HAVEN, Wis. -- The Straits Course at Whistling Straits was designed by Pete Dye, which means it was bound to be controversial.
It opened in 1998, and hosted a major championship six years later, the PGA Championship. Situated along Lake Michigan, it is about the closest we ever get in this country to the kind of links golf they celebrate in Great Britain. The only difference is, most of those courses have been there forever.
Anyway, this place is nothing if not interesting, even if that's a relative term. Many of the vistas are truly outstanding. As are a good number of holes. Yet there are also at least a couple that, well, maybe need a little dynamite. That's the way it is with Dye. There are few gray areas when it comes to his work. Think PGA West or The Stadium Course at TPC. But that's OK. Nothing wrong with a track that breaks certain molds.
This course also hosted the 2007 U.S. Senior Open (won by Brad Bryant). And it will be the venue for another PGA Championship in 2015, as well as a Ryder Cup in 2020. So whatever people think about it, it's going to be part of the landscape for the next decade.
There are lots of shoreline views and bunkers. There also are elevation changes, bluffs, dunes, stone bridges, fescue and water hazards. But it's hardly an easy walk. In 2004, they actually put out a daily report on the number of injuries sustained by the spectators while trying to get around.
That's what can happen, when the look is as dramatic as an Irish Open.
The 18th, as you might suspect, is particularly fearsome. There's a risk-reward option off the tee, which has been raised so players can now see the entire landing zone. Danger lurks on both sides of the fairway, which moves from right to left, in the form of sand and heavy-duty rough. A good drive leaves a pretty short approach, but some if not many players may opt to hit long irons off the tee, to make sure they end up in the short grass. The size of the green has been reduced. And if you miss it, saving par becomes an iffy prospect.
In the first round in 2004, John Daly made a quadruple-bogey there (it was his ninth hole of the round), after pulling his two-iron into a trap. From there he gouged out into some nasty long stuff, then barely moved his third shot. And why is it that Long John is so often the subject of these horror stories?
THE LAST TIME
It was the tournament that nearly gave us Phil Mickelson (who would win the PGA the next year at Baltusrol) or Ernie Els (who had just lost the British Open in a playoff to Todd Hamilton). Instead, the 2004 PGA went to Vijay Singh, who had previously won this major in 1998 at Sahalee and had added a Masters two years later.
Singh, who was the co-leader after two rounds and the sole leader after three, ended up in a three-way, three-hole playoff with 1997 British Open champ Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco, who would go on to also finish runner-up at two other majors, the 2005 Masters (behind Tiger Woods) and the 2006 British Open (to Woods again).
Singh, who went 67-68-69-76, birdied the first hole of the playoff, No. 10, by draining a five-foot putt. That was the difference. He would par the next two, while Leonard (closing 75) and DiMarco (71) each made three pars. Singh became the fourth-oldest to win this major, at 41 years, five months and 23 days.
Els and Mickelson both had their chances late. But the Big Easy (final-round 73), whose scores got higher each day, finished one back, while Mickelson (74) missed the playoff by two.
In case you're wondering, Woods tied for 24th, going 75-69-69-73. It was his 10th consecutive major without a victory, which tied his career-long drought. He would win his fourth Masters the following April. Now, he's on a nine-major winless streak, although he missed two of those while recovering from knee surgery in 2008.
DID YOU KNOW
--Last August, Korea's Y.E. Yangbecame the first Asian-born man to win a major golf championship. Three had previously finished second: Taiwan's Lu-Liang Huan (Mr. Lu) at the 1971 British Open (behind Lee Trevino), Japan's Isao Aoki at the 1980 U.S. Open (to Jack Nicklaus) and Taiwan's T.C. Chen at the 1985 U.S. Open (to Andy North). Three others had also finished third: T.M. Chen, T.C.'s older brother, at the 1985 PGA (won by Hubert Green), Korea's K.J. Choi, at the 2004 Masters (which went to Phil Mickelson) and Japan's Tommy Nakajima, at the 1988 PGA (won by Jeff Sluman).
