By RODNEY PAGE
Times Staff Writer
The PGA Championship lacks the hype of the Masters, the prestige of the U.S. Open or the history of the British Open, but it is the last chance for players to earn the final major championship of the golf season. After the PGA, casual fans turn their attention to football as the golf season is left with the FedEx Cup playoffs and fall season tournaments.
The PGA Championship has one of the most competitive fields of any tournament, with 100 of the top 102 players in the world playing. Players can redeem their season, or even their career, with a win. Or they can put an exclamation point on an already solid year.
There is sure to be plenty of drama, and heat, in Atlanta this week. That's usually the case when there is one last chance to win a major championship.
Five reasons to watch
1. Tiger vs. Stevie: So Woods supposedly fires his caddie, Steve Williams, over the phone. Then Williams propels Adam Scott to victory last week and rubs it in by saying it was the best win he's ever had in 33 years of caddying. Here's hoping that Woods and Scott are paired together over the weekend.
2. USA!: Foreign born players have won the past six major tournaments and three straight PGA Championships. The last American player to win a major was Phil Mickelson at the 2010 Masters. Dustin Johnson came close to breaking the streak at last year's PGA Championship, but he grounded his club in a bunker on the 17th hole and missed a playoff by one shot.
3. Who will come out of nowhere?: This tournament has a history of turning grinders into major champions. Rich Beem? Y.E. Yang? Shaun Micheel? Who will it be this year? Maybe somebody like Tommy Gainey, Jerry Kelly or Tampa's Ryuji Imada.
4. How hard will this tournament be?: The Masters was won by Charl Schwartzel at 14 under. Rory McIlroy was 16 under to win the U.S. Open. Martin Kaymer was 11 under when he won last year's PGA Championship. From what players are saying, this year's tournament will likely not have a double digit under par winner. This could be like U.S. Open tournaments of the past.
5. It's the last major!: Sure, there is the Fed Ex Cup playoffs, but realistically sports fans start focusing on football once the PGA Championship is over. It's the last chance to see who can control the nerves and call themselves a major champion.
Every major has its memorable moments. Here are five memorable images from the tournament in the past 25 years:
1986: Bob Tway's bunker shot:
On the 18th hole of the final round at Inverness CC in Toledo, Tway was tied with Greg Norman and playing in the same group. Tway's chip from the greenside bunker rolled into the hole, which caused Tway to jump up and down in the sand as red-pantsed officials applauded behind him. Norman was so shaken that he rolled his birdie attempt 10 feet past and took a bogey.
1991: John Daly's arm wave:
He was the ninth alternate at Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind. He was a mullet wearing unknown 25 year old from the University of Arkansas. But his booming drives actually found the fairways that week and he won by three shots. By the end of the tournament he was a crowd favorite famously waving his arm over his head as he walked down the 18th fairway.
1997: Davis Love III putts under a rainbow:
Love waited 11 years to win his first major. He won by five shots and made a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th green at Winged Foot Golf Club with a rainbow in the background. His father, Davis Love Jr., recently had passed away. Love saw it as a sign that his father was looking down on him.
2002: Rich Beem's 3-wood:
Beem, a former cell phone and car stereo salesman, held off Tiger Woods at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota. Beem had a one-shot lead when he made the turn. On the par 5, 597 yard 11th hole he hit a memorable three wood to within 6 feet and made the putt for eagle. The image of Beem tracking the shot is one that stands out.
2009: Y.E. Yang jumps for joy:
This one actually had two lasting images. Yang was playing with Tiger Woods, who held a two-shot lead to start the final round. On the 14th hole, Yang chipped in for eagle and pumped his fists. Then, with a one-shot lead on the 18th hole, Yang cut a 210-yard fairway wood over a tree and a sand trap to 10 feet of the hole, securing the victory. He jumped skyward several times to celebrate the shot.
Five players with something to prove
1. Tiger Woods: Not only would he like to prove he can contend in majors again, but he needs a good showing in order to make the Fed Ex Cup playoffs. Projections are that Woods needs to finish 14th or better this week to sneak into the top 125.
2. Jim Furyk: He was the Fed Ex Cup playoff winner last year, but this year he has only two top tens and his best major finish was a tie for 24th at the Masters.
3. Dustin Johnson: It would be sweet revenge if Johnson could win the PGA a year after being assessed a penalty for grounding his club in a sand trap and missing a playoff.
4. Padraig Harrington: He is 130th on the Fed Ex points list and needs a 12th or better to get into the playoffs.
5. Luke Donald: He's the No. 1 player in the world and few people know it. A win, or even a top 10, would solidify his place at the top.
Not only is it going to be stiflingly hot in Atlanta this week, but the players also have to deal with a brutally long 7,467 yard course. Highlighting that length is the 260-yard par 3 15th hole. Yep, 260 yards. Course directors didn't think the hole was long enough, so they put in a new tee for this year's tournament. While it is elevated, the hole has water skirting the right side all the way to the back of the green. And just for kicks, there are two greenside bunkers on the left side and back of the green. The best way to attack this hole is to hit a high, soft fade onto the small green …from 260 yards.
"Is that a par 3? I thought it was a par 4,'' said Masters champ Charl Schwartzel. "I don't think you're going to be too disappointed if you walk off with a 4."
On the 18th fairway of the Atlanta Athletic Club there is a plague commemorating Jerry Pate's 5-iron shot that clinched the 1976 U.S. Open. He was a 22-year-old newcomer who ended up hitting the most memorable shot in the club's history. Clinging to a one-shot lead, Pate pushed his drive into the rough right of the fairway. He had 194 yards to the green and had to clear the water. Instead of laying up, Pate laced his 5-iron to 2 feet of the hole and tapped in for birdie. It was his first and only major championship. Even though the shot wasn't hit in a PGA Championship, it was memorable enough for the PGA to give the 57-year-old a special exemption this year.
"For years people had said that to hit it this close on the last hole of the U.S. Open with the pin on the left and the water on the left you had to pull it," Pate said. "Nobody would do it. I said, 'Hey, at 22 years old you don't know what pull is. You're just, boom.' ''