Sundays final round has the makings for a classic

By Rex HoggardAugust 15, 2009, 4:00 pm
2009 PGA ChampionshipCHASKA, Minn. ' Those of us who fill Web pages and airtime should be forgiven, what with a collective attention deficit disorder and history conspiring against us.
The vast majority of the press corps would have been tickled silly if the PGA called it a week after 36 holes, stuffed the Wanamaker Trophy in Tiger Woods Mercedes Benz courtesy car and put on an art festival or some such community meet-and-greet on Saturday and Sunday at the converted corn field in the middle of Minnesota.
But then they like to play the full 72 at these major shindigs, sticklers for history and habit and all.
Good thing, because on Saturday the lock looked human, of all things.
What was widely being billed as a foregone conclusion after Woods put the Heisman on the field with a closing nine of 35 on Friday for a four-stroke lead that may as well have been 40, now has the makings of a fiery classic.
Under threatening skies on Saturday, the lambs turned on the wolf, cutting Woods lead to two strokes, then one, then none. Thanks to Padraig Harrington and a serious Korean named Y.E. Yang the blowout at Hazeltine National turned into a bout.
Sure, the collective only trimmed two strokes off Woods advantage by the time a storm and Woods third-round 71 put an end to the proceedings, but its a start.
Sure, Woods is the games ' if not all of sports, with apologies to Mariano Rivera ' most vicious closer with a 47-for-50 victory line when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
Sure, that line gets even better when there is Grand Slam hardware to be had (14 for 14).
But Saturdays shuffling was at least a start and a reason for Minnesotans to brave a spotty forecast and a viewing public to hold off on preseason football.
All the world craves the drama sport supplies, and as historic as Woods 12-stroke romp at the 1997 Masters and 15-shot blowout at the 2000 U.S. Open were, head-to-head duels are what make magic.
Its not as if Woods is hearing FootJoy steps in his quest for his 15th major championship, but it is clear by his reaction to last weeks Stopwatch-gate at Firestone he savors a good tilt.
It is a rush and when you are in that position you know you are not playing poorly, Woods said. Its fun to go out and test what youve got when guys are throwing everything they have at you and youre throwing everything you have at them.
Its not as if Woods booted away his four-shot cushion. He wasnt kicking Taz when he made it off the course. He did what he does best at major championships ' survive. Truth be told, Hazeltine National is a delicate walk and Woods ' who cautioned against the early coronation on Thursday and Friday ' did well not to break any china on Saturday.
Its just Yang and Harrington did what they had to do, shooting 67 and 69, respectively, and saving us from the sleepiest of PGA Sundays.
I dont ever want it to be a walkover, said Steve Flesch, the only player who went out early Saturday to post a round in the 60s (69). I would think when people sit down on Sunday they will want someone to push Tiger. I want someone pushing Tiger.
Harrington knows the feeling. Five of his last 12 rounds have been played with the games preeminent buzz kill, at least for those who make a living coming up with ways to stop him.
Everybody wants to see a battle, said Harrington, who, for the second consecutive day, bogeyed the last to forfeit his seat at the big table. They want the underdog to catch up, but they still want the hero to win. Thats the fairytale.
It has been the year of the Heartbreak Slam, with near misses at the Masters (Kenny Perry), U.S. Open (Phil Mickelson and David Duval) and British Open (Tom Watson) and in many respects Harrington fits the bill of jilted also-ran.
The Irishman has been a work-in-progress for much of 2009 but remembered he was the winner of three major championships at last weeks Bridgestone Invitational only to fall victim to a stopwatch. Hes also been unfairly dogged by the notion that his last two Grand Slam titles (2008s British Open and PGA) were somehow cheapened by Woods surgery-induced absence. Its hogwash, of course, but a subplot to Sundays action nonetheless.
For Padraig thats what he wants more than anything, Michael Allen said. He won the PGA and the Open Championship without Tiger Woods in the field and this would mean more than any of the other victories because he is here.
And a challenge, be it from Harrington or Yang or the closet TBD on the tee sheet, is all the golf world craves. Is that too much to ask for?
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