Major Mystery Awaits at Whistling Straits

By Associated PressAugust 11, 2004, 4:00 pm
04 PGA ChampionshipHAVEN, Wis. -- Already billed as a major full of mystery, the PGA Championship got another surprise Wednesday.
Ben Curtis pulled a ski cap over his ears -- common attire in Wisconsin, just not in the middle of summer. As Steve Lowery walked up to the 18th green, his frosty breath was visible with every step. The most popular place was next to the fireplace inside the locker room.
The frozen tundra of Whistling Straits?
Not quite, but temperatures in the low 50s approached the record low (48 degrees) set 50 years ago for this date.
It was just another reminder that players have no idea what to expect when the 86th PGA Championship gets under way Thursday on a course that is the longest (7,514 yards) in major championship history and one of the newest (opened in 1998) to stage a major.
No one is willing to guess what kind of score it will take to win, although any of the 156 players would gladly take anything under par -- or even par, for that matter.
Someone asked Sergio Garcia if he would like to be at even-par 288 by the end of the week.
Yes, he replied. And Ill win by four.
The defending champion is Shaun Micheel. The hottest player in the majors is Phil Mickelson. The curiosity centers on Tiger Woods, who has not won in the last nine majors. Ernie Els has a chance to become No. 1 in the world.
But everyone is on equal footing at Whistling Straits, if thats even possible considering the sand dunes and moonscape turf on the links-style course along Lake Michigan.
I think it adds to the suspense, Davis Love III said. It might be good for the experienced players because they say, Hey, we dont know whats going to happen, so were just going to go play and not have any target score or expectations in our head. Just go play and do the best you can.
Then again, Love spoke at length with his shrink to get ready for the week.
Ive talked to Bob Rotella a lot about that, he said. How do you approach an unknown like this? Do you throw par away? It is going to be an unknown and a mental test.
The only easy part about the week is finding a winner.
If I had to predict, it would be somebody thats been around a lot of big tournaments, and also has the total package, Love said. You dont have to hit it long, but you have to hit it solidly in this wind. You have to be a pretty good shotmaker, and then youre also going to have to chip and putt and scramble really well.
Is that all?
Thats not asking much, he said with a smile. Thats why majors are hard to win.
Some of the answers will be available Thursday, when the first round begins under a 30 percent threat of rain with highs in the mid-60s. The forecast for the tournament is not nearly reliable as the weather.
Woods was asked if there was any one hole that concerned him.
No, he said. Theres 18 of them.
That uncertainty is what awaits the final major of the year, where the course is a greater focus than any one player. Still, several story lines are expected to unfold.
Mickelson finally has the majors all figured out, researching every course as if he were studying for a final exam. He played three practice rounds at Whistling Straits last week, taking almost nine hours to play one of them so he could chart when to attack and where not to miss.
No one can argue with the results. He won the Masters for his breakthrough major. A three-putt double bogey from 5 feet left him two shots behind in the U.S. Open, and he missed out of the British Open playoff by one shot.
Im three shots away from having the Grand Slam, Mickelson said. I think about that, but I dont dwell on it. Im constantly thinking of how to salvage a half a shot here or there. Ive been able to do that well this year, but had I been able to do it just a little bit better, it could have been an incredible year.
Its already been great, and another major would clinch player-of-the-year honors for Lefty.
If Els finishes second, he could leave Whistling Straits for a strait jacket. He is two putts away from winning two majors this year -- Mickelson made an 18-footer at Augusta, Els missed a 12-footer at Royal Troon on the final hole. Instead, he has been shut out, and the motto for the PGA -- Glorys Last Shot -- takes on a special meaning.
A victory, however, could return him to No. 1 in the world for the first time in six years.
Woods still has control of that situation, even though he has lost control off the tee at times.
This isnt his longest drought in the majors'he went 0-for-10 while working on swing changes in 1998 and finally won the PGA Championship in 1999 at Medinah. Woods sees a lot of similarities'not between Medinah and Whistling Straits, rather the state of his game.
The things that are starting to come together, its very exciting, just like it was back in 98 and 99, he said.
This also is the last chance to get Ryder Cup points, and because points are only awarded to the top 10 finishers, the closing holes could make all the difference.
The par-3 17th is 223 yards with no room for error left of the green. There is a 40-foot drop into shaggy grass, some of the 1,400 bunkers and eventually Lake Michigan. The par-4 18th is 500 yards and has played dead into the wind during the practice rounds, so it likely will play as the toughest hole at Whistling Straits.
Micheel, whose only victory was the PGA Championship last year at Oak Hill, already is edgy about being the defending champion. Having to do it on a course like Whistling Straits doesnt help.
No one has an advantage here, Micheel said. Its unlike anything weve played before. So, theres a little apprehension in that respect.
Related Links:
  • Photo Gallery - Whistling Straits
  • Tee Times
  • Full Coverage - PGA Championship
  • Course Tour - Whistling Straits
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    Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

    By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

    PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

    She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

    “I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

    Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

    Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

    “Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

    She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

    “I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

    Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

    Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

    “Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

    She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

    “They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

    Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

    While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

    “Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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    Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

    By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

    PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

    In fact, she named her “Mona.”

    For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

    While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

    And that has her excited about this year.

    Well, that and having a healthy back again.

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    “I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

    Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

    “Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

    Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

    She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

    Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.

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    Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders

    By Associated PressMarch 17, 2018, 1:47 am

    PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

    Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.

    Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.

    Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

    Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.

    Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.

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    Ko's struggles continue with Founders MC

    By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:26 am

    PHOENIX – Lydia Ko loves the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and its celebration of the game’s pioneers, and that made missing the cut Friday sting a little more.

    With a 1-over-par 73 following Thursday’s 74, Ko missed the cut by four shots.

    After tying for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start, Ko looked to be turning a corner in her quest to find her best form again, but she heads to next week’s Kia Classic with more work to do.

    “I just have to stay patient,” Ko said. “I just have to keep my head high.”

    It was just the fifth missed cut in Ko’s 120 career LPGA starts, but her fourth in her last 26 starts.

    Ko’s ball striking has been erratic this year, but her putting has been carrying her. She said her putting let her down Friday.

    “It seemed like I couldn’t hole a single putt,” she said. “When I missed greens, I just wasn’t getting up and down. When I got a birdie opportunity, I wasn’t able to hole it.”

    Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.

    Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

    Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.

    “Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”

    Ko, 20, made those sweeping changes last year, starting 2017 with a new coach (Gary Gilchrist), a new caddie (Peter Godfrey) and new equipment (PXG). She made more changes at this year’s start, with another new coach (Ted Oh) and new caddie (Jonnie Scott).

    Ko doesn’t have to look further than Michelle Wie to see how a player’s game can totally turn around.

    “It always takes time to get used to things,” Ko said. “By the end of last year, I was playing solid. I’m hoping it won’t take as much time this year.”

    Ko had Oh fly to Asia to work with her in her two starts before the Founders Cup, with their work showing up in her play at the HSBC in Singapore. She said she would be talking to Oh again before heading to the Kia Classic next week and then the ANA Inspiration. She has won both of those events and will be looking to pull some good vibes from that.

    “This is my favorite stretch of events,” she said. “And I love the Founders Cup, how it celebrates all the generations that have walked through women’s golf. And I love the West Coast swing. Hopefully, I’ll make more putts next week.”

    Ko, whose run of 85 consecutive weeks at Rolex world No. 1 ended last summer, slipped to No. 12 this week.