- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2008

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. | Welcome back to the Motown Monster.

After winning the 1951 U.S. Open at 7 over behind a final-round 67 he often described as the greatest of his career, the legendary Ben Hogan stepped to the microphone at the presentation ceremony and uttered the words forever synonymous with Oakland Hills:

“My friends said last night that I might win with a pair of 69s [Hogan closed 71-67]. It seemed too much on this course. It is the hardest course I ever played. I’m glad I brought this course, this monster, to its knees.”

Thanks to one of the thickest stands of rough in major history, the beast has been resurrected for this week’s PGA Championship. The famed Donald Ross design in suburban Detroit always has featured one of the most severe sets of putting surfaces on any golf course. But in the four years since the classic track hosted Europe’s memorable Ryder Cup thrashing of the U.S. team’s dirtied dozen, a pair of massive changes have transformed the putter’s paradise into an unrelenting animal.

First, more than 300 yards were added to the layout courtesy of a handful of new teeboxes, stretching a manageable 7,077-yard layout to the longest par-70 experience (7,395 yards) in major championship history. Second, the rough that was all but a rumor at the 2004 Ryder Cup now looks like a Sumatran stage set.

“The U.S. Open is always known as having the toughest rough, but this week I think the rough is as tough as I’ve ever seen it,” said Kenny Perry, whose three victories in his last seven starts make him the hottest player in the field this week. “I think over par is going to win it.”

Golf’s final major of the season has gone to a red-number champion every year since 1976, when Dave Stockton won the Wanamaker Trophy with a 1-over 281 at Congressional.

Ordinarily, demonic rough and over-par winners are the exclusive domain of the U.S. Open. But the USGA has gone somewhat soft following the Sunday debacle at Shinnecock (2004), introducing graduated rough and more receptive greens in its recent championships.

The PGA, meanwhile, gradually has gone in the opposite direction, introducing stern tests like Whistling Straits (2004) and Oakland Hills to its rota. And for this year at least, the two majors seem to have officially swapped places on the attrition meter.

“The last couple of years, [the PGA Championship] has gotten more like a traditional U.S. Open-type test,” two-time defending 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.”

Aside from Phil Mickelson, players have described this week’s setup at Oakland Hills as the toughest of the major season.

“We’ve had some rain, so this course is very lush and quite green,” veteran Jim Furyk said of this week’s test in comparison to the recent U.S. Open challenge. “[Unlike Torrey Pines], the ball is not traveling a lot in the fairways. The rough is really thick and really thick right off the edge of the fairway, so it’s very tough to play out of.

“I would never consider a Torrey Pines setup easy, but this course is playing much, much longer. … I think there’s a very good chance that Oakland Hills is going to live up to its nickname this week.”

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