Here we are in the second week of May and the PGA Championship is staring us in the face.
Welcome to the new age, indeed.
It feels strange, having the season’s second major championship approaching while the echoes of Tiger Woods’ spectacular Masters victory haven’t fully faded. There’s still the AT&T Byron Nelson to be played this week but it’s the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where the fans are so nurturing, that owns the moment.
Moving the Players Championship from May to March was the right move in the PGA Tour’s reshuffled schedule and putting the PGA Championship next week is perhaps the best of the many changes that came with the restructuring.
There’s an urgency to the PGA Championship that could sometimes be lacking in the draining heat of August. Tiger’s Masters win added to the anticipation but putting the PGA second in line works on multiple levels.
The PGA Championship has been the subject of more conversation, planning and preparation than ever before.
The other majors – the Masters, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship – have their distinct personalities. The PGA Championship has suffered because of that, in part because it was the last to be played. The Open Championship is more than big enough to handle being fourth now.
That puts the PGA in a prime spot. It’s been the subject of more conversation, planning and preparation than ever before.
At the Wells Fargo Championship last week, the top players had one eye on Quail Hollow Club and the other on Bethpage Black.
“It’s a big golf course, right? The scale of everything there is huge. Obviously the crowds are going to be noisy, it’s going to be a fun week, I guess,” said Justin Rose, who figures to be among the favorites. “I don’t know how they’re going to set it up, to be honest with you. I doubt U.S. Open style, but you’re going to have to be able to play golf.”
Under the guidance of Kerry Haigh, the PGA Championship has set the standard for course setups, giving players a demanding but fair test whether they’re at Bellerive or Whistling Straits. Par is honored but it isn’t sacred.
Bethpage Black is a beast of a golf course and, as in any tournament, the weather will dictate the scoring to some degree. Long-range forecasts point toward temperatures in the mid-60s with a course that’s coming through a wet stretch and without significant rough. Bethpage Black can defend itself even if it were covered by a dome.
“I think it will be set up very similarly to the way that the PGA Tour events were set up. It’s sort of fair, it’s right in front of you,” said Rory McIlroy, who has played one U.S. Open and two FedEx Cup playoff events there. “I think Kerry Haigh does a really good job, so somewhere in the region of 8- to 12-under par will probably win.
“It’s a big golf course. You’ve got to hit it well off the tee, hit it in play, hit your irons good, and then obviously roll a couple of putts in. But it’s a really good course. It’s been one of my favorite venues for a while.”
It will have been five weeks since Woods has teed it up, an uncommonly long period of non-injury related downtime. His yacht has been docked in the area since last week awaiting his arrival.
Enough looking back at the Masters. The time has come for the PGA Championship.
• It’s all different for Max Homa now. But he’s not that far removed from the days when he felt like he wasn’t part of the PGA Tour. Nine months ago, he was ranked 1,282nd in the world
“The (not) feeling like I belonged was the worst part,” Homa said after his victory in the Wells Fargo Championship. “Nobody knew who I was. No one cared. They shouldn’t have cared.
“I felt like I shouldn’t be playing practice rounds with people. I felt like I was on an island and it was borderline embarrassing. It was embarrassing at times. But it ain’t embarrassing anymore. It’s a cool story now.”
• Woods isn’t the only top player who has been idle since the Masters. Justin Thomas hasn’t played since Augusta either.
He’s been dealing with a wrist injury that prompted him to withdraw from the Wells Fargo Championship and raises the question about his potential readiness for the PGA Championship. Perhaps the extra time off was enough to remedy the lingering issue.
• The new Wyndham Rewards program, which will spread $10 million among the top 10 players in the FedEx Cup standings after the Wyndham Championship, may be enough to convince McIlroy to play the PGA Tour’s Greensboro, N.C., stop for the first time.
It’s the last of the so-called regular-season events before the playoffs and the points leader will receive a $2 million bonus, second place will be worth $1.5 million down to $500,000 for 10th place after the Wyndham Championship.
Asked last week if he would go to Greensboro to win the Wyndham prize, McIlroy said, “Oh yeah, for sure.”
No. 18 at Bethpage Black. Photo: Yael Weiss
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