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Retief Goosen won the 2001 U.S. Open, the last major staged at Southern Hills. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Retief Goosen won the 2001 U.S. Open, the last major staged at Southern Hills. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Predicting Southern Hills champ is tall order in Tulsa

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So which is it? Will the PGA Championship produce the fourth first-time major winner of the season, or will one of the game's elite champions claim the season's final major? Melanie Hauser puzzles her way through the list of contenders.

By Melanie Hauser, Correspondent

It was the last thing we had on our mind at the start of the season.

Golf going four-for-four. As in four different winners at golf's majors. And first-time major winners at that.

Yet, it's looking more and more like 2007 just might be another 2003. And the thought of two first-time winner slams in the Tiger Woods era? One is pretty amazing. But two?

Golf never has paid attention to what we think. Or who's who. The best player in the world? A Grand Slam? A record? The golf course could care less. If No. 300-and-something is the guy who figures it all out that week -- think Ben Curtis in 2003 at Royal St. George's -- so be it.

Which makes the 89th PGA Championship at Southern Hills quite the interesting event.

The last time we visited Tulsa was for the 2001 U.S. Open, where Retief Goosen outlasted Mark Brooks in a playoff. And nothing went right on the 72nd hole of regulation.

Phil Mickelson fell by the wayside with a closing 75. So did Stewart Cink, Rocco Mediate and Sergio Garcia. Tiger, who had won his second Masters that year, got off to a slow start and tied for 12th.

That may seem like a lifetime ago. It was, after all, six Tiger and three Mickelson majors ago. But Southern Hills is, well, Southern Hills.

And 2007? Well, we've already seen three first-time surprise winners in Zach Johnson, Angel Cabrera and Padraig Harrington,
so what's one more?

The last time we entered the final major of the year with such possibilities was 2003 when Mike Weir won the Masters, Jim Furyk won the U.S. Open and Curtis came out of serious nowhere -- 396th in the world, playing in his first major ever and a 1,000-to-1 shot before the tournament started -- to win the Open Championship. Notice a trend here?

Yes, Tiger's still the man to beat. Until further notice. The upset of the year may not be three first-time winners as much as Tiger not winning No. 13. There are only two years -- period -- since 1999 that he hasn't won a major -- 2003 and 2004. Don't bet on three.

We could wind up with Phil or Vijay Singh and no one would be surprised. Zach or Angel or Padraig could win a second major this year, too. They're all playing well enough.

Then there are Furyk, Ernie Els, David Toms and Weir -- all poised for another win -- while Justin Leonard and Steve Elkington keep inching closer. Curtis tied for eighth at Carnoustie and Rich Beem, the 2002 PGA champ, shared 20th. All of them would also give us that fourth different winner and give them another major.

give you something to think about going into the year's last chance for glory, as the PGA of America has tabbed it, we came up with a list of contenders for the next first-time winner at a major. And the second slam of such in this century.

At the top of your first-timers list? Sergio.

There but for a passle of putts and some irons that suddenly dove in bunkers instead of finding the flagsticks, went his chance at Carnoustie. But when he came up short at the 72nd hole and messed up the first playoff hole big time, well, that chance flew into the North Sea. The good news here? He's playing well and he tied for 12th at Southern Hills -- thanks to a closing 77. But he's six years older and that much closer this time around. Plus, his best finish in a major before the playoff loss two weeks ago was that second place at the 1999 PGA Championship.

Don't overlook Cink. Granted, it's been easy to do. One of the best players who doesn't get the credit, he's thisclose to winning -- tying for 17th at the Masters and sixth at Carnoustie. The 18th hole bit him in 2001. Don't expect to see that again.

A man whose stock keeps rising is Steve Stricker. Was it only a year ago we were talking about his comeback? A closing 74 didn't help at Carnoustie, but he still tied for eighth. He shared 13th at the U.S. Open, has two second-place finishes in 2007 and, well, owns the kind of game built for a major. Go back to last year and, he had a tie for sixth at the U.S. Open and joint seventh at the PGA Championship. A win here? Wouldn't be a surprise.

Paul Casey is right there, coming off ties for 10th at the Masters and U.S. Open and a tie for 27th at the Open Championship. Don't discount Jerry Kelly, who tied for fifth at the Masters and tied for seventh at the U.S. Open but never got untracked at Carnoustie, where he shared 49th. And Tim Clark? He didn't go to Carnoustie, but did tie for 13th at the Masters and 17th at Oakmont.

Adam Scott is usually at the top of our list, but this hasn't been one of his better major years. Yes, he does have a win in 2007 (Shell Houston Open), but his major finishes are ties for 27th at the Masters and Open and a missed cut at the U.S. Open. Not Scott-like.

Luke Donald (who tied for 10th at the Masters) and Sean O'Hair have been on everyone's lists this year. And what about Chris DiMarco? His best major this year was at tie for 23rd at Carnoustie, but you can't overlook two runner-up finishes in his last 11 majors. Plus, he tied for 16th in 2001. And Lucas Glover? He's one round away from a win and has a major game and two pretty good major finishes this year -- tie for 20th at the Masters and a tie for 27th at the Open Championship.

Two guys on lists for different reasons are Colin Montgomerie and Boo Weekley. Monty hasn't made a major cut yet this season, but he did win on the European Tour. And it wouldn't be a list if he wasn't on it. As for Boo? He charmed them overseas with his down-home style, but folks in Tulsa (hey, it's just north of Texas) won't blink. He's tied for 26th and 35th at the last two majors, though, so don't be surprised to see him on the leaderboard.

Yes, we've thrown a lot of names at you. And some things to think about. We've tried to think of the best names out there.

But after covering mumblesomething majors in the last 33 years, we know one thing -- in a year like this, you just never know.

It's not a Tiger kind of course, yet the year would seem incomplete without a Tiger major. He's still our pick. But this is Southern Hills where, well, anything can happen. And we know there's always a Harrington or a Cabrera or a Curtis out there just waiting -- for the right course and the right time.

Sergio? Cink? Clark? A fourth first-timer? We certainly wouldn't be surprised.

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