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Straying into the trees might not automatically spell doom for Darren Clarke and his fellow competitors. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images) 
Straying into the trees might not automatically spell doom for Darren Clarke and his fellow competitors. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images) 

Surprisingly, some players might have it made in the shade

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The countless trees that line the crooked fairways at Southern Hills surely indicate that hitting fairways is crucial. There are, however, some areas of rough around the trees where the grass isn't too thick and the lies aren't too forbidding. 

By Dave Shedloski, PGATOUR.com Senior Correspondent

TULSA, Okla. -- In case anyone hasn't yet figured it out, fairways and greens are the desired destinations for contestants in the 89th PGA Championship. But some lucky players could find some semblance of sanctuary under the innumerable trees that line the corridors of steamy Southern Hills Country Club -- and not just for shade.

There are patches of secret gardens at the Perry Maxwell layout that starting Thursday hosts its record fourth PGA Championship, and they are located under the hundreds of hardwoods. While the rough is predominantly a pernicious 2-plus inches of wiry Bermuda grass, the turf under the trees extending to the drip lines is a more amiable strain of fescue barely an inch and growing haphazardly.

In some places the fescue merely encircles the trees. But in other spots the fescue extends for 20-30 yards at a stretch and is very much in play.

In the landing area left of the short seventh, for instance, fescue runs to within six feet of the half-inch first cut. Left of the landing area at the ninth are several wide swatches of manageable fescue. Even with low-hanging limbs to steer under, over or around, these spots are much more likely to yield recovery attempts than the heavy Bermuda rough, which, incidentally, was being watered throughout the day Wednesday.

"You want to hit it down the sprinklers this week for sure, but you could get lucky under the trees, " said Kenny Perry, the 1996 PGA Championship runner-up. "It might not be a lot of luck, but you might get a lie you can work with."

Interestingly, though the rough is a bit more penal than it was for the 2001 U.S. Open won by Retief Goosen, the trees won't be as much of a hindrance after stray drives. An April ice storm knocked down thousands of limbs. The club decided to cut back many others.

"You might find a few shots under the trees," Paul Goydos allowed.

The primary Bermuda rough is another story. Most balls are sinking to the bottom. Most of the field will not be in range to reach the green from the rough if they?re over 150 yards away, figures Corey Pavin, who finished second to Nick Price in the 1994 PGA Championship at Southern Hills when it measured 6,824 yards; it will play 7,121 yards this week.

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"It seems very similar (to '94)," said Pavin, who classified his performance 13 years ago, when he finished five shots behind Price, as a victory "in the B Flight."

"You could get an occasional good lie, but unless you're Tiger or a few of the other guys, it's going to be difficult to move it onto the green from any real distance," Pavin said.

Said Goosen: "I remember you could have a go at the green (in the U.S. Open), some shots out of the rough. But a few times in the rough, I couldn't get the ball to the green. I think the scoring is going to be a little bit higher than it was in 2001."

Steve Flesch, who won last week's Reno-Tahoe Open, said it might not always be wise to go for the green from out of the rough. "You might be able to knuckle something up there, but can you get it to stay on?"

Good question. The renovated greens are being watered so that they stay alive in the stifling heat, but they are still running fast. Shots that go over most greens leave very tricky chip shots form the thick rough. Stephen Ames hit his approach to No. 9 four yards over the green. His flop shot barely cleared the back edge, and he watched his ball trickle all the way to the front.

If it's not thick collars, players will have to contend with equally dangerous shaved areas, such as behind the second green, the front of the sixth green or right of the seventh green -- all, incidentally, that lead to water hazards. Sergio Garcia, experimenting at No. 7 Wednesday morning, simply dropped a ball on the fringe and watched it feed all the way into the stream.

Almost universally, players have stepped up and said the PGA of America, spearheaded by PGA Managing Director of Tournaments Kerry Haigh, has the par-70 dogleg-heavy layout prepared splendidly.

"I think all the players are really enjoying the way Southern Hills is set up," said 2005 PGA Champion Phil Mickelson. "It's set up difficult, but it's fair. It's got opportunities for players to separate themselves, whether it be shots out of the rough, shots around the greens, chances to make putts."

"The golf course is as good as I've seen it," said Oklahoman Scott Verplank, who has played Southern Hills as much as anyone in the field. "You'd have to search far and wide to find a better golf course than this the way it's set up."

But players should stay on the straight and narrow if they hope to conquer it.

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