'Monster' Rears Ugly Head at PGA

The Washington Post's Len Shapiro reports the latest from the sidelines of the PGA Championship.
By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 8, 2008

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich., Aug. 7 -- The South Course at Oakland Hills Country Club transformed from its somewhat meek persona during practice rounds earlier in the week into its usual "Monster" status during the storm-delayed opening round of the 90th PGA Championship, the final major of the 2008 season.

With injured Tiger Woods not in this 156-man field that includes 93 of the top 100 players in the world rankings, a storied venue that has played host to eight previous major championships was the dominant story of a marathon first round that produced only six sub-par scores and a field average of 74.8 strokes, almost five shots above par.

When play was halted by darkness at 8:39 p.m. with 18 golfers unable to finish all 18 holes, Robert Karlsson of Sweden and Jeev Milkha Singh of India shared the lead of 2-under-par 68. Players unable to finish Thursday, including Andrés Romero of Argentina at 2 under through 16 holes, will complete their rounds starting at 8 a.m. on Friday.

Karlsson, among many others playing here in the Detroit suburbs this week, is trying to become the first European since Tommy Armour of Scotland in 1930 to win this championship. Singh is attempting to become the first player from India to secure a major title. Four players -- including Sergío Garcia of Spain, still seeking a major event breakthrough after 13 top 10 major finishes since 1999 -- were a shot behind the leaders at 1-under 69.

Ben Hogan gave Oakland Hills its "Monster" moniker after he won the 1951 U.S. Open on a course he said was by far the most difficult he had ever played.

Thursday's lethal cocktail of baking sun, 15-mph breezes and some pernicious pin placements made greens particularly treacherous for most of the day until a thunderstorm forced an 85-minute suspension of play starting at 5:33 p.m.

Before the pelting rain came, the sponsoring PGA of America was forced to water three greens -- at Nos. 1, 9 and 18 -- during the afternoon session because of what was described as "dryness and strain on the grass." Translation: without enough water, parched putting surfaces dry out to the point where the grass dies and greens become virtually unplayable.

"This is normal practice when greens are showing stress because of wind and other factors," Kerry Haigh, the PGA's managing director of championships, said in a statement. "The watering helps keep them alive."

Many players said they were almost astounded by how the 7,395-yard course played in the grueling first round, compared with its relatively stress-free degree of difficulty in three previous practice days.

"I was surprised at the transition, how different it was from [Wednesday] to today," said Phil Mickelson, who began with back-to-back bogeys on his first two holes but fought back to finish at even-par 70, including a missed three-footer for one last frustrating bogey on his final hole. "I thought it would be a little firmer and a little faster, but it got a lot firmer and a lot faster. That's going to make it play difficult on the weekend unless we get some rain."

"I just hope they don't lose the greens," added Billy Mayfair, also in with a 70 after holing out a 30-yard chip for birdie from the 17th fairway. "If the wind stays up and the sun stays out and we don't get any rain, we're close."

Karlsson, a 6-foot-5 Swede and the only player in the game with three top 10 finishes in major championships this season, came back from a double bogey at his first hole with five birdies on his next seven -- including three in a row starting at the 527-yard No. 2. He pushed to 4 under for the day through 14 holes until back-to-back bogeys at 15 and 16 cost him a chance at the outright lead.

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