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Jim Furyk is finding the greens especially challenging this week. (Franklin/Getty Images)

Oakland Hills playing up to its recalcitrant best

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Through two rounds of the PGA Championship, Oakland Hills is living up to its reputation as one of golf's most fearsome tests. The rough is thick, the greens are firm, and the fun has just begun.

By Dave Shedloski, PGATOUR.COM Senior Correspondent

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Oakland Hills Country Club established its recalcitrant reputation throughout nine decades as a quintessential U.S. Open golf course, having six times hosted the national championship.

Nothing has occurred this week to alter that perception. Through two rounds of the 90th PGA Championship, contestants have had the unmistakable feeling that the South Course at Oakland Hills is putting on its seventh Open instead of its third PGA.

"It is a U.S. Open. It's as simple as that," Aaron Baddeley said Friday afternoon after a second consecutive 71 and 2-over-par 142 total easily placed him among the leaders in the year's final major. "There's one guy under par right now, and conditions are exactly like the U.S. Open, rough being thick, greens being firm and crusty, and it's playing tough."

Baddeley speaks for the masses. "Tough" was the word on the tip of everyone's tongue - when players were more or less biting them. When they weren't, there was a bit of a blue hue in references to lush and punishing green rough and the purple and pernicious burnt-out greens.

"It's a major. We all know that. But I think it, unfortunately, eliminated a lot of the better players just because of the setup that they did," Steve Flesch said following an impressive afternoon 70 that he described as the best scrambling he's done in years. "The only thing I'm bummed about is it's taken a lot of the 20 best players in the world out on the weekend, and at a major championship, that's who you want. The only noise I heard was somebody getting hit by a golf ball and they grunt - no birdie cheers."

That was mild. Opined England's Ian Poulter, whose observations were as colorful as his wardrobe usually is: "What the PGA is doing is slitting your throat on the first tee and then seeing if you can make it 18 holes."

Poulter's observation aside, the only color in truly short supply Friday was red. J.B. Holmes, at 1 under 139, is the only player sitting under par after 36 holes following a 2-under 68, which was one of the six sub-par scores on the day. One shot behind a trio of players, including former British Open champion Ben Curtis and England's Justin Rose, who cobbled together 67s, low for the championship.

The scoring average for the 155 players who traversed the 7,379-yard layout was a hefty 74.839. Seventy-three players made the cut at 8-over 148, the second-highest cut of the year following the previous major, the British Open at windswept and chilly Royal Birkdale.

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Ten men failed to break 80, including Colin Montgomerie, whose 84 was a personal high and career low point in his major championship career.

"I think everyone's coming in having stories, and I've got my own story," Montgomerie said with what can only be described as a well-displayed stiff upper lip. "I think the conditions added to the score. But I wasn't playing very well."

The story of this Open ...
er, PGA Championship in the second round was a blustery wind playing havoc with club selection and balls in the air while simultaneously drying out the severely undulating putting surfaces. When hitting the green wasn't a problem, then staying on them was.

"It's a great layout tee to green and it's difficult, and then you get to the greens and it's another story - that much more difficult," said Jim Furyk, who made one of the two birdies scored at the 498-yard par-4 18th hole Friday to shoot 77 and make the cut on the number. "The golf course changed dramatically from Wednesday to Thursday and even more dramatically from yesterday morning to today.

"There were a lot of holes where birdie wasn't even in the cards - maybe half of them. You look at 18. I hit two great shots and I still needed a little bit of luck with my 5-iron kind of for the ball to bounce off the collar for a 5-footer. It hangs up in the rough and I'd be lucky to make a par. That's probably not what you want in a setup."

Asked if it was unfair, Furyk demurred. "This is the golf course we were dealt."

It's a golf course intrinsically hard enough but has been further complicated by 3 1/2-inch rough that is exacting a penalty of nearly a full shot, some players estimate, for anything over 125 yards.

"I've never seen rough this thick, except at Oakmont for the (2003) U.S. Amateur," Nicholas Thompson said after a 72 left him at 3 over par and four behind Holmes in a tie for 14th. "You can feel it just walking through it. You can feel the resistance in your feet. I've never played on a course with rough this thick even if it is three inches."

Rees Jones, who renovated Oakland Hills in 2006 - embellishing the work of his father, Robert Trent Jones, who worked his magic in preparation for the 1951 Open - was somewhat surprised by the course's resistance to scoring.

"I thought they would let the guys play out of the rough a bit more, have the ability to hit some shots out of the rough," said Jones, who also renovated this year's U.S. Open site, the South Course at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, Calif. "I'm not unhappy with what's happening, or happy, just surprised."

Speaking of Oakmont, which hosted the U.S. Open last year, that is the vision conjured up by most players when asked if they have ever played a more difficult course. The winner, Angel Cabrera, won at 5 over par. Hard as oak - is it any wonder that the expression fits the conditions here?

Is it a coincidence that Oakland Hills is being compared in composition and complications to Oakmont?

"It is a tough course, yes," PLAYERS Championship winner Sergio Garcia said after a 73 put him at 2-over 142.

Is it unfair?

"Did I say that? It's a tough course. But it's playable."

Playable. Nicest thing anyone said all day.

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