Saving the Best for Last

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The PGA Championship: That Cinderella of majors; the one with the descript, but non-distinct identity.
 
The Masters is the first major; the secret handshake major.
 
The U.S. Open is the national major; the formal, fairways-and-greens major.
 
The Open Championship is the universal major; the elemental major.
 
On the PGA Tour schedule, the PGA Championship is the final major; theum, the club professionals major.
 
The PGA Championship doesnt have the radiant allure of the first three majors. But its not tattered and torn, busting the table after the other majors have fed.
 
Its one of those teen movies where the girl with the glasses, pony tail and paint-stained overalls pops in a pair of contacts, lets down the locks, fills out a sexy red dress and gets the guy of her dreams.
 
Thats the PGA Championship -- overlooked, but, in the end, the one most admired.
 
Each year the seasons final major offers unparalleled drama: Tiger Woods trying to chase down an unrelenting Rich Beem in 2002; David Toms denying Phil Mickelson in 01; Goliath Woods withstanding the barrage of stones slung by David Bob May in 2000; Tiger surviving a Sergio scare in 99.
 
But why is that? Why is the least revered major the most exciting?
 
Maybe its because of course set-up. PGA courses generally are less penal than those on display at a U.S. or British Open. The fairways are a little wider, the rough a little less dense, the greens a little more navigable.
 
And as a result, the leaderboard tends to turn redder than Boris Yeltsins nose.
 
Over the last five years, the average winning score at the Masters has been 10.6 under par; 5.6 at the U.S. Open; 6.0 at the Open Championship.
 
Beginning in '99, the average winning score at the PGA Championship has been 15.5 under par.
 
Birdies ' not in a ridiculous Bob Hope Classic manner ' are fun to watch during a major week. Allowing players to expose their talents is enjoyable. Listening to them whine and moan about difficult course conditions is not. Watching them suffer publicly loses its appeal after a round or two.
 
Thats not to say that watching a player grind induces instant channel clicking; there is just more pleasure derived from watching players move forward on the leaderboard as opposed to witnessing a constant retreat.
 
Youre not going to back into the winners circle at a PGA Championship. You have to step inside front foot forward.
 
Another criticism of the PGA is that, perhaps because of the more hospitable course conditions, some of the winners are not worthy of being considered major champions: theyre fluke winners from the fourth of four majors.
 
Thirteen of the last 17 PGA champions have made this event their maiden major victory, and nine of those players have yet to notch another major.
 
But who are we to determine who deserves major recognition? After all, the PGA annually boasts the best field of the season ' according to the World Golf Ranking ' and if Rich Beem or Mark Brooks or Wayne Grady or Bob Tway is the last man standing, then job well done, Mr. Major.
 
And dont overlook who the underappreciated defeated en route to their coronation.
 
Tway won in 1986, with Greg Norman the runner-up; Jeff Sluman bettered future champ Paul Azinger in 88; Grady beat Americas best at the time, Fred Couples, in 90; Azinger got his revenge at Normans expense in 93; Steve Elkington out-dueled Europes best at the time, Colin Montgomerie, in 95; David Toms beat the worlds second-ranked player at the time two years ago, while Beem held off the world's No. 1 last year.
 
They all earned the honor of having their names forever etched onto the Wanamaker trophy.
 
This year, the seasons final major carries with it added importance.
 
Its not just Glorys Last Shot ' a trite catchphrase that reeks of Jim Nantz ' its Tigers last chance to win a major in 2003. Its an opportunity for Woods, Davis Love III, Kenny Perry, Mike Weir or Jim Furyk to secure Player of the Year honors. Its yet another ' No. 46, if youre keeping count ' opportunity for Phil Mickelson to become a major winner. Its a chance for Ben Curtis to validate his shocking Open Championship triumph. And its where the next Ben Curtis can rise to fame.
 
The PGA Championship doesnt have the aura of Augusta National, the national prestige of the first Open, or the worldly appeal of the second Open.
 
You may never hear a player say, The one major I most desire to win is the PGA Championship.
 
But, year after recent year, the PGA has been the most entertaining major, the most compelling major, the major most fun to watch come Sunday afternoon.
 
And to the viewing audience, those are major attractions.
 
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