By John L. Byrwa, PGA.com Managing Editor
Now that you-know-who won't be around to pulverize his course again this year, Poipu Bay Golf Course head professional Mike Castillo is curious to see how mere mortals will fare at the famed Kauai layout, which this Friday and Saturday will play host to its 10th straight PGA Grand Slam of Golf.
"I think Tiger's always played the golf course very well, even on the days when the winds were very strong," Castillo said of the world No. 1. "But it's going to be interesting to see players who don't 'bomb it' come in and play this golf course. You look at the past champions who have won here, Ben Crenshaw was really the only person who didn't bomb it that won. Everybody else bombs it.
"But these four guys, they don't really kill it like Ernie (Els), Tiger, Greg Norman, Tom Lehman. It'll be more golf that we're familiar with looking at as far as distance goes and what kind of shot you're playing into some of these holes. I think it's going to be a lot of fun for us to see."
That may be true. Also true is the possibility "these four guys" -- Masters champion Mike Weir, U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk, British Open champion Ben Curtis and PGA Champion Shaun Micheel, this year's lucky PGA Grand Slam foursome -- will provide many fun moments over their 36-hole shootout.
But it's hard to imagine anything being more fun than watching Woods turn Poipu Bay into his own personal playground. While winning an unprecedented five straight PGA Grand Slam of Golf titles from 1998-02, Woods compiled a career's worth of highlights. Among the best were:
* His scintillating second-round 61 last year that left Rich Beem, Justin Leonard and Davis Love III in his dust during a whopping 14-shot romp;
* His back-to-back eagles within minutes of each other on the par-5 18th that stunned Vijay Singh in 2000;
* His 3-and-2 thumping of Love in 1999 that gave Woods an incredible 10 wins in 14 events.
How dominant has he been in this event? Consider that in his last six PGA Grand Slam of Golf rounds at Poipu Bay, Woods was an eye-popping 34 under par.
But none of that matters now, as a new breed of player will take on Poipu Bay.
"We're very excited about it," said Castillo, who came to Poipu Bay the same year the PGA Grand Slam arrived (1994). "With all four of them being new, and I don't think any of them have been to Kauai, so I know they're looking forward to it. It should be a treat for them to come over as well as play in this event.
"It's the first time in 30 years that we have all first-time major winners, so we're very excited."
An inability to "bomb it" may be the only thing these four major champions lack. They have certainly proven they possess great heart and determination, as well as fantastic golf games.
Weir, the left-handed Canadian, played a gutsy final round at Augusta National last April to claim the green jacket in a playoff over Len Mattiace, canning a knee-knocker of an 8-foot par putt on the 18th hole to save his chances.
Furyk, he of the funky swing and magical short game, practically willed himself to the U.S. Open title on Fathers Day in June, creating an emotional 18th-hole victory celebration with his dad and daughter that will live on forever in highlight films.
Curtis stunned us all in July when he somehow won the British Open at Royal St. George's. We're still trying to figure this one out. If we didn't have the replay as proof, no one would believe that a virtual unknown from Kent, Ohio, could come to Kent, England, and defeat the best in the world to win the first major he ever played in.
Then there's Micheel, Memphis' favorite son. All this unknown did in August was go to Rochester and tame a brutal Oak Hill Country Club course, cementing his place in major championship history with a picture-perfect 7-iron to within inches of the cup on the 72nd hole to win the 85th PGA Championship.
So how will this fearless foursome fare at a course that can turn awfully nasty when the wind starts whipping? Hard to tell. Each one of the four is a solid ball-striker who possesses a silky-smooth putting stroke. But getting to know the subtle nuances of a new course -- especially one with foreign grasses -- takes time, and with only 36 holes to play, inexperience is sure to play a part.
Particularly stiff challenges await at the signature par-4 ninth, which at 452 yards plays into the wind; the 199-yard par-3 17th; and, of course, the four picturesque -- and dangerous -- closing holes that play along the ocean.
But according to Castillo, success or failure at Poipu Bay depends on one factor -- the ever-fickle trade winds that can put some serious teeth into this Robert Trent Jones Jr. design.
"I think all these guys roll the ball really well," Castillo said, "but it's going to be a challenge to try and get acclimated the type of grass we have on the greens. Really, though, it all depends on the weather for us. If it's a two-club wind or more, you're strategy changes as far as placing your ball and managing yourself around the golf course."
Wild winds tend to do wild things to golf balls, meaning we could see many balls in the rough. If so, don't expect to see the same shots hit out of the spinach as we saw with Tiger, Ernie and friends, the ones who can muscle their ball out of the rough and make it look easy. Weir, Furyk, Curtis and Micheel are strong, but not that strong.
"The rough, Tiger makes it seem like there's not much there," Castillo said. "But the average mortal will definitely feel the teeth of the rough. The rough will definitely play a big part."
And if the wind and the course don't get them, there are many other external elements with which to contend. For instance, the views from atop an 80-foot cliff can be quite a distraction, as can the surf crashing against the lava rocks, and the humpback whales drifting by, or the munk seals sunning themselves nearby. And don't forget the incredible mountain and ocean views.
If that's not enough, the four will have to make sure they steer clear of the ancient Hawaiian sacred grounds that dot the course. Called heiau and located at the ninth, 16th, 17th and 18th holes, these shrines are to be avoided at all costs. (Any ball hit into the heiau on this course is considered lost and not retrievable in an attempt to eliminate trampling these historic religious sites.)
"They're a significant place of worship for the Hawaiians that are more than 500 years old," Castillo explains. "Hawaiians really have a great respect for the ocean because of its assets like food and beauty, so a lot of the gods that they had were related to the ocean.
"These heiaus were areas for people to show their appreciation to the ocean. So they were places for offerings and places of prayer and worship."
Without Tiger in the field, someone else actually has a prayer at winning the PGA Grand Slam of Golf.
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