Final Major Up for Grabs

By Golf Channel NewsroomAugust 13, 2003, 4:00 pm
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) -- Optimism at the PGA Championship has never been so high for so many players, and not just because Tiger Woods has gone five majors without winning one.
It comes from Ben Curtis winning the first major he ever played.
'The inspiration is ... you know what? Anyone can win any week out here,' Steve Flesch said Wednesday. 'That's what you have to keep in mind.'
It shouldn't be hard to remember.
Only a month ago at the British Open, a 26-year-old rookie unknown by most of his peers captured the oldest championship in golf by beating the best ually, the big names win the major championships. To watch Ben Curtis win ... I'll never take that attitude again.
'It obviously gives guys like myself a lot of confidence.'
That means the PGA Championship, which starts Thursday at Oak Hill Country Club, could be more wide-open than ever.
The fourth major of the year is famous for its surprises -- John Daly in 1991 at Crooked Stick as the ninth alternate; Jeff Sluman at Oak Tree in 1988 for his first PGA Tour victory; even Rich Beem last year at Hazeltine, although he had won his previous start.
Twelve of the last 15 winners at the PGA Championship had never won a major.
Who's next?
Maybe it will be Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie, the best two players to have never won a major.
'Mike Weir and Jim Furyk were up there with those people that were some of the best players in the world not to win a major championship, and they both got that off their backs now,' Thomas Bjorn said. 'Players like Mickelson and Monty, that must give them a lot of feeling that they can go in here and have a chance.'
Mickelson tied for sixth last week at the International, his first top-10 since he was third at the Masters in April. He has kept out of the spotlight this week, and could be ready to claim that first major when not as many people are watching.
'I want to win just as bad as I always have,' Mickelson said. 'And I'll be trying just as hard as I always have.'
Don't forget about Woods.
His last major championship was the 2002 U.S. Open, hardly an eternity ago. He comes into the PGA Championship with a tie for second, a tie for fourth and a victory in his last three tournaments, and he appears to be playing well.
'Tiger is still the man to beat every week,' Ernie Els said.
Still, Woods might have lost some of the intimidation factor he had when he won seven out of 11 majors through the '02 U.S. Open.
A year ago, Woods was only one shot behind Beem going into the back nine at Hazeltine, and Beem proceeded to build an insurmountable lead.
'Before, I think there was an attitude that you had to play really well to beat Tiger,' Padraig Harrington of Ireland said. 'Now players are saying if he plays great and he wins, fine. But let's see him do it.'
Then again, Woods isn't the only guy to beat this week -- not after what Curtis did at the last major, not with so many guys believing it could just as easily been them.
'It takes every rule -- that you think you have to have experience, that you have to play a bunch of these -- and throws it out the window,' Charles Howell III said. 'It just shows you that anything can happen. It also shows you how good players are.'
The PGA Championship likes to boast it has the strongest field in golf, with 96 of the top 100 players at Oak Hill, typical of most years.
The Masters is said to have the weakest field -- only about 95 players, including aging champions like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tommy Aaron.
Truth is, every major used to have a short field. Only so many players had the game, the experience and the mental strength to withstand the Sunday pressure of a major.
How to explain Curtis?
'There's not just one guy that can win a major championship out here,' said Davis Love III, the winner of just one major in 19 years on tour. 'There's a whole bunch of them, and I'm sure it gives the whole field confidence.'
The key is to play good golf, which at Oak Hill means getting the ball in the fairway and keeping it out of the cabbage-like rough around the greens.
Rain has drenched the Rochester area the last two weeks, so the course likely will play even longer than its 7,134 yards. The tradeoff is softer greens that can be attacked.
Curtis Strange won the 1989 U.S. Open at Oak Hill at 2-under 278, with three players another stroke behind. Nicklaus was the only player under par -- 6-under 274 -- when he won his fifth PGA Championship here in 1980.
This is the kind of course that could favor someone who fares well in a U.S. Open, like Furyk, Els, or even someone like Jeff Maggert.
But considering what happened at Royal St. George's, it could be anybody.
Related Links:
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    DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

    By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

    ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

    The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

    ''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

    In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

    ''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

    The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

    ''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

    The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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    Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

    Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

    Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

    As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

    Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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    Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

    By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

    The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

    Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

    McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

    Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

    “When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

    And that was an offseason event.

    “They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

    As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

    So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

    “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

    Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

    Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

    His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

    It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

    There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

    There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

    While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

    There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

    Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

    Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

    He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

    Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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    CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

    The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

    How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

    Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

    Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

    Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

    Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

    Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

    Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

    Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

    Notables in the field

    Phil Mickelson

    * This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

    * For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

    * He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

    * This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

    Jon Rahm

    * Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

    * In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

    * Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

    Adam Hadwin

    * Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

    * In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

    Brian Harman

    * Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

    * Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

    * Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

    Brandt Snedeker

    * Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

    * This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

    * Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

    Patrick Reed

    * Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

    * This is his first start of 2018.

    * Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

    (Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)