- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 11, 2010

SHEBOYGAN, WIS. (AP) - Never mind what the oddsmakers are saying. The best bet to win this wide-open PGA Championship might be one of those players who never got much attention until the trophy ceremony Sunday evening.

Someone like Graeme McDowell. Or Louis Oosthuizen. Or even Lucas Glover.

With five of the last six majors won by first-timers, the days of the biggest names hoarding the best titles may be over. Guys who once only dreamed of hoisting a claret jug or Wanamaker Trophy now look at their unassuming practice-round-buddies-turned-major-champions and think, “Why not me?”

“It’s more tangible,” said Padraig Harrington, who credits Michael Campbell with inspiring his major swing. Two years after Campbell’s victory at the 2005 U.S. Open, the Irishman won the British Open, quickly followed by a second straight claret jug and the 2008 PGA title. “You need that familiarity. You had that in the ‘80s when Seve (Ballesteros) started winning majors and other (European) players followed. Mentally, they could see that it could be done.

“It’s the old story, once the record is broken, a lot of people can follow.”

Of course, breaking through is a lot easier when that guy named Tiger Woods is playing like a mere mortal.

With his personal life in turmoil, so is Woods‘ game. He’s been stuck on 14 majors since the 2008 U.S. Open, and arrived at Whistling Straits fresh off the worst tournament of his career. He beat just one player in the 80-man field last weekend, and shot a whopping 18-over 298 at Firestone _ a course where he’s won seven times.

“I’ll be honest, the feeling in the locker room is slightly different,” Paul Casey said, choosing his words carefully. “With the way (Woods) played the past week, guys feel like this is wide open, and that’s not a feeling that a lot of guys have had before. Graeme McDowell played tremendous golf at the U.S. Open. So did Louis playing his golf at The Open. That, combined with the way Tiger played last week, I think guys now feel there are multiple possible winners this week.

“It’s different. Not a feeling we’ve had in a while.”

Woods could usually be counted on to win at least one major each season and, as recently as 2006, he won two of them. Throw in Phil Mickelson, and the world’s top two players combined to win six of the eight majors in 2005 and ‘06. That’s a formidable club for an up-and-comer to crash.

But with every victory by a Glover or McDowell or Oosthuizen, the majors don’t seem quite so daunting.

Glover was 71st in the world when he won the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. McDowell had to sweat out his exemption to the U.S. Open before holding off Woods, Mickelson and Ernie Els at Pebble Beach. And Oosthuizen had made the cut at only one _ count ‘em, one! _ of his previous eight majors before winning at St. Andrews.

“I think the days of no-names getting in contention on Sunday afternoon and backing up, it doesn’t really happen anymore,” McDowell said. “Guys only have forward gears now, as opposed to anything else. Guys are not scared anymore.”

As if there was any doubt, just look at who McDowell turned to for inspiration Sunday at Pebble Beach, when Woods, Mickelson and Els _ multiple major winners, all of them _ were chasing him.

Not Nick Faldo.

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