By Aaron M Smith
Some may call it the black sheep of the majors. Some even forget that it is a major. But starting Thursday, August 13th, the fourth and final major of the 2009 season gets under way – the PGA Championship. This year, the PGA Championship is being hosted by Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota.
Hazeltine Golf Club was constructed in 1962 by Robert Trent Jones and will be playing out at approxiametly 7,674 yards, Par 72. This is the 7th major hosted by the golf course, including the 2002 PGA Championship. It is safe to say that the people of Chaska, Minnesota know what championship golf looks like. The 2002 PGA Championship was won by Rich Beem and it should be noted that in 2002, 4 of the holes on the course were listed among the 50 most difficult holes in the United States. The addition of fairway bunkers throughout the course since the last major, should only help to increase the difficulty and headaches for the players.
For those watching this weekend, there are 2 holes to pay particular attention to as they may prove to be pivotal in determining the winner of this year’s 2009 championship:
Hole #7 – A Par 5 hole, that was viewed by many in 2002 as a scoring hole – a chance to make up some ground on the leaderboard. The hole playing out 572 yards was reachable for most golfers in two shots, but new fairway bunkers may force golfers to think twice about their strategy on the hole. In 2002, the hole produced 11 eagles and 148 birdies. Don’t be surprised if golfers use this hole come Sunday to make a late push up the leaderboard.
Hole #16 – is a difficult Par 4, playing out a 402 yards. Johnny Miller was once quoted as saying that it was “the hardest par 4 I have ever played.” The hole is surrounded by water and leads to an narrow and elevated green. In 2002, the hole produced 114 bogeys, 51 double bogeys, 48 birdies and 6 “others.” Needless to say it is not a scoring hole and who ever is leading come Sunday afternoon will surely be holding his breath through the entire hole.
The PGA has also decided to take advantage of this past weekend’s drama, as they have paired Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington (PGA Defending Champion) together for Thursday’s and Friday’s opening rounds. Expect large crowds to follow this group and with Harrington showing growing confidence in his swing changes – expect the Irishman to be near the top come Sunday afternoon.
Tiger Woods enters this weekend as the odds on favorite – a role Woods usually finds himself in just about every tournament he enters. But back to back tournament victories has seen Woods playing at a very high level. Still it will be interesting to see if he can avoid some of the mistakes and bad putting he has shown in the earlier 2009 majors. Furthermore it will be interesting to see if Tiger can push aside the controversy from last week’s ending at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Woods has found himself in the spotlight (more so then usual) after his criticism of a ruling judge during Sunday’s final round. Count on seeing Tiger near the top come Sunday afternoon.
Stewart Cink, the defending 2009 British Open Champion, will be paired with 2009 Masters Champion, Angel Cabrera, and 2009 U.S. Open Champion, Lucas Glover. The pairing of the current year’s champions in the opening rounds, has been a tradition for the PGA Championship. Cink has continued to play very good golf since his first major and I expect him to be in the mix throughout the tournament.
As for predicting a winner of the 2009 PGA Championship – this writer has learned his lesson – don’t even try. But given that 2009 has already produced 2 unlikely winners in Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink , I am counting on an unlikely name contending for the championship come Sunday.