Saving the Best for Last

By Mercer BaggsAugust 10, 2003, 4:00 pm
The PGA Championship: That Cinderella of majors; the one with the descript, but non-distinct identity.
 
The Masters is the first major; the secret handshake major.
 
The U.S. Open is the national major; the formal, fairways-and-greens major.
 
The Open Championship is the universal major; the elemental major.
 
On the PGA Tour schedule, the PGA Championship is the final major; theum, the club professionals major.
 
The PGA Championship doesnt have the radiant allure of the first three majors. But its not tattered and torn, busting the table after the other majors have fed.
 
Its one of those teen movies where the girl with the glasses, pony tail and paint-stained overalls pops in a pair of contacts, lets down the locks, fills out a sexy red dress and gets the guy of her dreams.
 
Thats the PGA Championship -- overlooked, but, in the end, the one most admired.
 
Each year the seasons final major offers unparalleled drama: Tiger Woods trying to chase down an unrelenting Rich Beem in 2002; David Toms denying Phil Mickelson in 01; Goliath Woods withstanding the barrage of stones slung by David Bob May in 2000; Tiger surviving a Sergio scare in 99.
 
But why is that? Why is the least revered major the most exciting?
 
Maybe its because of course set-up. PGA courses generally are less penal than those on display at a U.S. or British Open. The fairways are a little wider, the rough a little less dense, the greens a little more navigable.
 
And as a result, the leaderboard tends to turn redder than Boris Yeltsins nose.
 
Over the last five years, the average winning score at the Masters has been 10.6 under par; 5.6 at the U.S. Open; 6.0 at the Open Championship.
 
Beginning in '99, the average winning score at the PGA Championship has been 15.5 under par.
 
Birdies ' not in a ridiculous Bob Hope Classic manner ' are fun to watch during a major week. Allowing players to expose their talents is enjoyable. Listening to them whine and moan about difficult course conditions is not. Watching them suffer publicly loses its appeal after a round or two.
 
Thats not to say that watching a player grind induces instant channel clicking; there is just more pleasure derived from watching players move forward on the leaderboard as opposed to witnessing a constant retreat.
 
Youre not going to back into the winners circle at a PGA Championship. You have to step inside front foot forward.
 
Another criticism of the PGA is that, perhaps because of the more hospitable course conditions, some of the winners are not worthy of being considered major champions: theyre fluke winners from the fourth of four majors.
 
Thirteen of the last 17 PGA champions have made this event their maiden major victory, and nine of those players have yet to notch another major.
 
But who are we to determine who deserves major recognition? After all, the PGA annually boasts the best field of the season ' according to the World Golf Ranking ' and if Rich Beem or Mark Brooks or Wayne Grady or Bob Tway is the last man standing, then job well done, Mr. Major.
 
And dont overlook who the underappreciated defeated en route to their coronation.
 
Tway won in 1986, with Greg Norman the runner-up; Jeff Sluman bettered future champ Paul Azinger in 88; Grady beat Americas best at the time, Fred Couples, in 90; Azinger got his revenge at Normans expense in 93; Steve Elkington out-dueled Europes best at the time, Colin Montgomerie, in 95; David Toms beat the worlds second-ranked player at the time two years ago, while Beem held off the world's No. 1 last year.
 
They all earned the honor of having their names forever etched onto the Wanamaker trophy.
 
This year, the seasons final major carries with it added importance.
 
Its not just Glorys Last Shot ' a trite catchphrase that reeks of Jim Nantz ' its Tigers last chance to win a major in 2003. Its an opportunity for Woods, Davis Love III, Kenny Perry, Mike Weir or Jim Furyk to secure Player of the Year honors. Its yet another ' No. 46, if youre keeping count ' opportunity for Phil Mickelson to become a major winner. Its a chance for Ben Curtis to validate his shocking Open Championship triumph. And its where the next Ben Curtis can rise to fame.
 
The PGA Championship doesnt have the aura of Augusta National, the national prestige of the first Open, or the worldly appeal of the second Open.
 
You may never hear a player say, The one major I most desire to win is the PGA Championship.
 
But, year after recent year, the PGA has been the most entertaining major, the most compelling major, the major most fun to watch come Sunday afternoon.
 
And to the viewing audience, those are major attractions.
 
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    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

    Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

    Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.