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Day 2 of PGA Championship: Motown Monster Makes Mincemeat of Pros
The greatest names in golf came armed to the teeth as they hunted one of the game's most coveted pelts at the 2008 PGA Championship. Instead, the players came away bloodied, bowed, and bewildered as The Monster, Oakland Hills Country Club's fabled South Course, cut a terrible swath through them. With barely a dozen rounds under par recorded over the first two days of play, only one player was in red figures at the halfway mark of the tournament.
J.B. Holmes carded five birdies on his way to a second round 68, leaving him atop the leaderboard by one shot at 1-under. Charlie Wi, Justin Rose, and 2003 British Open champion Ben Curtis are one back with two-day scores of even par.
Just like Day 1, all four players atop the leaderboard took advantage of early morning tee times to set the pace, and then watched as several players made early charges, only to fall back late. Curtis and Rose tied for the lowest round of the tournament thus far, carding 3-under 67s.
"You certainly can't say the weather was an advantage," said the affable Curtis, dissecting his round with the assembled media. "Guys were saying the wind was favorable, but meanwhile it's whipping around us at 20 miles per hour. It wasn't Birkdale, but it wasn't mild either." Curtis ripped off three birdies in five holes in one short stretch, (8-12), then finished with three hair-raising, up-and-down par saves to close the round.
Curtis did credit his recent resurgent play to his week at Royal Birkdale, where he played the British Open in 40 mph winds. "It wasn't the wind that prepared you to play well here. Even at 15-20 mph, it was nothing compared to what we played in over there," he began, giving an inadvertent shiver at the recollection of the conditions. "I had 10 three-putts that week, but I drove it extremely well there like I have the last couple of days….coming here, I'm just trying to get a good pace on my stroke and feel comfortable over it. Today was a lot better than the last few days."
Instead, it was a minor re-adjustment to a change in his putting stance and alignment. "Birkdale was so windy, I had to widen my stance and move the ball back a bit just to play the shot," he explained candidly. "Today I reversed that. I moved the ball just a bit toward my big toe. I brought the ball back to the old position" Curtis had 29 putts for the day, but hit the five- and six-foot par saves in the clutch coming down the stretch. He is also ranked fifth for the week in greens in regulation, a critical stat at Oakland Hills, where the greens have such severe undulations there is a premium on getting the ball close.
Rose matched Curtis's 67, riding a hot putter to card his lowest round in six appearances in the PGA Championship. "The putter was the key to the round," said a relieved Rose, who took a mere 25 putts for the day and just 11 on the back nine. "I was actually excited about the conditions this morning….I shot a decent score and in conditions that were much tougher than what I expected."
Rose, Curtis, and Holmes then retired to the clubhouse to watch and wait as some of golf's biggest names rose past them, only to percolate back down the leaderboard and settle behind them. Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson briefly shared the lead, before late stumbles sent them to 2-over and 3-over respectively. "I made putts on 11 and 12 to get back to even for the tournament, made one [a birdie] on 13 and then turned around and gave it back on 14 and 15 with two bogeys," explained a disappointed but, still determined Mickelson. "There's a lot of golf left out here and the course is very difficult; so I think it won't be overly difficult if you play well to make up some ground."
Garcia was in the thick of the hunt before carding a three-putt double bogey at 17, an uphill, 238 yard par-3 shortened to 217 for yesterday's play. It still only yielded one birdie all day. "Unfortunately it wasn't mine, so it's tough," Garcia remarked, in a less frustrated voice and demeanor than many expected. "I was calm afterwards because I didn't feel like I hit bad putts, I just misread them. The pin was in a much bigger slope than it looked….it broke like hell."
The 17th green is only one of 18 greens that break like hell and send the players running for the antacids. The buzz form the players has uniformly likened the conditions to a U.S. Open. "It is a U.S. Open, it's as simple as that," explained Aaron Baddeley, whose second consecutive 71 put him three back at 2-under heading into the weekend. "There is one guy under par right now, and conditions are exactly like a U.S. Open, rough being thick, greens being firm and crusty, and it's playing tough."
Baddeley likened Oakland Hills to another fabled torture chamber of a golf course, Oakmont Country Club, site of last year's U.S. Open where Baddeley had the outright lead before soaring to a final-round 80. "I was telling my caddie walking off 18 in practice, 'this has the feel of Oakmont: the sky, the trees, the clubhouse, 18 reminds me of nine at Oakmont especially, there really are some similarities to be sure."
Baddeley obviously hopes the similarities stop at a superficial level and don't carry over to the scorecard. When asked what he'd do differently now as opposed to the last time he was in contention, he replied, "I'm not going to make any adjustments, in how I practice or prepare, but there are a couple of things I learned last time." He explained that even though the greens look bumpy form footprints, they will still roll smoothly, so he won't have to hit putts with as much speed to hold the line. "I don't have to worry about them and can just knock it in."
Feeling like a U.S. Open or Oakmont should suit Angel Cabrera just fine and, accordingly the 2007 U.S. Open champion who out-dueled Tiger Woods stands at 2-over, just three shots back. An eagle on the par-5 12th hole helped him overcome an erratic day tee to green as he hit only five fairways and seven greens for the second consecutive day.
Several other former major champions also kept themselves in contention. A 69 by 2001 PGA Champion David Toms leaves him two back at 1-over. Tom Lehman, Michael Campbell and Steve Elkington all stand at 4-over. As usual for Campbell, his solid play flies below the radar screen. Campbell leads the field in both fairways hit and greens in regulation. He can't be counted out. With the course playing so tough, the winner may be the guy who makes the least mistakes and the most putts, not the player who cards the most birdies.
"It is a lot like a U.S. Open," echoed Campbell. "You have to play fairways and greens and be careful in choosing where to be aggressive," he finished earnestly. Campbell was in a similar spot - lurking quietly but playing solidly while no one paid attention to him - at the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, where he emerged from the pack on Sunday to snatch the title from Retief Goosen and Tiger Woods. "I'm just going to try to keep it steady, like I did that week and just hope for the best. I just want to give myself a chance.
Keeping it steady is the problem on a course that is relentless, demanding pin point precision on every drive, approach and putt. "Yeah, I done better fix my driving and my irons and my putting," joked the affable Boo Weekley, who stands at 2-over despite his self-deprecation. Even though the tees were moved up on four holes to shorten the course, many uphill approaches, especially on the back nine leave the players with long irons or hybrids into greens which can repel shots that are the slightest bit off-line. "The approaches here are the scariest shot. That greenside rough is tough," Weeklay admitted, wiping his brow under his camouflage golf cap. "I need to drive it better, putt better and chip better."
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.