It’s a new calendar spot on the PGA Tour season and that can do nothing but help the PGA that begins Thursday at Bethpage Black in New York.
For years the PGA has been the fourth and final major of the year and to be honest, was my least favorite major.
Why? A couple of reasons.
First, call it major overload. By the time the PGA would roll around in the late summer, we’d already been through the Masters, U.S. Open and the (British) Open Championship. It’s hard to top those three events each year for excitement and with the PGA it was turning into, meh.
The FedEx Cup playoffs followed by either the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup were far more intriguing than the PGA. In addition, football season was getting underway and the PGA was getting lost in the shuffle.
Now we are in May and it’s the second major of the season – a month before the U.S. Open. What a course to have for the first year of the move. Bethpage Black is a monster of a course and was the first truly public course to host the U.S. Open when it did so in 2002.
In 2002, Tiger Woods was the winner with a 277 (3-under par) and was the only player to shoot under par. In 2009 Lucas Glover won at 276 (4-under), with three players at 2-under and one more at 1-under to round out the players under par.
The PGA will not have as severe rough as the U.S. Open does, but the width of the fairways will be similar. Playing 7,438 yards and to a par 70, Bethpage Black promises to be a tough test for every golfer.
Only three players have won the first two majors of the season with the last being Woods in 2002. The courses that year for the first two majors? Augusta National (Masters) and Bethpage Black (U.S. Open).
One reason I will really enjoy watching the tournament this week will be the crowds. The New York sports fans are always entertaining and usually one of the more raucous crowds when it comes to golf tournaments.
The crowd will have plenty to get loud about as there are some fun threesomes going on out the first two days. Following are some of groupings with comments. All times are PDT.
(7:40 a.m., 10th tee) – Sergio Garcia, Kelly Kraft, Adam Scott: Sergio will get the crowd going to be sure and as is the case with international golfers, the older they get, the more respect they get from the American crowd.
(7:51 a.m., 10th tee) – Charley Hoffman, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Reed: This could be a good group because you never know what Captain America (Reed) will do. He loves getting the fans going so let’s see what happens here.
(8:02 a.m., 10th tee) – Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose: Three of the top players in the world, all with a shot to win here. Outside of Tiger and Phil, Fowler is arguably the most popular player in the game. If Bubba and his pink driver can find the fairways, look out.
(8:24 a.m., 10th tee) – Brooks Koepka, Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari): Three of the top choices to win the tournament in the same group for the first two rounds guarantees great golf to watch. The crowds will be huge and loud with these three. It’s a great grouping for Molinari who melted down when paired with Woods at the Masters in the final round. He now has a chance to redeem that performance.
(1:16 p.m., 1st tee) – Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth: Two bombers and Spieth playing together in another group with shots at winning. The key for Spieth is to not get caught up in the long-range capabilities of Rahm and DJ. Find the fairways and if the putting stroke comes back, Spieth has a shot as well.
(1:27 p.m., 1st tee) – Pat Perez, Kevin Kisner, Bryson DeChambeau: I have this group on my list for a couple of reasons. Perez is just fun to watch play the game and when he is on, he can go low. Kisner is probably the best player the casual fan has never heard of. He’s got all the tools and he’s been playing well. DeChambeau has seen his star and recognition grow greatly in the last couple of years.
(1:38 p.m., 1st tee) – Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Jason Day: While Tiger’s group will be the most popular in the morning wave, this super-group will be equally as popular in the afternoon. Mickelson is beloved by the New York sporting public and it will show. McIlroy and Day have a large fan bases as well, so expect the crowd – which will have had plenty of time to sip their adult beverages – to be wild and crazy.
So, who wins?
I will go with either Koepka or Johnson, but as usual I will be rooting for Tiger. This will be a good gage towards building a strong opinion for next month’s Open at Pebble Beach, although the greens at Pebble will be much tougher than at Bethpage. Can Tiger win? Yes, he can, and we will get a good feel for his game in the first round as he has been off since his Masters win.
By Dennis Miller