SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – At this point, there are no easy answers.
Mother Nature has put the PGA of America into a bind, leaving tournament officials to battle the rising tides at Baltusrol Golf Club without so much as a life preserver.
The 98th PGA Championship, already wedged into an unusual spot in the schedule, has been plagued by rain that seems poised to push the tournament back into its original August time slot.
So yes, the organization running the event is officially in scramble mode. But that doesn’t excuse the unorthodox decision not to re-pair the field before the final round.
In weighing pros against cons entering the weekend, chief championships officer Kerry Haigh made his priorities clear: start the entire, 86-man field off the first tee whatever the cost, and make every effort to crown a champion before nightfall on Sunday.
An unfortunate byproduct of that marriage is the fact that there will now essentially be two different tournaments.
Haigh clinging to major championship tradition with a one-tee start while simultaneously deciding not to re-pair is certainly curious. It could also produce some strange optics if the winner comes from the back of the pack.
If the weather holds – and that’s an “if” larger than the behemoth 17th hole, given the forecast – there will be players beginning the final round Sunday morning at roughly the same time as the leaders start the third round.
That select group will include the likes of Kevin Kisner and Padraig Harrington, whose third-round scores put them onto the first page of the leaderboard. As a reward for such stellar play, they’ll now compete in the final round while the leaders they are attempting to chase down are still a full round behind.
Good luck keeping track of that on the manual scoreboards lining the Lower Course.
“That’s one of the unfortunate things, whether it’s positive or negative. You could argue it both ways,” Haigh said. “That will be an interesting dynamic, for sure. Add to the excitement, actually.”
Perhaps it will add to the excitement, and perhaps the PGA will escape largely unscathed, as it did in 2012 at Kiawah. Players weren’t re-paired for the final round that year because of similar weather woes, but the only memory now from that event is Rory McIlroy dusting the field.
This time, however, things might not fall into place quite so conveniently, and more rain in the forecast could further complicate things.
Consider a player like Kisner or Harrington finishing an ultra-low round Sunday, only for weather to push the tournament’s conclusion back to Monday – or even perhaps Tuesday.
It’s an odd scenario, but it also brings into question the factor of fair play. The tournament conditions Kisner and Harrington face for their final 36 holes could be vastly different from those faced by the leaders. It’s an issue that often pops up with early-tournament draws, but it’s hardly something that should factor in a tournament’s conclusion to this degree, especially at a major.
In fact, the last time a PGA Tour event didn’t re-pair for a final round was earlier this season at the Sanderson Farms Championship – a fall event held opposite the WGC-HSBC Champions where the winner receives a trophy shaped like a rooster.
Not exactly the model to strive for if trying to conduct a major championship, especially one that habitually struggles with differentiating itself from the other three on the calendar.
The PGA of America caught a bad break with Saturday’s deluge, and at this point there’s no easy path to crowning a champion.
But in an attempt to cut a corner and potentially save some time on the off chance that this tournament might conclude Sunday, they made a choice that could very well turn out to be a major miscue.