BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — After 36 holes, it’s time to declare the winner of the 90th PGA Championship. Barring some kind of maintenance disaster, such as leaving the sprinklers on all night, it couldn’t be more obvious. The real winner at Oakland Hills this week, the only winner, is going to be … Oakland Hills.
J.B. Holmes was the only player under par after two rounds Friday, shooting a 68 that left him at 139, one under. Charlie Wi, Ben Curtis and Justin Rose were at even par, and the rest of the scoreboard numbers were blacker than midnight in the Batcave during a power outage.
This PGA has a distinct U.S. Open kind of feel. “It is a U.S. Open, it’s as simple as that,” said Australian Aaron Baddeley. “There’s one guy under par right now and conditions are exactly like the U.S. Open, the rough being thick, greens being firm and crusty. It’s playing tough.”
This PGA has been as enjoyable as outpatient surgery. The 17th and 18th holes yielded only one birdie each Friday out of 155 players. That’s a birdie conversion rate of .013 — a Girl Scout with a field hockey stick could probably manage a better batting average against C.C. Sabathia.
“It’s one of the hardest golf courses I’ve ever played,” said former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk, who holed a five-foot putt on the final green to finish two rounds at eight over par and make the cut on the number.
How tough was it? Colin Montgomerie shot 84. What else do you have to know? “It’s very difficult, obviously,” a resigned Monty said afterward. “I made it more so. The course is very, very severe. Its setup is as difficult as any course I’ve ever played, and nothing like the place that we came and did so well at four years ago.” (He was referring to the Europeans’ ruanaway victory here at the 2004 Ryder Cup.)
There was little disagreement, although Curtis and Rose did manage to go low with the rounds of the day, three-under-par 67s. Golf’s biggest names didn’t fare well. Phil Mickelson, three over for the tournament, shot 73, as did Sergio Garcia, who is two over. Ernie Els shot 75 and is six over. Vijay Singh fired a pair of 76s to miss the cut, and Adam Scott (+10) didn’t make the weekend either. After the howling winds of the British Open and now this, Tiger Woods might be thinking this whole knee surgery thing turned out to be a pretty sweet deal.
“Brutal, absolutely brutal,” said Brandt Snedeker, who posted a second straight 71. “I’m glad to get out of there with what I did.”
Said Rocco Mediate, still golf’s flavor of the month after his gutty performance in a playoff loss to Tiger at Torrey Pines: “The golf course is so nasty right now. Just nasty.”
What made it so nasty Friday were the greens, which seem to have more large buried mammals under them than any other good course in the world. They have continued to get firmer and faster as the week has worn on. That makes hitting an approach shot problematic, and if you’re putting from outside 15 feet at Oakland Hills, you’re probably not one-putting. The severe slopes mean you may be looking at a six-footer to save par.
A breeze kicked up in the afternoon, making it tougher to judge approach shots, further drying out the greens. “The greens sort of went purple and you could see the footprints of others players,” Baddeley said. “I told my caddie walking off the 18th hole in practice, this has a feel like Oakmont — the sky, the trees, the clubhouse, like nine and 18. It has definite similarities.”
Furyk said the key to making a good score Friday was to put a lot of spin on approach shots, the only way to keep them in the vicinity of the pin and have birdie chances. That may explain why big hitters like Henrik Stenson and the ’07 U.S. Open champion, Angel Cabrera, were near the top at 141 and 142, respectively, and why Holmes is your leader. Holmes, a former University of Kentucky star who has won twice in Phoenix, is probably the longest hitter in the field and spins the ball enormously. He was actually four under par at one point, thanks to consecutive birdies at 12, 13 and 14, but he bogeyed two holes coming in and settled for 68.
Holmes said he had 148 yards left for his second shot on the par-5 second hole. So that means his tee shot, which picked up plenty of roll on the firm fairways, was close to 400 yards long.
“Hitting it straight is a big advantage,” Holmes said. “I was lucky to hit most of the fairways today.”
Most players were frustrated. Probably most viewers, too. A telecast featuring few birdies, few holed putts and lots of bogeys probably didn’t qualify as great entertainment. There hasn’t been a major championship this lacking in buzz through two rounds in a long, long time.
Ben Hogan famously dubbed this place The Monster. It’s living up to expectations.
“I’ve got to play this thing two more times, and I don’t really want to go into whether it’s fair or not,” an exasperated Mickelson said. “Everybody’s got to play it.”
Mickelson is right. He’s also the bearer of the bad news: Everybody has to play Oakland Hills two more times. And we already know who’s going to win that battle.