The player with the lowest score will hoist the Wanamaker Trophy, deposit more than $1 million into his bank account, go to Hawaii for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf and be exempt into the majors for the next five years.
A couple of other players will earn a trip to Detroit'and that could feel just as sweet.
The final major of the year is also the last chance for Americans to earn points toward making the Ryder Cup team, which can be just as stressful as trying to protect a one-shot lead on the final hole.
Other than my family, making that team is pretty much the most important thing in my life, said Jerry Kelly, who is 10th in the Ryder Cup standings. These last three weeks have been emotionally draining, and now I get a week to rest up for the PGA. It all comes down to the majors.
The top 10 players in the standings automatically qualify for the Ryder Cup, to be played Sept. 17-19 at Oakland Hills Country Club outside Detroit. U.S. captain Hal Sutton will announce his two wild-card picks the day after the PGA.
There are 34 players who have a statistical chance of earning a spot on the team. Scott Verplank has the best chance of bumping Kelly out of the top 10, needing at least an eighth-place finish at Whistling Straits.
Indeed, this is a major where some players are keeping track of more than just birdies and bogeys. Every other year, the PGA Championship essentially is two tournaments in one.
If you have a chance to win the tournament, you want to win, Jeff Maggert said. Ryder Cup points follow good play. The hard part is when you dont have a chance to win, and youre looking at the scoreboard the last three or four holes. You think, Man, I need a couple of more birdies. Two birdies and I finish fifth. No birdies and I finish 12th.
Thats where the pressure comes, at least for me.
Maggert is 11th in the standings, but he wont face that pressure this year.
He withdrew from the PGA because his wife, Michelle, was due to deliver twins any day, and Maggert would rather stay with his wife, or with the babies if they happen to be born before the PGA begins.
Still, no one has a better appreciation of the tournament within the tournament.
Maggert was outside the top 10 in the Ryder Cup standings in 1995 when he tied for fourth at Riviera and earned a spot on his first team. Two years later, he closed with a 65 at Winged Foot in the final round of the PGA Championship to collect enough points to make another team.
The real high-wire act took place at Medinah in 1999.
Maggert was 10th in the standings and missed the cut, his chances of making the team seemingly over.
It looked even more dire when Bob Estes, who needed to finish in a two-way tie for fifth to move into the top 10 in Ryder Cup standings, made a late charge on Sunday. Estes was alone in fourth with three holes to play. But bogeys on the 16th and 17th dropped him into a tie for sixth, and the points he earned only got him as high as 11th.
The guys who are 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th in the standings ... theyre thinking about it, Maggert said. Its important for all the Americans. Playing in the Ryder Cup is a close second to winning a major.
Barring a mathematical fluke, the top seven players'Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Jim Furyk, Kenny Perry, David Toms and Chad Campbell'have essentially locked up their spots on the team.
Fred Funk is looking good at No. 8, but then it really gets tight.
Steve Flesch (No. 9) is only seven points ahead of Kelly, and 10th place at the PGA is worth 10 points. Maggert (11) cant go anywhere because he isnt playing, so his only hope is to be a captains pick; he and Hal Sutton were partners at The Country Club in 1999.
Behind Maggert are Scott Verplank, Stewart Cink, 50-year-old Jay Haas and Tim Herron, who is recovering from Lyme disease but will go to the PGA Championship as an all-or-nothing shot at making the team.
Everyone will be watching John Daly at No. 20 in the standings. He would have to finish second at Whistling Straits to have any hope of automatically making the team, although Daly is never one to be counted out.
Even if he finishes in the top five, that might be enough for Sutton to consider him. Thats how Verplank made himself an easy pick for the 02 team, by finishing strong in Atlanta at the PGA Championship and tying for seventh.
Daly is saying all the right things.
Were going to have a great team whether Im on it or not, Daly said. I would love to be a pick, but thats Hals decision. If I do get picked, Ill be ready. And Id love to play.
The good news for Sutton is that most of the players from 11th to 25th in the standings are making strides, large and small. The biggest move came from Todd Hamilton by winning the British Open. Others, such as Chris Riley and Charles Howell III, have been stuck in neutral.
It all comes down to one final week, maybe one final round, and possibly the final hole.
And then comes the hard part'waiting for a phone call Sunday night or Monday morning from Sutton to let them know if they made the team.
The best way to avoid the call is to wrap up a spot on the team before the final putt drops at Whistling Straits.
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