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Stars aligning as tradition-rich PGA begins May showcase

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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – When the seismic shift to golf’s calendar transitioned from proposal to reality, this is what they hoped for.

The PGA of America boasts a major championship with decades of history and the deepest field in professional golf. It’s also one that in recent years has struggled to keep pace with its three peers – not for a lack of trying, mind you, but in part because of timing.

So when the notion was first floated that the PGA Championship might leave its mid-August date for mid-May, that it might swap its position at the end of a long and grueling summer for one in the heart of the season, the scene that’s about to unfold at Bethpage State Park is exactly the type that PGA of America executives had in mind.

The first part of the equation came up roses when the winter snow melted on schedule. Holding a major championship on Long Island in May comes with some meteorological risks, many of which are outside the control of any grounds crew.

But even as fans slosh through muddy turf following early-week rain, the course players will face looks every bit as manicured and lush as the one they encountered in two prior U.S. Opens. In fact, once the spring weather cooperated the date shift turned into an asset, given that the public layout will have fewer early-season rounds on its odometer than it would have had in August.

“With it being in May, one of the real positives for us is the conditioning of the golf course,” said chief championships officer Kerry Haigh. “Despite almost 2 inches of rain in the last 48 hours, we could not be in a better position, I feel, with the forecast that we have moving into the championship here at Bethpage.”

Add to the mix the intrigue that will surround Tiger Woods as he begins his quest for a 16th major. The PGA was fortunate on two fronts: first that Woods rallied to win last month’s Masters, increasing the exposure of the entire sport, and then once he decided to skip the Quail Hollow Championship. 

It means all eyes are on the 43-year-old who has once again captivated the masses and will now hit his first post-Masters shots flanked by PGA of America logos. Hey, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

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Woods is one of five players who can leave Bethpage with the No. 1 spot in the world rankings, a testament to the tightening race at the top of the game as the season hits its stride. No longer the last piece of the major puzzle, the PGA is instead thrown squarely into the middle of the melee with any number of players hoping to spark a torrid summer this week on soggy Long Island.

“I feel like this tournament comes at a nice time where you’re sort of through Augusta, you can play a few other tournaments around this one to sharpen up or rest up, however you see fit,” said world No. 2 Justin Rose. “I feel like this comes into focus not too soon after Augusta to sort of stand on its own, which I think is great.”

Included in that mix is Jordan Spieth, who still has a chance to etch his name in the history books by rounding out the final leg of the career Grand Slam. It’s a storyline that will continue to bubble up at this event unless and until he gets his hands on the Wanamaker Trophy, but one that could mushroom this weekend should Spieth play his way into contention after months of inconsistent results.

Don’t forget about Phil Mickelson’s quest to turn partisan fan support into a sixth major title in a market that still roots hard for Lefty in good times and bad. Or a certain Ulsterman who can barely hide his smile, having performed well both in this event and on long and wet major venues in the past.

“I’ve won a few tournaments, and I was a pretty big fan of this date change, moving this tournament back to May,” said Rory McIlroy. “I think it just, it gives the PGA of America more of a variety of courses to go to, which I think is a good thing.”

Granted, variety may not always be a good thing. The trek north to Oak Hill in Rochester in four years could very well see weather become a factor for all the wrong reasons.

But this time, this week, in the first May PGA Championship in 70 years, the shift has created plenty of intrigue. Frame it all around an iconic public course that’s about to be lined with thousands of raucous New York fans, and it all has the recipe for a week that none would mistake with overlooked.

“Playing in New York in May, that could be interesting,” Rose said. “But any concerns of the golf course, it being too early for a golf course up here, I think has been absolutely put to bed this week.”