Golf: Major gaining significance
The last is still the last. But it's going in the right direction.
Of pro golf's four major tournaments, the PGA Championship is fourth on the annual calendar and fourth in terms of perceived importance, except possibly to the club pros who make up the bulk of the Professional Golfers Association's membership.
The Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open always will have a big edge because of history, tradition and prestigious courses. Yet the PGA has come a long way in getting golf fans' attention in recent years, for three primary reasons - including, naturally, Tiger Woods.
* The venues: In the late 1980s, the PGA of America seemingly went to great lengths to find less prominent courses for the tournament, trying to create its own niche. Instead, that trend served only to lessen the event's stature among fans who grew up hearing about storied venues such as Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan or Baltusrol CC in New Jersey, where the U.S. Open often was played.
Anybody remember PGA National, Oak Tree or Kemper Lakes? Provo resident Mike Reid will never forget Kemper Lakes, near Chicago, where he blew a wonderful opportunity to win the 1989 PGA. Otherwise, the course hardly registers in golf history.
Things are different now. Instead of playing on the fringes, the PGA of America is revisiting traditional sites of championship golf in this country, as illustrated by this week's trip to Southern Hills CC in Tulsa, Okla.
Southern Hills staged the U.S. Open in 2001 and is now hosting its seventh major. It gets even better next year with Oakland Hills, followed by Hazeltine National GC in Minnesota in '09.
* Team qualification deadlines: The PGA Championship annually represents the players' last opportunity to qualify automatically for the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup or to impress the team captains. Europe's recent dominance has elevated the whole profile of the Ryder Cup. In turn, the Americans are beginning to take the Presidents Cup more seriously, considering they need to win something.
This is a Presidents Cup year and Draper resident Mike Weir is fighting for a spot on the International team, consisting of players from everywhere but Europe. Weir is a Canadian, and he long ago lobbied PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem to bring the Presidents Cup to his homeland.
So everybody's coming to Royal Montreal GC next month, except Weir might not be there. He was playing his way into captain Gary Player's consciousness recently, only to withdraw from last week's World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational in the middle of the second round because of a sore neck. He came home to Utah for treatment and expects to be healthy for Thursday's opening round, taking one more shot in hopes of becoming one of Player's two picks.
Brett Wetterich, a former winner of the Utah EnergySolutions Championship in Sandy, stands 12th on the U.S. list and needs a big week to move into the top 10 for automatic qualification.
* Tiger's quest: Regardless of where the PGA Championship falls on anybody's list, it's a major. And no matter what Woods has done to this point, there's intrigue in his bid for another title to finish off the year's sequence of majors.
Interest is undoubtedly heightened this week, with Woods winless in the majors this year. Scott Berry, a renowned statistician, has created tournament simulations calculating that if Woods and everybody else plays for 10 more years at the level they have played for the past 10 years, Woods will win at least 23 majors. Berry also concluded that Woods will win his 19th major, breaking Jack Nicklaus' record, in the 2012 PGA.
But he has been stuck at 12 titles since last August and will stay there until Sunday, at least.
Site: Tulsa, Okla.
Course: Southern Hills Country Club (7,131 yards, par 70).
Purse: TBA ($6.8 million in 2006).
Winner's share: TBA ($1.224 million
Television: TNT (Thursday-Friday, noon-6 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-noon) and CBS (Saturday-Sunday, noon-5 p.m.).
Last year: Tiger Woods won his 12th major title, beating Shaun Micheel by five strokes for his second PGA Championship victory at Medinah and third overall.
Thursday through Sunday