Straits Forward Thoughts From the PGA

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04 PGA ChampionshipDay 2 at Whistling Straits begins with Darren Clarke as the targeted man. My hunch is that he's up to and up for the task.

The galleries here are among the best I have ever seen in major championship sports, let alone golf. It's been some 70 years since Wisconsin played host to a major golf championship. Interestingly, it was the PGA Championship in Milwaukee back in the 1930s. Given the demeanor of the folks here in the land of bratwurst and beer, I suggest it not be more than another seven years before major golf returns.

Let's be real, this is a hearty bunch, these Wisconsinites. They know their suds, yet don't get out of control. They're respectful and grateful for the chance to be hospitable. They deserve the week they've been given, and given the number of folks who've come up and said hello, we're fortunate to be here.

Now...from suds to duds. And I've got to start with Tiger Woods. From the beginning of the week, his body language has been off. Many of us in the media have been chatting about his apparent lack of excitement for the venue. Comments about Whistling Straits not being fun for the 18 handicap aren't ways to excite the locals and add to your supportive gallery. There was no need to take down 'The Straits' before the first ball was struck in competition. And the golf gods remember things like that. If you believe in things like that, you know why Woods couldn't get the flatstick on his side on Thursday.

Now Woods is in serious trouble. 75s don't strike fear in the field. And they haven't for the streak of majors that will number 10 at week's end. Friday, it could be argued, might just be the biggest round of his professional career to date. Make a charge with say, 66, and he's back in contention and back in golf's good graces. Another pedestrian 73 and he might just be shown the way from Sheboygan with his unfathomable cuts made streak shattered, and 'badgered' for weeks after another disappointing major.

And then there's the No. 1 Ranking which has a better than average chance of going up with the smoke coming from brat grills all over the course. No. 1 in the world - Ernie Els. N o. 1 in the world - Vijay Singh. It just doesn't seem right, but we might need to get used to it.

Ernie Els deserves a huge pat on the back. His emotional tank apparently has plenty in reserve. Vijay Singh is proving, yet again, that he is one of the game's truest warriors. Never blinking while Woods and ...gulp...Ryder Cup hopeful John Daly went south in the north.

Beware the likes of Justin Leonard and Jose Maria Olazabal. Short game wizards both of them, they haven't won majors by luck alone. This is a big statement.

And Briny Baird and Tim Petrovic are proof yet again that the PGA Championship accepts all comers, and all those who come with excitement and dreams. Tiger should take note.

This emerging story of Stan Utley as a short game coach to the stars is getting long and strong legs. Utley won on the PGA Tour back in 1989. Since that time he's been toiling on both the PGA and Nationwide Tours searching for the same magic. Truth be told, it hasn't given him much. And apparently the carrot dangling in front of him all along wasn't another tour victory for himself, but instead many tour victories for others. Majors included.

Utley worked with Clarke for three days prior to the start of play this week, changing his chipping stroke and adjusting his putting routine. At this point, who's going to argue that it didn't make a difference? Clarke, thus far, has found more holes than the man in charge of Swiss cheese at the local dairy.

In short, the folks here in Wisconsin are getting a treat. They haven't seen scoring like this since the Packers whooped up on the Bears last year on Monday Night Football.

There's plenty to enjoy, and plenty of reason to enjoy the hospitality being heaped upon us. Cut day is upon uslet's see what curves lie ahead here at 'The Straits.'
 
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  • Photo Gallery - Whistling Straits
  • Full Coverage - PGA Championship
  • Course Tour - Whistling Straits