As birdies abound, the PGA provides plenty of major fun

A scoreboard full of red numbers has made this PGA Championship one to remember. (Photo: AP)
A scoreboard full of red numbers has made this PGA Championship one to remember. (Photo: AP)

We're told that majors are supposed to be tests of survival, says AP Columnist Tim Dahlberg, but this PGA Championship is proving that you can identify the best players by letting them make birdies instead of forcing them to grovel for pars.

By Tim Dahlberg, AP Sports Columnist

MEDINAH, Ill. (AP) -- The volunteers manning the scoreboard just off the third green at Medinah Country Club didn't stand a chance.

It wasn't just that they were running out of red numbers, which they were. So many players were going so low that there wasn't enough room for all of them on the board.

Not that you could blame the people keeping score. They came here expecting to work a major championship. Instead, a Bob Hope Classic broke out.

About the only thing missing was the late comedian and his buddies playing alongside Tiger Woods. As easy as Medinah was playing, they might have had a chance to get under par, too.

Everybody else seemed to be on a humid Saturday in the third round of the PGA Championship, where birdies were flowing more freely than the beer in the corporate hospitality tents.

It was so easy that even Woods couldn't bring himself to say he grinded this one out.

"In most major championships, you make pars and sprinkle in a couple birdies here and there, you're looking pretty good," Woods said. "Today you would have just been run over."

Woods, of course, was doing a lot of the running. His 65 seemed effortless, which had to give pause to Luke Donald, who shares the lead with him at 14-under after three rounds.

By now we expect that kind of thing from Woods. He is, after all, arguably the greatest golfer ever.

Mike Weir is another matter. Sure, he's got a green jacket, but the short-hitting Canadian wasn't supposed to be flirting with a major championship record or shooting a round of 65 himself on a course stretched out to 7,561 yards.

Golf purists had to be aghast. Major championships are supposed to be tests of survival, with the winner dripping in sweat and caked in dirt after navigating his way through thin fairways, thick rough and hard-baked greens.

That's the way they do it at the U.S. Open, where Geoff Ogilvy never sniffed a round in the 60s and won despite shooting 5-over-par at Winged Foot. The 18th hole was so hard that Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie almost didn't finish it.

The folks at the U.S. Golf Association like that kind of thing because it tends to separate the Tigers and Phils from the Shaun Micheels and K.J. Chois, who, not surprisingly, are on this leader board.

"We're not trying to embarrass the best players in the world," former USGA official Sandy Tatum once famously said. "We're trying to identify them."

The stuffed shirts who run the Masters feel the same way. They began growing rough and injecting holes with steroids after Woods and his fellow long hitters began taking advantage of a course that offered little resistance to modern balls and titanium drivers.

Bobby Jones wouldn't recognize the par-4 11th hole at Augusta National, which has now grown to 505 yards. The way things are going, they'll have to knock down a few Waffle Houses on the main road next to the course to keep the long knockers at bay.

There aren't any such worries at the PGA Championship, which welcomed players this week with a course almost as accommodating as the catered suites that line fairways to give the wealthy a spot to get away from the unwashed masses.

The rough was respectable, but it wasn't that difficult to find a golf ball in it, assuming you somehow missed the wide fairways. The greens were soft to begin with, but rain on Friday made it look as though players were shooting Velcro balls from the fairway.

Conditions were ripe for scoring. And the best players in the world didn't wait long to take advantage of them.

A record 60 of them were under par the first day. That record lasted until the second day, when 61 were in red numbers.

On Saturday, there were so many good shots that CBS had trouble keeping up with them. On the course, roars came from so many corners that fans looked like bobble-head dolls trying to follow the action.

And you know what? It didn't cheapen the last major of the year a bit.

The best player in the world was still on top of the leader board, a good indication that the game of golf was somehow still intact. Apparently you can identify the best players by letting them make birdies as well as you can by forcing them to grovel for pars.

Know something else? It was fun.

Fans like seeing players at their best. They want to see Woods hit a 3-iron 250 yards over water to within 8 feet of the hole, as he did on the par-3 13th. They enjoy watching Mickelson making four birdies in the first seven holes to get in contention.

The drama on Sunday figures to extend deep into the back nine because everyone who tees it up believes he has a chance to shoot 65. Someone will win this major championship, rather than losing it the way Mickelson did with a double bogey on 18 at Winged Foot.

When it's all over, it won't matter whether the winner is 20-under-par or 5-over.

The only thing that will count is who has the lowest score.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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