By John L. Byrwa, PGA.com Managing Editor
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- It was only Tuesday, but the battle lines had already been drawn at the 85th PGA Championship. And they lie thick and long and gnarly on either side of the famed fairways and around the greens at Oak Hill Country Club.
The scores don't even count yet, but many of the players in the field are already performing painful calculations in their heads should their tee shots and approaches not perform obediently when the season's final major commences Thursday morning.
The emerald-green rough is that penal.
"It's like a penalty shot if you hit it in the rough," Masters champion Mike Weir said Tuesday following his practice round.
According to tournament literature, the rough at Oak Hill, a combination of Bluegrass, ryegrass and Poa, measures 4 inches in height. But after getting an uncomfortable up-close-and-personal look at the stuff during practice rounds, some wonder what kind of ruler they were using.
Wayward golf balls -- not to mention ankles and clubheads -- disappear in the rough like a rock dropped into a murky pond. But as of yet, there's no truth to the rumor that Jimmy Hoffa can be found lying just off the 14th fairway.
"I don't think we've had rough this long and this uniform that's been raked up," Tiger Woods said. "They did it at the Atlanta Athletic Club (in 2001), they raked it up a bit, but not like this. In some spots it's close to eight inches.
"Last time I checked, that's pretty long."
Its growth fueled by unusually high amounts of rainfall and equally unusually high temperatures and humidity the past few weeks, the 40 acres of rough at Oak Hill are predicted to do more to determine the PGA's outcome than the 230 yards added and 78 bunkers rebuilt during Tom Fazio's recent tweaking.
And if the course dries out and the greens firm up -- after more rain Monday, the forecast called for partly cloudy skies with highs in the low 80s throughout the tournament -- the rough will become all the more punishing because balls that once stuck to soft greens like darts in a dart board will bound into the back rough. From there, par will be as rare as Tiger Woods flubbing a flop wedge shot.
"Around the greens, it's very difficult to hit little pitch shots within 10, 12 feet of the hole," Weir said. "But off the tee there's really no chance to advance the ball to the green if you miss the fairway and that's the big thing."
But lest the players think the powers that be at the PGA of America are a group of blue-blazered sadists who enjoy watching courses inflict pain and punishment on the world's best golfers, they best think again.
The wild growth of the rough can be blamed largely on Mother Nature.
"We've had probably close to 3 inches this week, but not the type of rain that comes in and runs off," said Paul Latshaw, the head course superintendent at Oak Hill. "For instance, (Monday) night we had a 1/4-inch of soaking rain, then right after that we had another 1/4-inch of soaking rain, so with the rain and it being so hot and humid it is absolutely conducive to growth right now.
"It's been amazing. We're not trying to do anything to trick it up. I think it's just a function of an external factor with the weather that we can't control."
U.S. champion Jim Furyk thrives on a control game that features accurate tee shots, pin-point iron play and a deadly short game. But even Furyk, fresh off a Buick Open victory during which he hit 13 of 14 fairways in the final round, fears straying too far off line.
"The rough is incredibly long in spots," he said. "It doesn't afford you a chance to play at all in a lot of spots. It's so long, it's almost laying over. So you really have to drive the ball in the fairway, which is difficult here."
Added Weir: "Off the tee, there's really no chance to advance the ball the green if you miss the fairway and that's a big thing. You're going to be hacking it out and leaving yourself 150 yards in for your third shot."
Latshaw said he and his crew were able to mow the rough Tuesday morning, taking off "a good two inches." In five hours, an army of 40 men on mowers made their way around the course but the results left players feeling less than friendly with the stuff.
"Obviously, it's a premium to get the ball in the fairway because you really can't get the ball to the green if you drive it in the rough," Woods said.
Just as you will likely not hoist the Wanamaker Trophy come Sunday night if you can't find the fairway.
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