Round 1 What to watch


CHASKA, Minn. – The 91st PGA Championship begins Thursday at Hazeltine National. Here is a list of things to watch for during Round 1.

Tracking Tiger
Tiger Woods’ quest to make a good year a great one begins at 9:35 a.m. (ET) when he tees off with 2002 PGA champion Rich Beem and defending champion Padraig Harrington. Like him or not, you have to pay attention to where he is and what he’s doing at all times, especially when he comes in having won in each of the previous two weeks. To say Woods is the favorite is the understatement of the year. If he doesn’t win it’d be the first time since 2004 that he went a year without a major and it’d only be the fourth time in a year he hasn’t won.

“I’d say he’s got a pretty good chance,” Stewart Cink said. “He’s driving it pretty well, he’s got a short game that history has never known, he’s got the clutch putting that history has never known and he’s got the ultimate tank of confidence to draw from. So case closed.”

Let’s just hope his group doesn’t get put on the clock for slow play.

Par-5 prowess
Much already has been made of Hazeltine’s par 5s this week. The shortest of the bunch is the 572-yard seventh hole. The other three (Nos. 3, 11 and 15) all are over 600 yards at 633, 606 and 642 yards respectively. At first glance it appears that the length would favor the longer hitters but it’s quite the contrary. There aren’t many (if any) players in the field that’ll be able to reach three of the four par 5s in two, taking away the advantage. So, for a change, those playing the par 5s well this week will have to do so by having a stellar wedge game.

“The only one I really see a decent percentage of the field having a go at is 7,” Jim Furyk said. “The other three, you might have a guy here and there. But you’re not going to have a third of the field going in any of those par 5s. Might be a little bit of an equalizer.”

Round 1 leaders
Recent history says the winner won’t be amongst the leaders after the first round. The past three years the highest position a winner has found himself in after first round is Woods in 2006 where he was tied for 10th place. Woods was tied for 23rd in 2007 after Round 1 and Padraig Harrington was tied for 16th after the first round last year.

Club pro moment
This is, afterall, the PGA Championship, which means 20 PGA Club Professionals are in the field. Sure, they often get overlooked, but at times the do jump up and make a name for themselves for a round or two. There are four club pros in the field this year that have made the cut in previous appearances. Lee Rinker, from Jupiter, Fla., has played the weekend in four of his six PGA Championship appearances. Mike Small, the men’s golf coach at the University of Illinois and Club Pro National champion this year, has made two cuts. Ryan Benzell of Bothell, Wash., and Steve Schneiter of Sandy, Utah, each have made a cut.

Off the radar, Part IV?
Will history play out for the year and deliver a fourth consecutive heartbreak finish or will the golf gods give us a break and deliver the most intriguing major of the year? It’s been widely written and talked about how the first three majors of the year have given us exciting moments and building emotion only to be left wanting more

There was Tiger, Phil and Kenny Perry as the leading men at the Masters until Angel Cabrera won; Phil and David Duval thrilled the New York galleries at the U.S. Open before Lucas Glover jumped up to capture the hardware; And 59-year-old Tom Watson was the toast of Turnberry for 72 holes until he coughed up the Claret Jug to Cink in the four-hole playoff.

How will the final chapter of the 2009 major season be written?