- The Washington Times - Friday, August 8, 2008

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich.

There’s nothing worse than a golf tournament that features neither wreckage nor rapture.

That was the result during Thursday’s opening round of the 90th PGA Championship, however, as the bulk of the field slogged around Oakland Hills in rather indifferent fashion.

Neither Robert Karlsson nor Jeev Milkha Singh, the foreign pair tenuously perched atop the leader board after posting matching 68s, is a threat to make anyone forget that Tiger Woods isn’t in attendance. Karlsson is the personification of the stolid Swedish stereotype. And even Jeev refers to himself as “golf’s other [Vijay] Singh.”

And while Thursday’s opener was a relative jaunt in the sunshine juxtaposed with last month’s Brutish Open at Birkdale, there was a bit of carnage on display. That’s inevitable at any major and expected on a 7,395-yard, par-70 course Ben Hogan dubbed “The Monster” at the 1951 U.S. Open. The average score for the day was a shade under 75, well north of the PGA Championship norm. And more than one player stalked out of the scorer’s hut ready to strap a few choice adjectives on the setup.

“If you are slightly off line, you are crucified,” said Lee Westwood (77), directing his gall at Oakland Hills’ relentless rough. “In my opinion, it’s too thick around the greens as well. It takes the skill away from chipping. You don’t need it. The course is 7,500 yards long, the greens are firm, and the pins are tucked away. They are sucking the fun out of the major championships when you set it up like that. … I sound as if I am moaning, which I am, but it is a great shame as it is a fantastic golf course. There is no need to play it as it is.”

Said veteran Paul Goydos of the recent architectural changes executed by Open doctor Rees Jones: “If you asked that guy to redesign Scrabble, he’d probably take out all the vowels.”

But on a day defined by beige play and bile-driven commentary, perhaps the highlight was watching the marquee twentysomething grouping of Sergio Garcia (69), Anthony Kim (70) and Camilo Villegas (74) spar with the Mowtown Monster.

El Nino, AK and Spider-Man commanded the day’s largest gallery. If the event attempted to isolate the game’s three most tantalizing sub-30 players, perhaps Argentina’s Andres Romero would have been a better third than Villegas. Unlike Villegas, the 27-year-old has won on the PGA Tour (Zurich Classic of New Orleans).

As if to prove the point, Romero held steady at 2 under when play was suspended because of darkness Thursday night. But strangely, the PGA of America didn’t consult The Washington Times before concocting its pairings. In spite of that oversight, however, the opening-round adventures of Garcia and Kim proved worth the price of admission.

Garcia managed the unthinkable on two counts at Oakland Hills. First, he posted a 69 in spite of hitting just four fairways, an unthinkable feat on a track where the rough is virtual lateral hazard. Second, he authored his Houdini performance thanks to his putter (26 putts), an unthinkable feat for a player who ranks 191st on the PGA Tour in putting (29.96 putts) and was last seen yipping 18-inchers at Birkdale.

“I scrambled nicely. I putted good. I chipped good,” Garcia said. “Hopefully, I can go to the range and get a little bit more confidence in my driving abilities, because you have to be in the fairway on this course. … It was a great pairing, though. I think this is the first tournament round I’ve played with Anthony, and it’s very impressive.”

If Garcia maximized his ball-striking on the scorecard, Kim did the opposite. Already a two-time winner on the PGA Tour this season (Wachovia Championship and AT&T; National), Kim roller-coastered through his day with three birdies, an eagle and five bogeys. His sloppiest error came at the 18th, where he turned a 3-foot birdie putt into a three-putt bogey.

“It happens,” Kim said. “Hopefully I won’t make those mistakes tomorrow. I need to be more patient, and not give away strokes to the field, because that’s exactly what I did today. … At majors I know there are times when you just have to play to the middle of the green and try to two-putt. I’m trying to get that through my head, but sometimes my body doesn’t listen.”

After a rather desultory opening day at Oakland Hills, the best news for a PGA Championship in desperate need of an identity is that while neither Garcia nor Kim was in top form, both still managed to etch their name’s on the leader board.

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