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Good feelings for Europeans at Oakland Hills

Photo: Ping Golf

<p><strong>Ping Turns 50</strong><br /> <i>To mark the 50th anniversary of Ping Golf, the company has released a series of rare images featuring founder Karsten Solheim and some of his early creations.</i></p> <p>The first club that Solheim designed and sold was the Ping 1A putter. This patent drawing of the clubhead was created in 1959.</p>

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — When the Ryder Cup was held at Oakland Hills in 2004, the Europeans left with an 18 1/2-9 1/2 victory, the second of their three straight over the United States.

The top points producers on that team are back for the PGA Championship that starts Thursday on the same course.

Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood both had 4 1/2 of a possible five points over those three days.

``The look of the course is pretty much the same. It's obviously a lot tougher than it was at the Ryder Cup,'' said Garcia, who was 24 then. ``Obviously the rough is thicker. They have added some good length. Bunkers are a little bit deeper.''

Westwood, who is seven years older than Garcia, broke into a wide smile when asked about the 2004 Ryder Cup.

``I had had a bit more to drink than I've had right now. Although I think we all were sort of pretty well on our way,'' he said referring to huge bottles of champagne that were sprayed and imbibed with great gusto. ``It's just great memories, really.''

Westwood was asked if being back on the course for a practice round brought back any specific thoughts of holes from that day.

``It's not the way my mind was working. I was just kind of focusing on this week and not what happened in the past on the golf course,'' he said. ``Only probably on the 18th green where I stopped sort of preparing for this week's tournament and I just said to my caddie, `Do you remember that putt that Sergio holed there?' It was only because he nearly hit me with the putter when he tossed it up in the air. That's the only reason I remember that.''

Eight of the 12 players on that European team are here this week and a ninth, Luke Donald, was forced to withdraw because of a wrist injury.

At least one former PGA champion believes the Europeans should be brimming with confidence from four years ago.

``If they don't, it's their own damned fault for not having it, because they really took it to us,'' said Rich Beem, the 2002 PGA champion who wasn't a member of the U.S. team in 2004.


PRACTICE? PRACTICE?: The image of golfers taking the opportunity to play practice round after practice round at a major championship venue was shattered by Rocco Mediate.

One of the sport's most popular players since his U.S. Open playoff loss to Tiger Woods in June, Mediate was ready for Thursday's opening round of the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills after a total of nine practice holes on the course known as ``The Monster.''

``I'm tired,'' Mediate said Wednesday after talking for a while about his hectic life since becoming such a celebrity following the 19-hole playoff loss to the world's No. 1 golfer. ``I played last July in the British Open qualifier here and the golf course is right in front of you. The greens are difficult, but they are still right in front of you. I remember them all.

``It's not rocket science. It's just you've got to be under these holes. You cannot play them from over the greens. ... There's no tricks, obviously, just a lot of long clubs for me, and I enjoy hitting them.''

Mediate was asked for an example of how crazy things have become for him since the 46-year-old's remarkable performance at Torrey Pines.

``Walking to dinner last night, one guy stopped the car on the street, sent his son over. I signed the autograph and he got back in the car,'' Mediate said. ``It was kind of freaky, actually. It was fine. There wasn't much going on. It wasn't a busy street.''


CENTENNIAL PGA: The 100th anniversary of the first PGA Championship will be celebrated by staging the last of the four majors near where the organization was formed: Baltusrol.

The course in Springfield, N.J., just across the river from New York where The PGA of America was formed in April 1916. The first PGA Championship was held six months later at Siwanoy in nearby Bronxville.

``It's one of the classic clubs in this country, and if you walk up on a point on the Upper Course, you can see the Manhattan skyline,'' Joe Steranka, the CEO of The PGA of America, said Wednesday. ``So being in the New York metropolitan area for us was important, to be able to be near the birthplace. I know we'll have a lot of activities in the year leading up to that centennial championship.''

That PGA Championship will be not the 100th edition, however, since none was held in 1917, 1918 and 1943.

Baltusrol hosted its only PGA Championship in 2005, with Phil Mickelson winning by one stroke over Steve Elkington and Thomas Bjorn in a rare Monday finish. Bad weather blew in late Sunday, forcing 12 players to return the day to complete their rounds.

``That championship brought a whole group of people into the field and was one of the most dramatic moments,'' Steranka said. ``We'll try to finish it on Sunday this year, though.''


BIG MONTH: Chad Campbell has a lot on his mind this month - the PGA Championship, trying to make the Ryder Cup team, the PGA Tour playoffs for the FedEx Cup. And in the middle of this, he's preparing for fatherhood.

His wife, Amy, is expecting a boy on Sept. 4.

``She more worried about the schedule than I am,'' Campbell said.

He said he likely would play the Deutsche Bank Championship, which ends Sept. 1, then skip the BMW Championship in St. Louis. That might affect his FedEx Cup standings, but it shouldn't have any bearing on the Ryder Cup. If he doesn't make the team, the captain's picks are announced after the Deutsche Bank.


LATE CHANGE: Shingo Katayama, No. 52 in the official world golf rankings, withdrew from the PGA Championship on Wednesday due to recurring back problems. He was replaced by Michael Allen of Scottsdale, Ariz. The 156-player field now includes 93 of the world's top 100.

Other withdrawals in the last week include Brett Wetterich (back), Jason Bohn (back), Luke Donald (wrist) and Alex Cejka (arm).

Cejka was in the field as an alternate, replacing Donald.

Two-time defending champion Tiger Woods is not in the field after undergoing knee surgery soon after winning the U.S. Open in June.


NO TIGER: Tiger Woods will miss the Ryder Cup, and U.S. captain Paul Azinger can't see how that will help.

Some have speculated that Woods' absence - he has never had a winning record at any Ryder Cup - might motivate the Americans and put more pressure on Europe, which has won the last three times.

``I don't see one, single positive that Tiger Woods isn't on our team,'' Azinger said. ``I can't imagine how you can argue a team would be better off without arguably the greatest player - potentially the greatest player - who has ever lived. As far as I'm concerned, it really puts Europe in an advantageous place. It puts Europe in a favorite role. There's just no question about it.''


PRIZE MONEY: The PGA of America approved prize money Wednesday of $7.5 million for the PGA Championship, up $500,000 from last year. First place is worth $1.35 million.

It's the first time since 2003 that all three U.S. majors had the same purse.

The British Open had the largest amount of prize money this year, mainly because of the exchange rate. Padraig Harrington earned nearly $1.5 million from a prize fund of $8.24 million.

Typical of the majors, even those missing the cut will earn $2,500.


BACK STRETCH: The PGA Championship comes toward the end of an impressive string of marquee sporting events in the Detroit area. The 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills started the run and was followed by baseball's All-Star game the next year and the 2006 Super Bowl. Following the 2009 Final Four, the Motor City might have a long wait for another scheduled sporting event that has wide appeal.

Oakland Hills members are open to hosting another major - a seventh U.S. Open or fourth PGA Championship - but not until sometime between 2016 and 2022. Local officials are hoping to land another Final Four between 2012-16.

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