• US PGA Championship

Glory's Final Shot bites back

Alex Perry
August 8, 2013
Tiger Woods may have blitzed the field at Firestone, but will that mean anything at Oak Hill? © AP
Enlarge

The US PGA Championship has always struggled to meet the prestige of golf's other three majors.

Why? Because the US PGA just isn't as fearsome as the others.

The Open Championship, the original major and played out in golf's truest form on blustery links; the Masters and the esteem and challenge that Augusta brings; and the acid test that is the US Open.

But this time around, Glory's Final Shot, as they call it, promises to be one of the more intriguing major championships of recent years - and not just because it's set to the backdrop of the notoriously difficult Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York.

In-form Tiger Woods has just annihilated the field at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and heads to Oak Hill looking to join Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus as a record five-time winner of the Wanamaker Trophy - and with it put an end to his major misery stretching back to the 2008 US Open, before his private life blew up in a whirlwind of sex, lies and fire hydrants.

Golf needs Tiger to roar once more

Woods was back to his best at Firestone © Getty Images
  • Clubbing Down: Will Tidey is a Tiger Woods convert - the 14-time major champion's quest to match Jack Nicklaus is crucial for the sport
  • Click here for more

But the momentum from the weekend will mean little. As my ESPN colleague Bob Harig put it: "That pesky Firestone Country Club is scoffed at as if it were some muni." Oak Hill is a different kind of beast - with the beastliest of reputations.

When Nicklaus claimed his fifth and final US PGA in Rochester in 1980, he was the only player to finish under par. In 2003, a 36-hole score of eight over was enough to make the cut, the highest mark at the majors for 20 years.

The recent rain in New York may have taken the edge off the course but the heavy rough around the greens - something of a culture shock for many of those who ply their trade on the player-friendly PGA Tour - and devilishly subtle slopes on the greens will take some beating, not to mention that formidable finish at 17 and 18.

Woods has already moaned about the state of the greens at the New York course, and spent his Monday getting a putting lesson from his old pal Steve Stricker. Bad news for the rest of the field, the last time this happened Woods stormed to victory at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Then there's Phil Mickelson, fresh from winning at Muirfield the week after taking the Scottish Open. But the reporters just want to know about the one man higher than him in the world rankings.

"You know, I can't remember the last time a guy won the week before a major and won," joked Mickelson with that typical goofy grin of his, giving the question the derision it deserved.

And what about the British challenge?

Rory McIlroy will be looking to become the first player to successfully defend the US PGA since Woods back in 2007, but the man himself is far from convinced.

"I keep saying my game doesn't feel too far away," McIlroy said. "It's obviously not where I want it to be, but it's not a million miles away.

"If I can start hitting some fairways, hopefully I can challenge for some tournaments."

But hitting fairways has been Rory's biggest problem this season, with a lowly 57% over 40 rounds - and that will not have the field quaking in their spikes at the prospect of the Ulsterman running away with the US PGA like he did last time out at Kiawah Island.

Keep an eye on McIlroy's fellow Britons, though. Oak Hill favours a player who can hit it straight and Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose are solid off the tee.

But keep a close eye on Lee Westwood who is getting closer and closer to that elusive major and is as impressive as anyone tee to green. And if the Open was anything to go by it seems he has finally sorted out his dodgy short game.

Only one man finished under-par at Muirfield, but could it be the same come Sunday? One player's caddie told ESPN's Michael Collins that the rough was like getting a bucket of Brillo pads and throwing a ball in it - so there is every chance.

Do not bet against that man being Westwood.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Close