As wind kicked up at Kiawah on Friday, a major championship took shape

As wind kicked up at Kiawah on Friday, a major championship took shape

High winds greeted the players Friday at Kiawah Island.
Fred Vuich/SI

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — The 94th PGA Championship began for real Friday.

At least, that's how it felt as winds gusted and buffeted the players, their shots and even their putts. The Ocean Course kicked butt and took names in the second round and finally gave this event the feel of a major championship. Thursday's calm, wind-less birdie-fest felt like an exhibition in comparison.

"It was tough out there, wow," said Tiger Woods, who is tied for the lead at four under after a one-under 71. "You can't take anything for granted; a simple tap-in is not a simple tap-in. … I mean, your start lines, holy cow, we are starting balls so far off line, to have it come back in. There's so much drift to this wind. It was just a tough day."

On Friday, it was every man for himself in the strengthening wind, a survival test of the highest order on the Ocean Course, which is not a friendly place when it begins to blow. (There was even a short-lived squall in which winds surged into the mid-30-mile-per-hour range for a few minutes.) The course has little tree cover, the green complexes are mostly raised and exposed to the ocean breezes, and designer Pete Dye made sure most of the greens were guarded by bunkers or other hazards so players couldn't hit low run-up shots.

That's always seemed nonsensical for a course on the Atlantic Ocean, where it's windy practically year-round, but they're still packing the customers in at $360 per round (weekend rate). Go figure. Woods touched on the contradictions of the course in his post-round comments.

"It would be great if we could utilize the ground and run the ball up, but that's gone," Woods said. "It would be nice to bump-and-run it around the greens, too, to keep it out of the wind, but we can't do that either because it's just too sticky. It's a golf course in which it's seaside, linksy-type, but you've got to throw the ball up in the air."

You saw it first at the 1991 Ryder Cup in the windswept singles finale. The closing holes were raked by left-to-right winds, and players with left-to-right ball flights, like Mark Calcavecchia and Hale Irwin, for instance, practically couldn't play those holes.

You saw it again Friday, with a different wind direction, this time from the southwest. The first four holes on the front nine played downwind, and the first four holes on the back nine played into the wind. Dye forces golfers to put the ball in the air on a course where the air is usually moving with some force. Links-style golf? Run-up shots? Low wind-cheaters? Those don't work here.

As a result, scores made a U-turn in the second round's challenging conditions. "I consider 75 a par round of golf out there today," said British Open runner-up Adam Scott, who followed his opening-round 68 with an even-par (he says) 75.

At the end of the day, the field's second-round scoring average was 78.11, almost five strokes higher than Thursday's 73.33 average. With a 69, Vijay Singh was the only player to break 70, and 41 players failed to break 80.

"It was really very tough," Scott said. "It's hard when you miss the greens. There are some severe spots, and I made a couple of errors, but that's going to happen on a day like this. You've just got to keep grinding. I'm not disappointed with 75.

"It's just a hard golf course because it doesn't really invite you to play low shots in the wind. You've got to put your ball up in the air and rely on the wind doing its job, or not."

Jamie Donaldson, 36, a Welshman playing in only his second PGA, shot 73, which is two under par by Scott's reckoning and an excellent score in relation to the morning half of the field. The wind cuts both ways, Donaldson said.

"You get to the last holes, where you think you have a chance because it's blowing downwind, but the wind was so strong you couldn't get near the flags or the greens," Donaldson said. "It was a result if you actually hit the green on the downwind holes. That's just how tough it was out there."

Bob Sowards, the club pro at New Albany Country Club in suburban Columbus, Ohio, shot 77. "It was brutal out there, very difficult," he said. "The hardest thing is putting. The greens are so smooth and they're up, so you have to play for the wind on your putts, that's the biggest thing. I feel like I gave away four shots putting."

Sowards agreed with Donaldson's analysis that some of the downwind holes played as difficult or even more difficult than some of the holes into the wind.

"You can't make birdie on 17, the par 3, because of that pin placement," Sowards said. "The water isn't in play much, but it's straight downwind. I played a 6-iron today, could've hit a 7-iron, and I was hitting 4-iron and 5-wood in the practice round. I hit 8-iron into 18."

Sowards was glad to be off the course, and after he finished he wasn't rooting for the wind to let up. "Hopefully they don't blow the horn, and the wind doesn't blow too hard to play," he said.

The round of the day belonged to 49-year-old Singh, a World Golf Hall of Fame member. He backed up his opening 71 with a three-under 69 in a round that featured only two bogeys. He said he would gladly have taken a 72 if offered one before he teed off, so he was very pleased.

"It's so hard just standing on the greens trying to putt," Singh said. "I just tried to make my pars, miss it in the correct spot if I was out of position and be very strong with the longer putts. The lag putts were so key, not to leave myself four- and five-footers, which was very easy to do out there."

The par-3 14th hole, Singh said, is one of the toughest par-3 holes anywhere. "I don't know what Pete Dye was thinking when he made 14," Singh joked. "He must've been asleep or something. I don't know anyone who is going to be happy playing that hole today. I hit a good shot and made bogey."

Only two holes on the course yielded below-par average scores, No. 2 and No. 16, both par-5s. Five holes yielded average scores that were half a shot or more over par: Nos. 6, 10, 12, 13 and 18.

Singh had five birdies, hit 11 greens in regulation and needed only 26 putts. He doesn't necessarily consider himself a great wind player.

"Nobody is used to wind like this," Singh said. "If you had a course like this and asked me to go play in this wind, I'd say no. But this is a major, and we have to go out there and just struggle and manage yourself the best you can, I guess.

"It's a tough day, one of the tougher conditions I've ever played."

It definitely felt like a major.