Riding the Dark Horse to Hazeltine


Tiger Woods is on the verge of becoming the first player in history to win three major championships in a single season for the second time. Outside of the 26-year-old eight-time major winner, everyone in the field is a dark horse.
I guess if you want to be realistic, anyone with a major title on the resume should should be considered a legitimate contender in Minnesota, but outside of those credentials, the list of players threatening to steal the title becomes as thin as a runway model and as lean as Tigers physique. Lest we forget, though, this is the PGA Championship ' Glorys Last Shot. And of the four major championships, this is surely the one in which anything is possible.

Bob May is now famous because of his surprise playoff appearance in 2000. Mike Reid nearly caught lightning in a bottle in 1989. Many have flirted with the ultimate accomplishment in golf, but if you peruse the list of past winners, you will quickly realize the best in our sport call themselves PGA champions.
Hazeltine National Golf Club is known as a USGA haven. Over the years, it has hosted six championships. Payne Stewart was the last Open champion to be crowned at this storied venue. That was 11 years ago. The rough was up and the course played around 7,100 yards.
Just like it was in 1991, expect the rough to be as much as 4 1/2 inches high, but slightly thinner. Unlike that year, the battleground is more than 7,300 yards long. It will take a strong and straight driver to win this enviable title. Instantly, that brings men like 1994 PGA champion Nick Price and Charles Howell into the picture.
Price ranks eighth in the PGA Tours year-long driving accuracy statistics. Charles Howell is fifth in total driving, which combines length with accuracy. And if you remember the 1999 NCAA Championships contested at Hazeltine National, you would know Howell finished in the top 10 individually. Hes familiar with this layout. Luke Donald won the individual title at that event as a member of Northwestern Universitys golf team, and is also in this weeks field. These men shouldnt be forgotten. Their first victories very well could be of the major kind.

When trying to pinpoint a dark horse, one should also consider Scott Hoch, Jose Maria Olazabal and 1997 PGA champion Davis Love. All three men recorded top-11 finishes at the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine, and 11 years later, they are all still highly capable of capturing a major title.
Hoch notched a top 10 in the brutal U.S. Open scoring test at Bethpage Black earlier this summer and was low American at the 131st British Open at Muirfield. At the tender age of 46, the Tobasco-shirt-wearing man is as fiery as the product he advertises on his collar and experience is a completely legal and invaluable 15th club in the bags of major contenders.

The 84th PGA Championship will hopefully continue the events recent trend of nail-biting, down-to-the-last-hole, electrifying finishes. A dark horse landing a role in Sundays final-round theater can only increase the marketing value as this championship continues to mature.
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