoff because he was penalized for grounding his club in what he thought was a waste area where galleries had been tramping through. No such ambiguity exists here. All that's being asked of the players is that they rake the areas after playing out of them as a courtesy to competitors.
Going back 25 years, there has never been a period with such a consistent diversity of major championship winners. The past 16 majors have produced 16 different champions.
"I just think right now the fields are so deep," said Donald who, despite his world No. 1 ranking, has not yet won a major championship. "A lot of guys have opportunities to win. There isn't that one guy who is distancing himself from the rest. The longer that goes, the more encouragement it gives to those guys who haven't yet won a major. Like myself."
Woods has a similar take on the same curious phenomenon.
"At almost every event, you have 70-plus guys within 10 shots of the lead on the weekend," said Woods. "That wasn't always the case. It used to be 14, 15 shots sometimes. That's easily doable."
Bubba Watson, whose name is on that list of 16 after winning the 2012 Masters, thinks the reason is obvious.
"Tiger Woods has made the game grow," said Watson. "He's grown this game across the world. People are watching how he practised, how he trained, how he made golf a physical game.
"He can play with power and he can play with precision, he can play the mental game and everybody has taken note of that. You've got all these young guys -- Patrick Cantlay, Rickie Fowler, (Rory) McIlroy, (Ryo) Ishikawa -- that are watching him and learning what it takes."
What it will take this week is still a mystery because nobody has a handle on The Ocean Course's secrets. If it blows up a storm, then the players will think they're back at the Open Championship somewhere in Scotland. Even if the weather is benign, the PGA of America has the tools to tighten the screws and make them wish they were.