A return to Oak Hill
The last time Oak Hill saw top-quality action was 10 years ago in the same championship. Shaun Micheel was the unlikely winner and he completed one of the more unexpected, some would say undistinguished, line-up of Major winners in recent history. Since then none of Mike Weir (Masters), Jim Furyk (US Open), Ben Curtis (Open) or Micheel have added a second Major win.
But on that Sunday in Rochester, New York, the unheralded Micheel sealed his moment in the sun with an approach to the final hole of rare quality.
This will be the third PGA to be played here, to match the three US Opens. Not to mention two US Amateurs, and the small matter of a Ryder Cup…
The 1995 Ryder Cup
While the final hole more recently saw Micheel stiff his approach shot, for those of a European persuasion it will always be the place where Nick Faldo completed his comeback of comebacks against Curtis Strange before collapsing into the arms of Seve Ballesteros.
Faldo had been one down with two to play, but a par was good enough to level the match on the 18th tee. With the honour, he made the cardinal mistake of missing the fairway, handing the initiative back to his opponent, who duly found the short grass. Where others would have taken a lash at the green, Faldo swallowed his medicine and hacked out to preferred wedge distance. From there an approach into six feet or so left him with a horrible putt – fast and breaking to the right for the match. Faldo drained it.
Memories of Rory at Kiawah
It was only 12 months ago, but somehow it seems like longer, when Rory McIlroy took apart a Major field for the second time. Eight shots was the eventual victory margin at Kiawah Island, just as it had been at Congressional in the previous year’s US Open. Two more PGA Tour wins followed within a month – and they remain his most recent successes in the States. With McIlroy, form is very much temporary and class very much permanent – so a return to his breathtaking best is surely not far away. The American Majors clearly represent the Northern Irishman’s best chance of adding to his tally, and if the sun shines at Oak Hill then no one bar Tiger Woods has a better chance.
So many begin the season at Augusta envisaging Major glory but come August and the often sultry PGA the mood has turned from hope to desperation
Last chance to dance
It’s the same story every year – so many begin the season at Augusta envisaging Major glory but come August and the often sultry PGA the mood has turned from hope to desperation at the prospect of another year slipping by. Top of the list this year are Tiger Woods, whose Majorless run is poised to stretch into a sixth year. Another is Lee Westwood. His move to America last winter is yet to pay dividends and questions about whether he has what it takes have only been further highlighted by his meltdown at Muirfield.
Even though Westwood has extended his career at the top by improving his fitness beyond recognition, so few players win Majors beyond their mid-40s. The 40-year-old can now count the number of realistic chances he has left on his fingers and toes.
A stern examination
Shaun Micheel’s winning score was four under, and only two others finished under par that year. Oak Hill is not especially long, at 7,160 yards, but a par of 70 ensures that the birdie chances are reduced. In truth, the challenge of a PGA is not all that far removed from a US Open, albeit without quite the same obsession with protecting par. Based on level 70s (280) being considered par, the winning score is normally a couple under. David Toms posted the lowest total in the event’s history – 265 at Atlanta.
A quality champion
The perception is that the PGA produces the weakest champion but while it is undoubtedly behind the other three in terms of prestige, it continues to attract arguably the strongest field. This is borne out by the recent winners who include the likes of Tiger (twice), Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Vijay Singh, Martin Kaymer and Keegan Bradley.