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The mancing bunkering around the 14th green at Southern Hills is typical of the dangers that lurk at every corner. (Photo: Getty Images)
The mancing bunkering around the 14th green at Southern Hills is typical of the dangers that lurk at every corner. (Photo: Getty Images)

TOUR Insider: Most 'complete major examination' yet

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It's not just the tough par 4s, or the pitched greens, or the gnarly rough that make Southern Hills a major championship course. But throw in an oppressive Oklahoma heat, and you have one uniquely tough test, according to PGATOUR.com's Dave Shedloski.

By Dave Shedloski, PGATOUR.com Senior Correspondent

The return of the PGA Championship to Southern Hills Country Club marks a record fourth time that the year's final major will be decided in Tulsa, Okla. While the scores may not indicate it, do not be surprised if the 89th PGA is the most complete major championship examination of 2007.

Southern Hills might be a mere 7,131 yards, but the par-70 layout is fraught with vexing characteristics. Its series of rolling tree-lined par-4s are a considerable challenge as they bend and turn while the ground on which they run twists in odd directions. The greens have such pitch and cant that they favor only the most well-struck approach shots, even if they have to be kept relatively soft lest they perish in the August heat. Deciphering the breaks on those surfaces makes Southern Hills the equal of Augusta and Oakmont.

What will further test the field of 156 players (which owns a combined 51 major titles) is a setup that features shaved banks and chipping areas around some of the raised greens, which offers options to players trying to recover. Lining the fairways is about 2 ? inches of Bermuda rough, just enough to force the hand of some desperate to get home in regulation.

"I think it's one of the best set-ups we've seen," said 2005 PGA champion Phil Mickelson, who visited Southern Hills last week. "The rough is such that you might have a shot at the green or be able to do something with it. It's going to help to separate the players who are playing well because you can hit some shots instead of just everybody getting the same result (and having to chop out)."

Finally, there is the sweltering Tulsa heat to contend with. Fitness matters in golf, but rarely is that obvious. Not so this week, where temperatures are expected to hover around or reach triple digits. All majors force sweaty palms, but this one is going to be hot enough to make golfers perspire even under their fingernails.

The good news for many of the contestants is that they should be ready, having been toughened by the test of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio. Tiger Woods won for a sixth time at Firestone Country Club's South Course, but the setup was a literal bogeyman that claimed most of the headlines. The weather was hot and the South Course featured hard fairways and greens and toe-tripping rough. Woods was the only player to shoot under par.

That kind of examination might make Southern Hills seem less troublesome by comparison.

"It's as tough as any major, with the rough high, and the fairways here are almost impossible to hit -- some of them -- as narrow and firm as they are," Stewart Cink said. "You come off this week feeling like you got beat up by a major championship course, and then you get to go to the PGA. You're mentally going to be ready after this week."

"The rough isn't going to be as high, the fairways aren't going to be as narrow, the greens are going to be as fast," said former British Open champion Ben Curtis, comparing Firestone to what awaits the field at Southern Hills. "The one benefit is that you will leave here knowing what you have to work on."

Worth knowing:

No. 1 Tiger Woods, coming off his eight-stroke victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, is the obvious favorite heading to Southern Hills, but for only the third time he is entering the PGA having played the week prior. In 2000 he won at Valhalla after finishing joint 11th at the Buick Open. In '02 he won Buick, but was second to Rich Beem at the PGA.

Woods, who only three times in his career has had a year without a major triumph, hasn't had great success at Southern Hills, watching his string of four straight major victories come to an end in the 2001 U.S. Open. Something more: Only twice has Woods suffered streaks of at least four consecutive bogeys in his professional career. The first, interestingly, came at the 1996 TOUR Championship at Southern Hills, where he carded a double bogey and four bogeys on holes 2-6 in the second round.

Phil Mickelson said the wrist injury that hampered him at the U.S. Open is no longer an issue. But his putting is a real pain. "I'm not sure that I've hit it any better than I'm hitting it right now. In my life I don't think I've hit it better," Mickelson said. "But I don't think I've ever putted worse. So that's where I'm at."

Look for Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke, fully healthy now after suffering a torn hamstring in the spring, to be wielding a new putter this week. He gave his old one to a young spectator after the third round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Mark Calcavecchia also ditched his flat stick in favor of a new wand. Vijay Singh has put new shafts in his irons, replacing his steel with scandium. And Kenny Perry has employed the new TaylorMade R7 irons, with which he says he has gained nearly 15 yards.

There are local ties to consider this week: Tulsa resident Bo Van Pelt snuck into the field
Sunday as an alternate. He joins other
Oklahoma State products: Hunter Mahan, Charles Howell III and Scott Verplank. And don't forget Bob Tway, who is the 1986 PGA champion.

Nick Price dominated the 1994 PGA at Southern Hills, winning by six shots. He is not in the field, but the runner-up is - Corey Pavin. The only other top-10 finishers from that event returning are Mickelson (third) and Steve Elkington and Jose Maria Olazabal (tie seventh). The only other players returning who finished as high as 25th are Ernie Els and '88 champion Jeff Sluman.

As for the '01 Open at Southern Hills, all but two of the top 10 finishers are playing this week, led by winner Retief Goosen, runner-up Mark Brooks, the '96 PGA winner, and third-place Stewart Cink. The others: Rocco Mediate (fourth), '93 champ Paul Azinger (T-5), and four men who tied for seventh - reigning U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera, two-time PGA champ Vijay Singh, '97 winner Davis Love, and Mickelson.

There are 66 international players in the PGA field from 23 countries, the largest foreign-born contingent in tournament history. The last international champion other than Singh is Steve Elkington in 1995.

TOUR Insider's power ranking for the 89th PGA Championship: 1. Tiger Woods, 2. Scott Verplank, 3. Phil Mickelson, 4. Justin Rose, 5. Chris DiMarco.

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