--This major has gone to a playoff 16 times, 11 since the format changed from match to medal (or stroke) play in 1958. The first two, in 1961 and '67, were decided over 18 holes. The next seven, from 1977 to '96, were sudden-death. None went more than three holes and three only lasted one. The last two have been determined by three-hole aggregate scores. In 2000 at Valhalla, Tiger Woods beat Bob May. Six years ago at Whistling Straits, Vijay Singh defeated Chris DiMarco and Justin Leonard.
--Ten guys have shot 63 at a PGA, the most for any of the four majors (the British Open is next, with eight). Here's the rundown: Bruce Crampton, second round, 1975 (Firestone); Raymond Floyd, first round, 1982 (Southern Hills); Gary Player, second round, 1984 (Shoal Creek); Vijay Singh, second round, 1993 (Inverness); Michael Bradley, first round, 1995 (Riviera); Brad Faxon, fourth round, 1995 (Riviera); Jose Maria Olazabal, third round, 2000 (Valhalla); Mark O'Meara, second round, 2001 (Atlanta Athletic Club); Thomas Bjorn, third round, 2005 (Baltusrol); Tiger Woods, second round, 2007 (Southern Hills).
--Last year, for the first time since the official world rankings began in 1996, four players from outside the top 30 swept the majors: Angel Cabrera (No. 69), Lucas Glover (71), Stewart Cink (33) and Y.E. Yang (110). Before that, players from outside the top 30 had never even won three consecutive majors.
--When Whistling Straits hosted its first PGA in 2004, it was then the longest course in major championship history, at 7,536 yards. Singh closed with a 76, the highest final-round score by a winner since Reg Whitcombe came home in 78 at the British Open in 1938 at Royal St. George's and still won by two. Singh needed a playoff, during which he made his lone birdie in the 21 holes he played that day.
Or, trying to size up some of the usual suspects.
--Phil Mickelson (7-1): Almost won the PGA in 2004 at Whistling. Who were you expecting to be the favorite?
--Ernie Els (10-1): Ditto. And he was in position to win another U.S. Open in June at Pebble. But with him it's always something.
--Tiger Woods (12-1): Just hard to see it right now. Still, he is who he is. Or, at least for the time being, was.
--Rory McIlroy (15-1): Can he please get a mulligan on that second round at the British Open?
--Padraig Harrington (18-1): He did win this thing two years ago.
--Jim Furyk (20-1): Missed cut here four years ago. Is still ranked fifth in world.
--Justin Rose (22-1): Was playing as well as anyone not too long ago.
--Sean O'Hair (25-1): Why not? At least if his putter is working.
--Hunter Mahan (25-1): Tough to win a major after you win the week before.
--Paul Casey (27-1): Had a chance at the British.
--Justin Leonard (30-1): Lost in playoff here in 2004.
--Steve Stricker (33-1): Is ranked fourth in world, will probably put too much pressure on himself in native Wisconsin.
--Graeme McDowell (35-1): Last guy to win U.S. Open and this major in same year was Mr. Woods in 2000. Before that, it was Jack Nicklaus in 1980.
--Y.E. Yang (40-1): Only guy to repeat since 1937 was Woods, who's done it twice.
--Louis Oosthuizen (45-1): Last guy not named Tiger to win British and PGA in same year was Nick Price (1994).
--Vijay Singh (50-1): Won here in 2004. But obviously that was then.
--Five more to ponder: Matt Kuchar, Jeff Overton, Ryan Moore, Retief Goosen and Rickie Fowler.
THE DREADED PICK
You know, I don't know. Europeans rarely win this, but I'll still take a stab at McIlroy. Just because. And instead of an exacta pick I'll toss in two longer shots, Overton and Kuchar. Just don't ask for a valid reason. That means Mickelson will probably take it by 10. So whatever happened to that Year of the Tiger anyhow, except of course the realities of life?