A Coronation at Kiawah
At the halfway point of the PGA Championship at the Kiawah Island Ocean Course, the 36 hole co-leaders were Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods at 4 under par. Both men had survived the most brutal round in PGA Championship history that was the second round. The average score for the field on that day was over 78 strokes. The ageless 49 year old Singh shot an amazing 69, while Woods would shoot a 1-under 71.
Both men would shoot third round 74’s that would effectively remove them from serious contention. For Singh this may have been his last hurrah at a Major Championship. He will be 50 by the time the next one rolls around at Augusta. For Woods, he still seems to be fighting demons with his swing. He sets up now to hit a cut shot, and is often times either late with his arms and hits a block shot well to the right of his target or he pulls (especially with his driver) shots way to the left. It is hard to argue with the greatness that is Woods, but we would suggest that the Woods swing of 2000-2004, was not only his best, but perhaps the best of all time.
Adam Scott, who so painfully squandered a four shot lead with 4 holes to play at the British Open 3 weeks ago, showed considerable courage to once again be in contention at Kiawah. Scott began his final round at 3 under par, and only four shots behind. He would play a good final round and finish in 11th place. It is a testament to his resiliency though that he was a factor here at all. The whole golf world will surely applaud the gracious Australian when he does finally break through to claim his first Major.
Graeme McDowell would again be a leading actor in the stage that is a Major Championship. The Northern Irishman, who had played in the final group of both the US Open and the British Open this year, was a factor until a careless double bogey 6 on the last hole of his 3rd round would prove too big a deficit to come back from. McDowell would shoot a final round 71, good for a tie for eleventh place.
Carl Pettersson, the transplanted Swede who now lives in South Carolina, was a consistent contender and led after the first round with a brilliant 6-under par 66. He would continue to hover around the leaderboard in the second and third rounds, but was victim to a terrible piece of bad luck on his opening hole of the final round. During his backswing the self-effacing Pettersson, hit a dead leaf, which resulted in a two shot penalty (hitting the dead leaf on his backswing constituted grounding his club in a hazard). After putting out for what he thought was a par he was told of the infraction by Tour officials.
One of the quirky nuances of Kiawah is that there are no bunkers. The course however, is strewn with “sandy areas” (a great many of which look very much like bunkers) in which a player is allowed to ground their club and even take practice swings. Although the area Pettersson hit his tee shot into on the first hole was clearly marked as a hazard, it is easy to see where the players get confused. Rather than being dismantled, the 34 year old 5 time Tour winner, then birdied 4 of his next six holes to be at 6 under par for the tournament and four shots behind the leader, Rory McIlroy. Pettersson shot a closing round 72 in a tie for third.
McIlroy had sandwiched a very respectable 75 in Friday’s horrific conditions between two textbook 67’s to begin the final round three shots clear of the field at 7 under par.
The 23 year old McIlroy, who had been mired in a slump of sorts over the previous two months, was swinging the club flawlessly. When on, his long and languid motion creates such effortless power, it is like Itzhak Perlman playing his violin. On occasions like this, when all facets of his game are in perfect harmony, it is like Beethoven conducting a complete symphony. It is exquisite to watch. The only other modern day players who could so completely dominate a tournament are Woods and the iconic Aussie, Greg Norman.
Sunday’s biggest moves came from a trio of Englishmen. Justin Rose closed with a superb 66 to finish at 4 under par for the tournament and Ian Poulter who blistered the opening 7 holes of Kiawah (the area of the course that you can score on) in a scintillating 6 under par. Three consecutive bogeys from the 14th to 16th holes would be Poulter’s undoing as he could not keep up his other-worldly play of the front 9, finishing at 4 under and in a tie for 3rd. Unheralded journeyman David Lynn, playing in only his second Major Championship, played a fine closing round of 68 to finish in second place.
Although the previous 3 Majors this year, would have one believe that no lead is safe and no winner certain until the final putt has been dropped, this final round became a procession for McIlroy. Bisecting every fairway with his drives and carving glorious iron shots to the perfect position, McIlroy was in complete command of his craft. On the rare occasion that he missed a green, his short game proved every bit as supreme as his long game.
In a performance that matched his 9 shot triumph at last years’ US Open at Congressional, McIlroy would shoot a bogey-free final round 66, which was fittingly capped by a closing hole birdie. The 8 shot winning margin would break Jack Nicklaus’ scoring record for margin of victory in the PGA Championship.
At 23 years and 3 months of age, he has now won his second Major Championship faster by three months than Woods won his second.
He is gracious and composed beyond his years, and as prodigious a talent as there has ever been.
Golf has a new king.