PGA Championship promises a strong course for the strongest field
PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) — Four layers of clothes, beanies and hand warmers were everywhere on the eve of the PGA Championship, a reminder how this major will be different from the previous six at Oak Hill.
The temperature was 37 degrees — it felt colder with a morning breeze — and it made the 7,394 yards on the scorecard of a par 70 feel even longer.
“I still can’t believe it’s nearly middle of May and that we’re still going through 40-, 50-degree weather,” Jason Day said. “But that’s this part of the country at this time of the year.”
Ockie Strydom of South Africa was on the 10th tee, taking practice swings and waiting for the clock to hit 7 a.m. for the course to officially open.
“Have you no friends?" someone called out to him.
Strydom laughed and replied, “You'd have to be crazy to play in this.”
Such was the risk of the PGA Championship moving from August to May. The good news for Day, world No. 1 Jon Rahm, defending champion Justin Thomas and the rest of the 156-man field was Wednesday was a blip on an otherwise pleasant forecast.
As for the difficulty, that's not likely to change. Oak Hill, restored to the intent of famed architect Donald Ross, is likely to test everything.
Jordan Spieth was asked to describe the rough and he took it a step further.
“It's about as nasty ... there's nothing that separates this from a U.S. Open,” Spieth said. “This is a U.S. Open. The fairways are firm and narrow, and the rough is thick. As far as difficulty, it feels like a U.S. Open course. Par is a nice score.”
Jason Dufner is the only player to reach double digits under par (10-under 270) in the six majors at Oak Hill — three U.S. Opens, three PGAs. That was 10 years ago in August, when rain soaked the course and left the greens soft and vulnerable.
This effectively is a new course — it certainly looks that way. The bunkers are deeper, with steep, nearly vertical lips. Some greens have deep rough on one side and closely mown areas on the other that send balls rolling some 20 yards away.
Thomas went long of the 230-yard third green. He tried a flop shot back up the slope the putting surface and it kept rolling until it was back in the fairway.
There is trouble everywhere, capable of punishing mistakes.
“You miss greens out here, you’re going to make a lot of bogeys,” two-time PGA champion Brooks Koepka said. “You miss fairways, you’re going to be making quite a few bogeys if you’re out of position.”
Koepka is coming off a runner-up finish at the Masters, where he had the 54-hole lead until Rahm tracked him down on the final day. He arrived at Augusta National having won a LIV Golf event in Florida.
He is healthy again, and Koepka seemed to take his game up a notch for the majors because of the discipline it requires. That's the word Rory McIlroy used to describe what it takes at Oak Hill, and Koepka concurred.
“It's a grind,” Koepka said. “A major week is always tough. It’s always going to be a tough golf course. You’ve got to plot your way around, understand where to miss it, where not to miss it. It just comes down to discipline. I feel like every time I’ve won, I’ve been super disciplined. ... I think that's a massive thing to win a major.”
Dustin Johnson won on the Saudi-funded series last week in Oklahoma, delivering clutch birdies on the 18th in regulation and in a three-man playoff.
He appears to be back in form, and to Johnson, it didn't matter where he was playing or how many guys he had to beat in the 48-man fields.
“Still playing against unbelievably good golfers,” Johnson said. "To be honest, the scores the last few tournaments we played were a lot lower than I thought they would be. You’ve got to play well every single day if you want a chance to win. The game last week, a lot of really good things. I'm driving it well, controlling the distance with the irons, starting to wedge it a lot better, and then rolled in a few putts.
“It's nice coming off a win, coming into this championship, and especially this golf course.”
It all gets started Thursday, with temperatures again expected to be bone-chilling in the morning before yielding to warmer weather — certainly not August weather — later in the day and through the rest of the week.
The PGA Championship again features the strongest field of the majors, with only the injured Will Zalatoris missing from the top 100 players in the world.
A strong field, a strong course.
“This is going to be a big golf course to handle,” Tony Finau said. “None of the holes I played I looked at and said, ‘I’m going to birdie this hole this week for sure.' It's going to be that type of test. The guys that can mentally overcome the hurdle of just trying to stay patient ... you just have to play well for all four days if you’re going to win this week.”
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