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Published: Friday, 8/8/2008

Few can tame The Monster: Singh, Karlsson lead on tough course

ASSOCIATED PRESS

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - The PGA Championship had been building a reputation as the major to make birdies. That gave way yesterday to the reputation of Oakland Hills.

Round one went to The Monster.

"It was a real beast today," Ernie Els said.

Only seven players from the 156-man field were under par when darkness covered Oakland Hills with 18 players unable to finish their round because of a 90-minute thunderstorm delay.

Robert Karlsson of Sweden, the only player to crack the top 10 in all three majors this year, and Jeev Milkha Singh of India each posted a 2-under 68 in the pleasant morning conditions. Andres Romero of Argentina, the only player under par from the late starters, was at 2 under with two holes to play when the horn sounded.

"There's only one guy who's going to like this place by the end of the week," Ben Curtis said after playing bogey-free and leading the tournament at 3 under through 10 holes, then losing six shots over the final eight holes for a 73.

The calendar says August. It sure seemed like June, with firm fairways, thick rough, hard greens, and plenty of opinions. The PGA Championship looked a lot like the U.S. Open.

It sounded like the U.S. Open too.

"The course is 7,500 yards long, the greens are firm, and the pins are tucked away," Lee Westwood said after finishing with six straight pars to salvage a 77. "They are sucking the fun out of the major championships when you set it up like that.

"I sound as if I'm moaning - which I am - but it's a great shame," he said. "It's a fantastic golf course. They are great greens, and they are playable. But there is no need to play it as it is."

Such comments typically are reserved for a U.S. Open, and the similarities didn't stop there. The rough is so thick that players rarely reached the green after missing the fairway, and caution was required for every putt on greens that became so crispy in pleasant sunshine that tournament officials hosed down three of them throughout the day.

Even so, the best golf was rewarded.

Sergio Garcia struck the ball solid as ever, holed one long putt, limited his mistakes, and joined a group at 69 that included Billy Mayfair, Ryder Cup hopeful Sean O'Hair, and Ken Duke.

Phil Mickelson was in three bunkers before he reached his second green (No. 11), was 2 over for his round, and somehow managed a 70. He made only eight pars, but among his five birdies was a 35-foot putt down the scary slope on the 16th, followed by a 4-iron that rolled within 18 inches for a birdie on the 238-yard 17th.

"I'm just happy to have shot even par today," he said.

Anthony Kim overcame five bogeys with an eagle on the par-5 second hole that carried him to a 70, joining the likes of former U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera, Rod Pampling, and Michael Allen, the last alternate into the field.

British Open champion Padraig Harrington birdied the first three holes but settled for a 71.

"Felt like I played a lot better than 71," he said.

Karlsson opened his round with a shot that bounded off a cart path over the first green and led to double bogey. He answered with three straight birdies and reached 4 under for his round until missing the green for bogeys on 14 and 15 and settling for a 68.

Such low rounds were hard to find.

"It's a U.S. Open at the moment," said Geoff Ogilvy, who won the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2006 without breaking par in any round and failing to do that yesterday with a 73. "This is one of the clubs that prides itself on how hard it is. I don't think anyone expected it to be easy. It wouldn't be a monster if it was."

Players knew what they were getting into after three days of practice. The surprise came when they got on the golf course yesterday and found it firmer than ever, with balls rolling on the fairway and crusty footprints visible on the greens. Mickelson hit what he thought was a perfect tee shot on No. 10 with a hybrid, only to learn that it rolled all the way into a bunker.



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