- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2008

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. | The 90th PGA Championship is desperately seeking a savior.

With Tiger Woods on the shelf, Brett Favre on the move and the Olympics on the docket, golf’s final major of the season finds itself teetering on the edge of double bogey in the buzz department.

The semiretired Greg Norman surfaced at Royal Birkdale to save the British Open’s ratings. Can anyone at Oakland Hills emerge to turn the same trick at this week’s tussle for the Wanamaker Trophy? Phil Mickelson has the name to salvage the PGA Championship, but his game fits this week’s venue like a tutu on Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis.

Lefty has long been among golf’s wildest players off the tee. Sure, Mickelson hits it deep, but he ranks 188th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy. That’s a lousy recipe for success at Oakland Hills, a 7,395-yard, par-70 beast with the nastiest stand of rough a Slam has seen in some time.

“If you hit the ball in the rough, it’s almost impossible to get the ball on the green,” Masters champion Trevor Immelman said of this week’s daunting setup. “I think the guys who come out here this week and hit the ball really accurately off the tee are going to be the guys who come out on top at the end of the week.”

Oakland Hills is also the longest par-70 course in major history. And it’s soft, so the winning formula also requires a fair bit of length.

“You’ve got to hit driver. You’ve got to hit it long, and you’ve got to hit it straight,” two-time reigning British Open champion Padraig Harrington said. “But these greens are also extremely difficult to putt on. … It’s a pretty thorough test. It’s a brute.”

A brute favoring the game’s best combination of total drivers (a stat combining length and accuracy), while requiring competent work on the greens, particularly in the lag-putting category. So much for Sergio Garcia, the can’t-putt king of his generation.

Taking those factors into account, three players stand above the crowd at Oakland Hills: Jim Furyk, Kenny Perry and Anthony Kim.

All three are phenomenal drivers of the ball. Furyk and Kim are also accomplished with the short stick, though Perry is in the midst of the best putting season of his career.

“My putting has always held me back, but for the past three months I’ve putted better than I’ve ever putted in my life,” said the 47-year-old, who has three victories in his last seven starts. “If I putt somewhere near like I’ve putted this summer, I’ve got a great shot this week.”

Unfortunately, neither the provincial Perry nor the beige-humored Furyk has the personality to nudge the needle in the Q-rating department. That leaves Kim as the one player in the field this week who has both the requisite skill set and the charisma to push the PGA to the top of the pile in an overcrowded sports landscape.

“I feel like right now I’m hot and I’m definitely in the eyes of the public,”the 23-year-old said. “I think that people would say that I’m the best or consider me on of the best [players] under 30, and I consider it an honor. But I still have to go out there and work hard and get the job done.”

Thus far this season, his second on tour, Kim has collected two victories (Wachovia Championship and AT&T; National) to secure his place on the U.S. Ryder Cup team and his position as the game’s next uber-talent.

Kim has always idolized Woods, and he sounded much like the 14-time major champion when he described his recent performances in the media center Wednesday.

“Well, I’ve come off three disappointing weeks,” said Kim, lamenting his indifferent Sunday play at the British Open (tied for seventh) and Canadian Open (T8). “I’m really fired up and ready to go.”

There’s little doubt that Kim has the talent to tame the Monster, but there’s still some doubt as to whether he’s psychologically ready to such a massive step in his career development. If Kim can make the major leap, he will get sports’ attention by providing the PGA with a compelling story line, and he will send a message to the convalescing Woods.

“Obviously, when he comes back, he’s going to come back firing on all cylinders, so we’d all better be ready,” Kim said. “I’d love to put on a good show this week.”

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