Heat Will Be On at Southern Hills

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PGA ChampionshipSouthern Hills Country Club will not necessarily provide southern comfort when the PGA Championship gets to Tulsa for the years fourth and final major on the mens side.
 
And that has nothing to do with the hospitality of the good folks of Oklahoma. Its just that after an unusually cool and wet summer, which left the golf course in surprisingly good condition, the dog days of August have arrived in no uncertain terms.
 
The weather forecast for the 89th PGA Championship is for unrelenting heat'highs in the 90s every day'and very little chance of rain. Among other things this will force course superintendent Russ Myers to coddle his greens to keep them alive which could mean higher cutting settings on the greens mowers which could mean slower green speeds.
 
The players who competed at the U.S. Open at Southern Hills in 2001 will be more concerned with the receptiveness of the ninth and 18th greens at architect Perry Maxwells seminal design which, by the way, will play to 7,131 yards and a par of 70.
 
Six years ago the worlds best players arrived at Southern Hills for our national championship only to find the elevated surfaces at the ninth and 18th rejecting approaches that had any backspin at all. This condition forced the USGA to set the green speeds on those two holes slower than the other 16 for the championship.
 
Players hate inconsistent speeds. And to be sure, if either Retief Goosen or Mark Brooks had two-putted their 72nd hole, they would have won the event outright. If Stewart Cink had two-putted his final hole, he would have joined Goosen and Brooks in the 18-hole Monday playoff eventually won by Goosen.
 
Since then, Southern Hills has spent a lot of money on the golf course and the clubhouse. The ninth and 18th greens were made more level and Myers told GOLF CHANNEL last month they were holding well-struck approaches.
 
Meanwhile the defending champion, Tiger Woods, will be looking to avoid a shutout at Southern Hills while winning his first major championship as a father. Woods wife, Elin, gave birth to a baby girl in June. And that has prompted Woods to say that no matter what happens on the golf course this year 2007 will have been an unqualified success.
 
On the other hand, when it comes to his vocation, Woods lives for major championships. And so far he is 0-for-2007 in that department. At the 2001 U.S. Open Woods finished tied for 12th. A lot of people insisted back then that Southern Hills landing areas off the tee didnt suit Woods game.
 
You have to place the ball correctly there, Woods said recently. And if youre not hitting the ball well there, you will definitely be exposed. Putting is also an integral part of the game, but you need to get to the putting surfaces first and foremost on the golf course and be in the right position in order to make putts.
 
Asked specifically in June if Woods didnt believe the course didnt suit his game, he replied, Correct.
 
Woods remains the solid favorite. He always is these days, particularly after winning the past week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in a route. His lead over No. 2 Jim Furyk in the world rankings is bigger than most continents. Furyk, by the way, was forced to withdraw from Akron with a stiff back in the days leading up to Southern Hills. A tender wrist, which has bothered world No. 3 Phil Mickelson since before the U.S. Open in June, has punched a hole in his expectations as well.
 
If youre looking for a dark horse, you might want to consider the guy with the dark shades. Hunter Mahan is arguably the hottest player in golf the last month off of four finishes of eighth or better in his last five events, highlighted by a win at the Travelers Championship.
 
Even more interesting is this fact about Mahan, who played his college golf at nearby Oklahoma State: In 2003 he won the Big 12 title at Southern Hills by a whopping 13 shots.
 
The PGA Championship, of course, is a large step up in class from the Big 12's. But as Professor Harold Hill said in The Music Man: Youve got to know the territory. Mahan does.
 
One final thing to watch: All three major winners so far this year'Zach Johnson at the Masters, Angel Cabrera at the U.S. Open, and Padraig Harrington at the Open Championship'did so for the first time. Only once (2003) in the last 37 years have the four major winners in a given year all been first-time major champions.
 
If that trend continues, dont count out Sergio Garcia. Garcia let the British get away at Carnoustie last month. But hes hitting the ball as well as anybody in golf right now. And if Myers greens play a tad slow because of the weather, it may be Sergio sipping Southern Comfort Sunday night at Southern Hills.
 
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