That number on the scorecard is huge, but manageable

Jim Furyk and caddie Mike Cowan know that Medinah will be no pushover. (Photo: Getty Images)
Jim Furyk and caddie Mike Cowan know that Medinah will be no pushover. (Photo: Getty Images)

At 7,561 yards, Medinah is on paper the longest course ever to host a major. But the players who took a crack at it on Monday believe that, on a hole-by-hole basis, the lengthy layout is full of testing but fair challenges.

MEDINAH, Ill. (AP) -- Tiger Woods held a yardage book in his left hand and a putter in his right hand, casually rapping a dozen or so putts on the 18th green at Medinah Country Club and stopping every so often to jot down notes.

The PGA Championship features the longest course in major championship history at 7,561 yards.

Woods offered a reminder Monday morning that the shortest distances -- those found on the reshaped greens of Medinah -- usually go a long way toward determining the winner.

The yardage is daunting, but ultimately it's just a number on the scorecard.

"This is the longest ever?" Stephen Ames asked with an incredulous look. "Geez, I must be hitting it miles."

Maybe it felt short to Ames because he played only 13 holes on Monday, so he saw only 5,471 yards of Medinah. Then again, the longest club he had into a par 4 during his brief journey was a 6-iron on the 471-yard 12th hole.

"And that was slightly into the wind," Ames said.

Not everyone feels that way.

Arron Oberholser, who has average length off the tee, played the back nine and it was about all he could handle.

"It felt like 4,000 yards," Oberholser said.

He was close -- the back nine measures only 3,822 yards.

"I wonder if they're trying to do that?" he continued, alluding to the PGA Championship having the longest major championship course three times since 1999. "If they are trying, they have accomplished it quite magnificently."

Then there's Jeff Sluman, the poster boy for short hitters, who was asked if he has ever played a course he thought was too long.

"Every week," he replied.

Once the laughter subsided, including his own, Sluman dissected the length at the No. 3 course and didn't find it all that frightening.

Unlike two years ago in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, or at Winged Foot two months ago at the U.S. Open, none of the par 4s at Medinah are over 500 yards. And remember, this is a par 72, so some of the length comes from the four par 5s, including the 605-yard 14th hole that Woods managed to reach in two during a practice round a few weeks ago.

"You guys place more emphasis on length than we do," Sluman said. "I don't look at a scorecard and say, 'Oh my God, it's 7,561 yards.' I look at the first hole and it's 434 yards, and what do I have to do to hit on the green?"

Even so, it seems to be a game to see which course can be the longest.

It started seven years ago at Medinah when the 7,401-yard course was the longest for a major at sea level. Columbine Country Club was 7,436 yards in the mile-high air outside Denver for the 1967 PGA Championship.

Then came Bethpage Black. The U.S. Open doesn't usually have the longest course because it prefers a par 70, although Bethpage measured 7,214 yards and by one yard was the longest for a U.S. Open.

Whistling Straits became the longest for a major at 7,514 yards for the 2004 PGA, with three par 4s at least 500 yards. Winged Foot broke the U.S. Open record by stretching to 7,264 yards.

And while the Masters is not breaking any distance records, it might be the toughest at 7,445 yards because most of the holes require the second shot to carry all the way to the green.

Is an 8,000-yard course on the horizon?

"It's kind of like moving to a new neighborhood where everybody wants to build a bigger house than the last guy who built one," Jim Furyk said. "Eight thousand? It will happen someday. I'll be long gone and retired. I have a feeling they will probably tone things back probably quicker than we'll get to 8,000 yards. But I would never rule it out."

The changes in length were somewhat subtle at Medinah. A few tee boxes have been moved back, specifically No. 1 (it played only 388 yards in 1999) and No. 13, a par 3 over Lake Kadijah that was 219 yards in 1999 and now measures 244 yards. It's long enough that Oberholser is thinking of taking out his 3-iron and replacing it with a 21-degree utility club.

But for sheer length, Medinah might not be the monster it appears to be on the scorecard.

"I think this plays shorter than Winged Foot," Oberholser said. "Here, it's all right in front of you. You really don't have to curve your ball off the tee, but you have to keep it in play."

The longest club he played into a par 4 was a 5-iron on Nos. 12 and 16.

Furyk wants to wait until the end of the week before determining whether Medinah played to its full yardage, and some of that will depend on the weather. Any rain this week, which is always likely in Chicago during the summer, would limit the roll on the fairway and bring long irons and fairway metals out of the bag for second shots into par 4s.

After his first look, however, Furyk figured Augusta National (7,445 yards) has played the longest of any U.S. major this year. Royal Liverpool was 7,258 yards at the British Open, but the fairways were brown, crisp and allowed for 2-irons that traveled 300 yards.

"You can play a golf course that's 7,300 yards that can feel long, and you can play a golf course that plays 7,400 or 7,500 yards that doesn't feel long at all," he said.

That doesn't mean he expects Medinah to be a pushover.

"Yeah, it's a number on the card," Furyk said of the yardage. "But I would be shocked if any of you all decided by the end of the week that 7,561 yards was short. It's still long. It's not short. It's not even average. But we hit the ball a lot farther that we used to. It's manageable."

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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