Players preparing for monster of a major

The Baltimore Sun

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Rich Beem stood over his tee shot on the 18th hole during his final practice session for the PGA Championship, trained his eye down the narrow fairway squeezed between bunkers, waggled his driver and then backed off.

"This is the hardest hole I've ever played," he said yesterday.

Then he smoked his tee shot with the slightest draw and saw it hop to the left on a canted fairway and disappear into the bunker.

"And it just got harder," he said before walking off.

That was just the 498-yard closing hole at Oakland Hills.

Beem and the rest of the field at the final major of the year haven't found other parts of the course to be much easier.

Indeed, "The Monster" is more than a nickname at this PGA Championship, which starts today.

"This is as tough of a setup as I've ever seen," Steve Stricker said.

The PGA Championship has been getting positive reviews over the past several years as the most fair of all the majors, particularly among the three in the United States. Phil Mickelson last week described the PGA as the major without an ego.

Now, the toughest test in golf could be the last one.

"The usual setup for the PGA is more like a tough U.S. tour event," British Open champion Padraig Harrington said. "It's nearly more U.S. Open-type than the U.S. Open is at the moment, if that makes any sense. It's actually like they switched the two of them around this year."

What makes it so difficult?

It starts with sheer length. The course has been stretched 318 yards since the 2004 Ryder Cup, measuring 7,395 yards, the longest in major championship history for a par 70.

"This little pitch-and-putt?" Chad Campbell said, rolling his eyes. "It's brutal. The added length is very difficult."

Predicting a score is pointless because no one knows how the PGA of America will set it up when scores start counting today. But wherever they put the tees and pins, Oakland Hills has gotten the players' attention.

"The whole golf course really feels and plays like a major should," Ernie Els said before going out for one last look. "So I think we're in for a tough week. But a very fair week."

Els is among those trying to make sure his season does not end without a major. He is hopeful his recent work with Butch Harmon starts to take hold.

Harmon is a popular man these days. He also is working with Mickelson, the No. 2 player in the world and the betting favorite. And he spent yesterday morning with Adam Scott, who has slipped to No. 8 in the world.

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