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Sergio Garcia was not only player bewildered by Oakland Hills during the 90th PGA Championship. (Photo: Getty Images)

Oakland Hills eased up some Sunday but was still a 'monster'

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Thanks to the heavy rains that fell Saturday, Oakland Hills played much easier over the final two days than the first two. But there's no chance the course will lose its nickname as "the monster."

By John Kim, Coordinating Producer

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- The PGA Championship has long been noted for being a stern -- but eminently fair -- test that crowns the season's final major championship winner. No less an authority than Tiger Woods famously remarked that "The PGA (of America) gets it right -- I ask why can't all championships be that way."

But for the first two rounds this year, there were some whispers that the course setup, coupled with the dry, breezy conditions, had created a test that was pushing the limits of fairness -- even for a major championship.

"Brutal," was how Brandt Snedeker described the layout after completing his second round. "Absolutely brutal."

"Just nasty," according to Rocco Mediate after he posted opening rounds of 73-74.

Oakland Hills Country Club, which opened in 1918, is one of architect Donald Ross' most famous and well-respected designs. It is one of the most storied venues in golf, having hosted six U.S. Opens, two U.S. Senior Opens, one Ryder Cup and now three PGA Championships. And at each championship, the challenge of the course has always been a storyline. In 1951, Ben Hogan famously referred to the course and its difficulty as "The Monster," a nickname that has stuck with it to this day.

Kerry Haigh, Managing Director of Championships for The PGA of America, answered that there was no intention to create a test that could be seen as over the top, but when challenging conditions mix with one of the most demanding golf courses in the world, higher scores would naturally result.

"I think it's rare that we get 75 degrees and 25 mile-an-hour winds out of the north with sunshine in August, which certainly had a bearing on how the golf course played," said Haigh. "Obviously we wanted to try to keep the condition of the course somewhat similar for both Thursday and Friday and not make significant adjustments. So once you're into it, in fairness, into earlier and later tee times, you try to keep the balance where you can, which is what we try to do."

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A few players this week openly complained that the rough was being raked in a penal manner prior to each round, sometimes creating nearly unplayable lies within a few feet of the fairways or greens.

Haigh responded that there was no merit to the assertion.

"For the past 10 or 12 PGA Championships that I can speak of, we have found, certainly in practice rounds when players play, they walk all around the greens in the rough and their caddies walk and their golf bags are laid down, and by the end of any day, all of the rough is basically laying flat," Haigh commented. "So if there is sufficient staff on the grounds crew or volunteer staff to help, we have implemented, and I think in many events, not just ours, but many events implement where you try to stand the grass back up; because when you walk tee to green you're flattening all the grass, and they basically rake it back up so it's playable again and consistent."

Haigh was surprised that some players thought it to be part of a strategy to further penalize an errant shot.

"No, it's not a concerted effort against the player," Haig said. "It's to make the stand up and be consistent so that it's fair throughout and balls land in the rough fairly."

Softer conditions, helped by the large amounts of rain on Saturday and a few adjustments made by Haigh and Tournament Director Ryan Cannon, did allow for more favorable scoring conditions over the weekend as eventual champion Padraig Harrington's closing two rounds of 66-66 attested, as did Anders Romero's course-record-tying 65 on Saturday.

The scoring statistics bear out that the weekend played easier, but that's still a relative term. The first two rounds played nearly identical in their scoring average -- 74.855 in the first round, 74.845 in the second. The third round played the "easiest," but the average score was still almost three shots over par (72.918) and the final round played to an average of 73.438.

There is always a chance that players, playing with so much at stake, are more on edge when competing in such a spectacular setting and in an intense venue. The 90th PGA Championship was no exception. But there was no secret agenda or purpose in seeing how penal the course could become. It is, after all, "The Monster."

"It's a tough golf course," Haigh added. "There's no question."

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