The sun showed up at Medinah Country Club, as players filed in, making their way to the course to prepare for the seasons final major championship.
Monday at the 88th PGA Championship was a day to acquire some familiarity for most of the 156 men in the field. There are 131 touring professionals and 25 club professionals in the mix, and many this week are either seeing the course for the first time in seven years or seeing it for the first time period.
Tiger Woods, however, is not among that group. He got in a practice round last week, before doing so again this morning.
Woods, who won the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, the last time the course hosted a major, played early Monday morning, signed a few autographs and then hightailed it out of Dodge.
A winner of his last two events, the Open Championship and the Buick Open, Woods is scheduled to give a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Woods and his fellow returnees from the 99 PGA found the par-72 layout extended by 160 yards. Back then, the 7,401-yard layout was the second longest in major championship history. Now, at 7,561 yards, its the longest.
But that number, according to some of the early practitioners, appears gaudier than it does intimidating.
It doesnt play that long, said Zach Johnson, who held the 54-hole lead at last weeks International before slipping into a tie for 13th. I dont know why, but it just doesnt.
Jeff Sluman agreed almost word-for-word with Johnsons assessment. The 1988 PGA champion resides in nearby Hinsdale and is staying at home this week. He got a chance last week to play the No. 3 course and had nothing but positive remarks to share.
The golf course is in terrific shape. Its a set-up that doesnt really surprise anybody, he said. You just really need to drive it straight.
Unlike at Winged Foot, site of this years U.S. Open, the rough at Medinah will make its biggest impact just off the fairway.
USGA officials implemented a graduated rough, which became more penal the further offline a wayward ball traveled.
This week, however, a slightly inaccurate drive may prove much more costly.
If youre going to miss it, maybe miss it by about 10 yards, said Sluman. You might have a chance, because the rough just off the first cut is as bad as Ive seen, and I dont think youre going to see many shots getting up on the green from that kind of rough.
One of the biggest and most noticeable alterations to the venue is at the par-3 17th, the one on which Woods made a tournament-saving par en route to winning in 99.
There is a new back tee, but the hole will actually play a bit shorter than the 206 yards it did when Woods held off Sergio Garcia. Thats because the green has been lowered from off the hill, creating a more steeply downward approach to a green that is front-guarded by water. The penultimate hole is now listed at 197 yards on the card and should create an amphitheatre ' and even a little more excitement.
I think its a better hole, and there is more ' certainly more risk-reward to it, Sluman said.
I would imagine the pin is going to be cut on that back right on Sunday. Youre going to have to hit a very, very solidly struck shot to have a chance for birdie on that hole. It might not be extremely difficult to par it, but to make birdie, youre going to have to hit a great shot, which is what major championships are all about.
The back right pin placement (will be) very difficult, concurred Jim Furyk, who tied for eighth the last time Medinah hosted the PGA.
Furyk only played 15 holes Monday, but that included the 17th. He played all par-4s with the exception of No. 16, and said that he didnt hit anything longer than a 5-iron into the greens.
Length, said the 2003 U.S. Open champion, isnt always measured in raw numbers, but sometimes in the way a course is set up.
I think you can play a golf course thats 7,300 (yards) that can feel long, and you can play a golf course that plays at 7,400, 7,500 that doesnt feel long at all, he said, further explaining, theres lots of times where youre forced to play back on a tee shot and hit 5-iron into a green, where if you could have hit driver, you could have hit 8-iron in.
It all depends on the situation.
(This course) is still long, he made sure to clarify. Ill wait and see how long the golf course plays during the tournament. Its not short. Its not even average. Its long ' but we hit the ball a lot further than we used to, and its manageable.
'It reminds me of '99 quite a bit. Some of the holes are a little longer. But then again, I guess, so are we.'