Mother nature finally cooperated at the 92nd PGA Championship at Whistling Straits as the remaining 78 players on the course at the end of Friday were able to complete their 2nd roundSaturday morning starting at 7 am. The field was then cut to the low 70 scores plus ties before the start of the 3rd round at 11:45 am. I decided Saturday morning, after hearing there were no fog delays and a beautiful forecast for the rest of the day, that I was definitely heading to the course to watch the action first hand. A quick check of Craigslist and I was able to secure a grounds ticket for a dirt cheap $50 from a guy in Germantown who was wearing a tank top and headed to the State Fair (surprise...surprise).
After the jump, my observations from the 3rd round and my prediction for the final round Sunday.
There aren't enough positive adjectives in my vocabulary to accurately describe Whistling Straits. I've now walked the course 2 separate times and had the pleasure of playing the Straits Course once a few years back. There isn't a bad view on the entire property. All of the mounding and dunes provide ample sight lines for spectators. Shortly after arriving and while walking up the left side of the first fairway, along came a cart driven by none other than Mr. Kohler. He slowly navigated his way thru the crowd accepting handshakes, thank you's, and congratulations from the spectators, myself included. When my son asks what Santa does when its not Christmas, my response is going to be "He runs a toilet company in Wisconsin and owns one of the best courses in the world". The course was in immaculate condition and the weather was perfect to see some good scoring by the best players in the world.
I was able to convince one of the lovely young ladies at the American Express tent that I did have one of their credit cards that I unfortunately left home without. This allowed me to obtain a Course Cast headphone to listen to the radio broadcast of the event. Now, I know what you are thinking...golf on the radio has to be horrible. Seeing as though I wanted to wander the course, catch up with my favorite players, and hopefully see some of the leaders in action, the radio broadcast kept me in the loop with what was going on in the tournament and was a useful tool in determining where everyone was on the course.
A couple of thoughts/observations:
1. I saw the Tom Lehman hole in one. Who's the guy in the yellow hat that Lehman left hanging at the start of his Hale Irwin-esque gallop around the gallery? Stupid Gopher, but it was a beautiful shot.
2. I followed Steve Stricker on the back nine (his first 9 holes) and after an opening birdie he couldn't seem to get any putts to drop. Things seemed to get better on the front nine as he ended up shooting a respectable 68 today. I bet he wishes he could take back his errant tee shot on the par 3 17th that lead to a triple bogey 6 on Friday. I decided to start my trek back to my car as the leaders were teeing off on 18 and I just so happened to run into Stricker as he emerged from the clubhouse and he autographed my ticket.
3. Tiger is much shorter than he looks on tv. He flung his club in disgust about ten feet from me on the 11th tee...he went on to birdie the hole.
4. Nick Watney was on fire. He was draining putts all over the course.
5. I think I've figured out the 3 things that make these players so good. First, they have incredible touch from 125 yards andi in. Second, they are really good with long irons and fairway/hybrid woods in their hands. Despite 600 yard par 5's, 500 yard par 4's, and 225 yard par 3's they are still able to shoot at pins and give themselves looks at eagles and birdies. Lastly, they all hit the ball so hard and always make solid contact. A "mishit" for these guys is exagerated only because their margin for error is so small. I spent a chunk of time right near the par 5 16th tee where the players can grip it and rip it which was very cool.
The final round should be interesting as the weather report for Sunday seem to indicate that the winds are going to pick up. I'd be surprised if anyone other than Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson, or Rory McIllroy doesn't come out on top. All 3 of these guys fit the bill as rising young stars on the tour ready to take the next step and win their first major championship. If Nick Watney keeps putting the way he is and given his 3 shot lead he might be tough to overtake, but the pressure of a major championship could be too much for him especially if he gets off to a bad start. Just ask Dustin Johnson, who had a 3 shot lead heading into the final round at the US Open before shooting an 82. But I'm going with Rory McIllroy, who I originally picked as one of the 18 to watch. Although he's young, he has all the tools to be the number one player in the world. Plus, he's from Northern Ireland so he must be able to play in the wind which could be a huge factor.