Course Is 'Nasty,' Golfers Are Crabby

Padraig Harrington rallies from three shots down with a final-round 66 to win the PGA Championship, his second consecutive major title.
By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 9, 2008

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich., Aug. 8 -- Rocco Mediate easily could have been speaking for the entire field in the brutally difficult second round of the 90th PGA Championship when he was asked to describe what made the South Course at Oakland Hills so trying.

"The pins are really tough to get to, the wind is blowing and the greens are cooking, drying out," the usually ebullient U.S. Open runner-up said after shooting a 4-over-par 74 on Friday, adding that he was "very glad" to be done for the day. "The golf course is so nasty right now. Just nasty."

In the first round, just seven of the 156 starters managed to post sub-par scores. On Friday, that number was down to six, including a 2-under 68 from long-hitting Kentuckian J.B. Holmes, who pushed into the outright lead as the only player below par after the first two rounds of the final major of the season.

With a 1-under total of 139, Holmes took a one-shot lead over American Ben Curtis and Englishman Justin Rose, both at 67 -- 140, and journeyman Charlie Wi, a Californian with back-to-back rounds of 70. Despite several back-nine adventures, Phil Mickelson (73 -- 143) and Sergio García (73 -- 142) also were very much in the mix.

At least their star power has the potential to overcome what mostly has been the abject silence or agonizing groans from the galleries so far this week. There have been few birdies or eagles to celebrate over the past two days in the Detroit suburbs. And it likely won't get much easier on the weekend on a course Ernie Els (75 -- 146) described as a "beast."

The 25-mph winds that buffeted Oakland Hills throughout the second round should ease somewhat Saturday. But narrow fairways, unforgiving rough, firm, fast greens and diabolical pin positions have the potential to produce a champion who might not break par for only the sixth time since the tournament went from a match-play format to stroke play in 1958. The scoring average for a second straight day was 74.8, almost five shots over par, and only one birdie was recorded at each of the final two holes.

"The course is very, very severe," said Colin Montgomerie, a Ryder Cup hero for Europe at this venue four years ago who shot 84 on Friday and headed home at 20-over 160. "Its setup [is] as extremely difficult as any course I have ever played."

Still, the presence of fan favorites Mickelson and García on the leader board should offer some crowd-pleasing story lines that might make up for the absence of Tiger Woods, the two-time defending champion recovering from a surgically repaired left knee.

Mickelson has gone nine straight majors without a victory since his 72nd-hole implosion at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, a double bogey that cost him his fourth major title. García, 28, has no major championships despite 13 top 10 finishes over the past nine years, including his runner-up as a 19-year-old at the '99 PGA at Medinah near Chicago.

Mickelson wasted several decent birdie chances, including a missed 2 1/2 -foot putt that lipped out at the 529-yard No. 2 and another missed six-footer at the 423-yard No. 11. He was at even par for the tournament through 13 holes before wayward drives led to back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 14 and 15 on a frustrating afternoon in which he managed just two birdies, with five bogeys.

"Given the fact that the greens are firm and fast, and you can't control your spin, it is difficult to get up and down," Mickelson said. "I have really struggled around the greens. . . . I've got to play this thing two more times, and I don't really want to go into whether or not it's fair or what have you. Everybody's got to play it."

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