By Pete Pappas
GolfWRX Staff Writer
The PGA Championship is thought to be the least prestigious of the four majors on Tour. But it has something The Masters, the U.S. Open, and the Open Championship all do not have – combined.
One last chance.
When the iconic Wanamaker Trophy is raised triumphantly at the conclusion of the 94th PGA Championship by one of the 150-plus competitors, the strongest field of the season – the 2012 majors will all be in the books. And that heightens the pressure with each consecutive day, with each consecutive hole — until everyone just runs out of holes to play.
Last call for drinks … bar closing down … gettin’ the shakes now. Uh-oh. One last chance for major glory at The Ocean Course on Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
One last chance for redemption.
For Phil Mickelson, who cost himself the Masters and chance at history with a disastrous final day triple-bogey on the 4th hole at Augusta National earlier this year (highlighted by ill-advised decision making, sloppy execution, and two shots played right-handed with his iron upside-down).
“Phil being Phil” isn’t fun when it costs you a major. “Lefty” has a chance to redeem himself for the one he left behind on hallowed grounds.
One last chance to get the monkey off your back.
For Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the World Golf Rankings much of last year and back atop this year, who missed three cuts in the last nine majors. Donald knows there’s one glaring hole in his resume – winless on the sport’s biggest stages. That “elephant in his trophy room” belligerently grows bigger, more disruptive, and more hostile with each major he doesn’t win. Donald can make the barbaric bulldozing beast disappear – in the blink of an eye – with just one victory, this week.
One last chance to erase recent painful memories.
For Jim Furyk, who surrendered his 54-hole U.S. Open lead in June, and tumbled from poised to poisoned in “a San Francisco minute” with two bogeys over the final three holes at Olympic to complete his agonizing collapse. Furyk barely had time to stand before he suffered the backhand of cruel fate again at WGC-Bridgestone last week when his five foot playoff-forcing putt at No. 18 slid right, handing victory to Keegan Bradley.
“I’ve known it’s a cruel game for a long time,” Furyk said, suppressing his devastation afterwards.
But a Furyk victory this week at Kiawah Island would (hand over fist) take the image of a battered and broken man – who appeared to contemplate thrusting himself upon his “Fang” putter after that impaling double-bogey on the 18th green and release it gently into intemperate Atlantic winds.
Also, for Adam Scott, who let a four-shot lead in the Open Championship with four holes to play vanish faster than innocence. Scott drew infamous comparisons to fellow Australian Greg Norman and his own ill-famed 1996 Masters demise for Scott’s final round performance at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
Scott lipped out his three-foot par putt on No. 16, lost his approach shot in the wind (after a perfect drive) on No. 17, and then on No. 18 managed to find the single worst place to hit the ball on that hole – into foreboding 18-inch rough. With his ball, and alongside his dreams of becoming a Claret Jug champion – Scott was rudely buried right there.
But no more parallels to “The Shark.” Scott’s injuries and torments will heal in an instant, his confidence emerge unscathed. If only Scott can manage this week to pull victory from the “jaws” of defeat – rather than defeat from the “jaws” of victory.
And of course one last chance to inch tantalizingly closer to this sport’s ultimate prize.
For Tiger Woods, who by his own admission knows breaking Jack Nicklaus’ pinnacle record for most major victories is a career endeavor. Woods needs to haul one major victory every two years to overtake Nicklaus by the same age the 46-year old Jack was when he won that legendary, final, 18th major.
Woods is the odds on favorite to win his fifth PGA Championship this week at Kiawah. And he’s the only player on Tour to notch three victories this season, probably good enough for “Player of the Year” (and certainly “Comeback Player of the Year”) honors when all is said and done.
But no matter how cool and collected the “Talented Mr. Woods” appears while talking about Jack’s record, he knows the window is closing on breaking it. And Woods’ name again on the Wanamaker Trophy would go a long ways toward making the likelihood of him becoming the most proficient golfer in history more much realistic.
The field this week is a virtual “Who’s Who” of golf royalty, and includes the Top-10 players in each of the FedEx Cup standings, the Tour Money List, and the Official World Golf Rankings. Teeing it up for this final major will be 28 winners on Tour this season, and 32 major winners.
Defending champion Keegan Bradley, as well as Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell, to name just a few, are all in South Carolina looking to put their names on the Wanamaker Trophy as well. And it would be foolish to look past any of them.
“It’s just catching the right guy at the right week and things can happen,” 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson said of winning majors.
This year’s British Open champion, Ernie Els, added, “A lot more players have chances to win major championships.”
And 2011 U.S. Open Champion Rory McIlory said that it’s basically the whole field now that has a chance to win on Tour.
The PGA Championship offers one last chance to make the season a successful one, on the strength of just this victory alone. However that also means one last chance to fall flat, to meltdown, to throw one away – again. For those players who’ve been on the 54-hole lead merry-go-round of misery this season, that means at best, the sky will stop falling for only one of them.
And for any one of the world’s greatest players in the field this week – at least some will be mocked by the growling winds of Kiawah Island, boisterously vanquished one by one – as they all journey through the bowels of this Pete Dye leviathan – looking for the season’s last chance for major glory.
You can follow Pete on Twitter @TheGreekGrind and GolfWRX @GolfWRX