Bombers blowing away field at Hazeltine

Tom Kite — 1981
Tony Roberts

CHASKA, Minn. - Alvaro Quiros whirled and delivered his signature slash with his driver on the par-5 11th hole Friday. He watched his ball land near playing partner Lee Westwood's and keep going another 40 yards.

The fans hooted and clapped, and Westwood, in a chipper mood, played along. He grabbed Quiros's bicep and squeezed, pretending to investigate the source of such prodigious length, "stupid" length, as Tiger Woods called it on Thursday.

  Welcome to big-boy golf, the only kind to play if you've got any designs on winning the 91st PGA Championship at stretched-out Hazeltine National Golf Club, a course that at 7,674 yards is the longest in major championship history. Some tees are up, so the course isn't playing as long as it could, but with few exceptions the bashers have risen to the top while the plinkers have fallen.

 

Where have you gone, Mike Reid?

Strapping rivals Tiger Woods (70, seven under for the tournament) and Padraig Harrington (73, three under) played Hazeltine to a draw Friday, but the course had its way with the 5-foot-8 Rich Beem (76, three over), the third and not coincidentally the shortest member of the threesome.

Beefy, 6-foot-3, 210-pounder Ernie Els went up the ranks (68, one under overall), while the 5-foot-10 David Toms (75, even) went down.

Toms was tied with Tim Clark (68) and Corey Pavin (71), a little trio of elfin magic tied for 13th on a leaderboard full of giants. We should all be happy Tom Watson's not here; the wee old Open runner-up wouldn't have had a prayer.

It's almost football season, so here's the roster of first-stringers at this PGA. Woods looks like a linebacker, or at the very least a free safety. He is 6-foot-1 and listed at 185 pounds, although with all that muscle it's hard to imagine he's not at least 200.

His playing partner Saturday in the last pairing will be Vijay Singh (69-72), who goes 6-2, 210, and once worked as a bouncer.

Australian Brendan Jones (71-70) is 6-2, as is Lucas Glover (71-70). Ross Fisher (73-68) is 6-3, and Harrington (68-73) is 6-1.

All five men are three under, tied for second four behind Woods.

You don't think of Harrington as a golfing strongman, but Toms and others in his weight class wouldn't even try the shot Paddy hit on 15, a mighty, 301-yard blow with a 3-wood out of the top lip of a sand trap. Harrington almost fell over backward, but the ball reached the green and even cozied up to the pin. That's big-boy golf.

The only delicate thing about the 6-3 Quiros (76, one over) are his attenuated sideburns, which look like anorexic caterpillars. His swing speed is in the low 120s, compared to the Tour average of around 113 mph. His ball speed is in the mid-180s. Average: 176.

When Quiros, attired in a lime-green polo, hit his howitzer of a drive on the ninth hole Friday, almost no one clapped because the ball went so far so fast, few saw it. There it was, though, over the hill, beyond the fairway bunkers, about 45 yards short of the green on the 432-yard hole. Stupid long.

Golf used to be the great equalizer, one of the few sports where modestly sized men like Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson could trump big-boned fellows like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. And the game still is that way, sometimes.

Richard S. Johnson is so small he could have been a jockey if only he'd had an eating disorder.

Short-hitting Brian Gay has prevailed twice this year, easily his best season. But he has not helped his chances of making the Presidents Cup team, shooting 78-81 on this beast of a course the last two days. Hazeltine is not his cuppa; nor was Bethpage Black.

It's no secret that pro golf has a preferred body type, a player of at least 6 feet and around 200 pounds who can move the ball over the game's increasingly broad-shouldered courses. We've known it for the last 10 years, which have been dominated by Woods and to a lesser extent by other players of a similar build (Els, Singh, Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen, etc.)

It's just that this PGA, on this course, has accentuated the trend. Among the top 12 players at the halfway point, there are only two outliers, smallish guys who are getting it done: Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark (5-7) and Y.E. Yang of South Korea (5-8).

Each has shot one 70 and one 73. They are maxing out, doing their best with every inch and ounce they've got. Me, I'm cheering for them, and Beem, because 5-foot-7 people like me need heroes, too.




 

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