PGA might lack cachet of other majors, but it’s plenty exciting
BY HERB GOULD For Sun-Times Media August 1, 2014 8:26PM
Rory McIlroy, who won the British Open last month, is the overwhelming favorite to capture the PGA Championship. | Mark Duncan/AP
AT A GLANCE
Tournament: 96th PGA Championship.
Dates: Thursday through next Sunday.
Site: Valhalla Golf Club, Louisville, Ky.
Length: 7,458 yards.
Field: 156 players (136 tour pros, 20 club pros).
Prize money: $10 million.
Winner’s share: $1.8 million.
Defending champion: Jason Dufner.
Last year: Dufner, who lost a four-shot lead with four holes to play in the 2011 PGA Championship, atoned for that collapse by closing with a 68 to earn a two-shot victory over Jim Furyk. Dufner all but clinched it with a wedge into two feet for a birdie on the 16th hole. Dufner and Furyk each made bogey on the last two holes. Dufner became the sixth player to win a major after shooting a 63, which he carded in the second round.
Television: Thursday and Friday, noon to 6 p.m., TNT. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., TNT; 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., Ch. 2. Sunday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., TNT; 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., Ch. 2.
Updated: September 4, 2014 6:38AM
Timing is everything. By August, we’re immersed in baseball — or, in Chicago’s case, anticipating football.
Golf is off the radar. That’s especially true because we already have enjoyed its rite of spring (the Masters), our national championship (the U.S. Open) and the de facto world championship (the British Open).
That’s a shame. Because the PGA Championship this week at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky., has the makings of another riveting show from the least-loved major in golf.
Valhalla has hosted two previous PGAs and a Ryder Cup. Team USA posted its only Ryder Cup victory in six events this century in 2008 at the Nicklaus-designed course, which opened in 1986. And both previous PGAs there went to playoffs: Mark Brooks defeated Kenny Perry in 1996 and Tiger Woods beat Bob May in 2000.
Adding to the competitiveness, the top 100 players in the world committed to play at Valhalla. The withdrawal of Dustin Johnson, who has taken a leave of absence, will prevent this PGA from being the first tournament to have the top 100 tee it up. But it once again will be the best field around.
And the players will be playing on a course that’s demanding but is set up to let exceptional performers shine.
Valhalla’s par-71 layout is listed at 7,458 yards. When they prevailed in their playoffs there, Brooks finished 11 under and Woods 18 under in regulation.
Scores simply are lower at the PGA than at other majors. Sixteen of the 26 players who have broken 70 in all four rounds of a major have done so at the PGA. And David Toms’ 15-under-par 265 in Atlanta in 2001 is the lowest 72-hole score in any major.
Why so low? Augusta is a world unlike any other. The U.S. Open is obsessed with making par elusive. And the British Open is subject to old-world vagaries.
‘‘When I get on the first tee at the PGA,’’ Ernie Els said, ‘‘I’m not as nervous as when I get on the first tee at the Masters or the U.S. Open or the [British Open]. Mentally, you know you can score. At the PGA, you’ve got to have an aggressive mindset.’’
One explanation is that because the PGA is played in the dog days of August, its courses generally get more water — either from storms or greenskeepers — to keep the grass in shape, and that helps golfers fire at pins.
Another possibility is that the PGA knows scoring draws attention to a major that needs attention. Add in the best field playing looser on a course that rewards exceptional play, and there’s an element of unpredictability to go with the quality. That adds up to a really good show.
The PGA’s list of winners compares favorably with the lists at other majors. Its last four champions are two solid Americans, Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley, and two Europeans, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer, both of whom have won multiple majors.
McIlroy, coming off his British Open victory, is the overwhelming favorite among oddsmakers, followed by Adam Scott, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
But those favorites are based more on perception. The reality is, with all the talent assembled for this PGA, there are plenty of players capable of winning if they find a way to play their best.