PGA Championship a perfect fit for first-time major winners

<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>
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BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Fifteen times in the last 25 years, someone has made the PGA Championship their first major victory.

Anthony Kim, Kenny Perry and Sergio Garcia are three of the most likely candidates to make that 16 of 26 come Sunday.

Maybe it's the way the courses are typically set up for the final major of the year - conducive to scoring in the August heat - that provides such an avenue for breakthrough wins. Or maybe it's timing, with the game's brightest lights already worn down by three majors.

It's particularly easy to foresee a fresh face winning the PGA Championship because two-time defending champion Tiger Woods is still recovering from knee surgery.

``Winning a major is winning a major, whether he's in the field or not,'' said Kim, considered by many the ``Next Big Thing'' in American golf at the age of 23. ``Obviously, you want to feel like you beat everyone when they are at the top of their game, but that's just not the way this game works. Whether he's here or not, I'd love to put a major under my belt.''

The PGA Championship got under way Thursday at Oakland Hills when Bradley Dean, a club pro from Michigan, nervously hit a low hook with a bright sun in his face that found the left rough. It took him four shots to reach the green, and he wound with a double bogey.

``Tough start,'' someone said from the gallery.

It could be tough for everyone on an Oakland Hills course that is 7,395 yards with penal rough and contoured greens.

The Wanamker Trophy was on the first tee, a reminder of what's at stake this week. Woods' name is on the trophy four times.

Kim, like the rest of the 156-player field, knows that when Woods returns next year, he might want to make up for lost time.

``When he comes back, he's going to come back firing on all cylinders, so we'd all better be ready,'' said Kim.

Kim has shown signs that he might be built for the biggest tournaments. He's made the cut in all four of his major starts, including an impressive tie for seventh at last month's British Open.

``I'd love to put on a good show this week,'' he said.

The Masters effectively opens the golf season with its azaleas and lightning-fast greens. Then players get to grouse (usually) about the U.S. Open, long known as the toughest test in golf with narrow fairways and firm greens. Next is the British Open, the only major held on links course where the defense comes from wind and the pot bunkers.

That leaves the PGA Championship, which prides itself on playability and, well, fun.

``It was always very comfortable for me to play in the PGA,'' said Perry, one of the hottest golfers in the world with three wins since early June.

Perry elected not to play the first three majors this year, so it's clear he thinks a lot of the PGA. Besides, the tournament has almost been an annuity for him, since he's made the cut in 16 of his 17 starts.

Garcia's career has been bracketed by the PGA Championship. It was in 1999 when the then-19-year-old Spaniard burst upon the world's consciousness, scissoring his legs while running to follow his shot from next to a tree at Medinah. He challenged Woods to the final hole before falling a shot short.

Nine years later, many are wondering when he's finally going to live up to that bright promise and win a major. There could be no better time than this.

Garcia has had success at Oakland Hills before, collecting 4 1/2 of a possible five points in Europe's lopsided win over the United States in the 2004 Ryder Cup matches at the Donald Ross-designed layout in suburban Detroit.

He said changes to the course in the ensuing four years - some bunkers were restructured, some tees moved back - has taken away any advantage he might have on the course.

``This is a great golf course, probably the toughest PGA (course) I've ever played,'' Garcia said. ``Shots around the greens here (you just take) a big whack at it, try to get out of the rough and land it softly.''

No European has won the PGA Championship since Scotland's Tommy Armour in 1930.

England's Justin Rose, like Garcia a promising 28-year-old without a major championship, believes this is the year to end that drought.

``You've got to think if there is ever a venue that's going to suit a European,'' he said, ``it's going to be this week.''

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