Not surprisingly, much of T.J. Auclair's time Thursday morning will be spent reporting on Tiger Woods. (Photo: Getty Images)
Auclair's Live Blog: Reports from the course at Hazeltine
Once again, PGA.com's T.J. Auclair has drawn the tough assignment. We're sending him out on the course all four days of the 91st PGA Championship to tell us what he sees, hears and thinks at Hazeltine National. We know, it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it. Say 'thank you,' T.J.
CHASKA, Minn. -- The year's final major championship is just about under way here at Hazeltine National Golf Club. What's in store over the next four days?
That's anyone's guess. But, a good guess would be to put some serious Monopoly money down on Tiger Woods.
Wow! Thanks for the insight, right? Hey, that's why I get the cool assignments, the big bucks and the reason I'll be your eyes and ears all week.
But seriously. Tiger is majorless in 2009 so far. That hasn't happened over the course of an entire season for the world's No. 1 player since 2004.
I always like Tiger's chances, but especially this week on the longest course in major history, a course with four par 5s and a course he finished second on in 2002. Add to that he enters this week on the strength of two wins in the last two weeks and it smells like he's cooking up a sweet-tasting recipe of, "The Three Behind Jack Nicklaus Special: Major Victory No. 15 in the Great State of Minnesota, Dontchyaknow."
Whatever unfolds, be it this bumpy early morning bus ride to Hazeltine, a key shot on the course, a roar that shakes the ground -- you name it and I'll be all over it for the next four days.
Got questions or observations? Pop off an email to email@example.com and see if they're good enough to make the cut, or at least make me laugh.
Refresh often, folks, the PGA Championship Live Blog has begun.
7:15 PM CDT -- What a leaderboard we have at Hazeltine as the first round winds down: Tiger Woods leading at 5 under; Padraig Harrington in second at 4 under; a bunch of guys, including Robert Allenby, Hunter Mahan and Vijay Singh, all at 3 under. This is shaping up to be a great PGA Championship.
That will be all for the blogging for today folks. Be sure to come back tomorrow for more.
5:50 PM CDT -- AK found the right fairway bunker with his tee shot, but hit a stellar approach that just missed the left side of the green and wound up in the rough.
After a great drive, Ishikawa got a little unlucky with his approach, which spun back to set up a 40-foot birdie try.
Scott, meanwhile, took some frustrations out on his tee shot, smoking it 30 yards past Ishikawa, then proceeded to stop the ball on a dime inches behind the hole.
It turned out to be a routine par for Ishikawa, a solid par by Kim and an outstanding birdie for Scott that was probably too little too late.
You can't win the tournament on Thursday, but at 10 over, Scott appears to have already lost it.
5:38 PM CDT -- Wonderful tee shot for Ishikawa on the par-3 17th. It flew just over the top of the flag leaving him a short, yet tricky, putt for birdie. Kim and Scott each played it safe off the tee and well left of the pin.
Kim just induced hundreds of oohhs and aahhs as his birdie effort from long range just missed on the left edge of the cup.
Tough luck for Ishikawa. He just let a birdie chance slip away. He joined Kim with a par, while Scott walked off with yet another bogey to drop to 11 over. Rough round for the Aussie.
5:16 PM CDT -- With his bright orange visor and pants to go along with a white shirt, Ishikawa looks like a walking orange creamsickle. But, he makes par on 16 as do Kim and Scott.
5:10 PM CDT -- After a couple of nice birdie putts made by Ryuji Imada and PGA Professional Ryan Benzel on No. 16, it's time for the afternoon super group of Adam Scott, Anthony Kim and Ryo Ishikawa.
Playing in much tougher conditions this afternoon, this trio hasn't exactly been super. Scott is 10 over through 15, while Kim is 1 over and Ishikawa is 2 over. Let's see if they can change their luck over the last few holes.
4:30 PM CDT -- Since the rain seems to be holding off, I've made my way over to the 16th hole, which at 402 yards, is the second shortest par 4 at Hazeltine.
On the way over, I bumped into the David Toms, Paul Azinger, Phil Mickelson threesome.
Lefty's drive on the 10th, which is just behind the 16th green, found the right rough. He punched out to the front of the green and managed to get up and down for par to stay at 1 over.
Moments later here on 16, another lefty -- Steve Flesch -- missed a short putt and had a few choice words for his putter. One of the walking scorer's in his group looked at me and said, "He hasn't liked any of these greens so far."
I'm going to hang out here for a bit to see what unfolds. With a tee shot over part of a lake and a narrow entry to the green, No. 16 is one of the more scenic holes out here.
3:55 PM CDT -- I just ran back into the media center to take cover, as the rain is starting to fall here at Hazeltine.
A quick look at the forecast shows that we're expecting a thunderstorm and heavy rain between 4-5 p.m. After that, it should clear up again.
The storm must be close, because the players have broken out with the umbrellas.
As for tomorrow, it's going to nasty. Temperatures are predicted to be in the low 90s with plenty of hot sunshine and a 20-30 mph wind. Something tells me Hazeltine will be a completely different monster on Friday.
4:30 PM CDT -- From Todd Bankhead in Blacksburg, Va.:
T.J. -- I caught the comments about Chris Wood at 6' 7" and the "athletic" comment by Sean Foley ... I am also about 5'8" and routinely out-drive most of my taller and "heavier" playing partners (with inferior weapons, nonetheless). Who on the PGA Tour is inch for inch the most powerful player in the PGA Championship this week? You might have to dust off the eighth grade algebra or the Chismbop you learned in the fourth grade to come up with the answer. I look forward to your comments.
Glad to hear from a fellow 5-foot, 8-incher, Todd. I don't think Sean's point was meant to come across as height-equaling power. He simply meant that the body type of a golfer has evolved and is more athletic and less Craig Stadler/John Daly, if you know what I mean.
As for whom I believe to be inch-for-inch the most powerful player in the PGA Championship this week, the easy and obvious answer is Tiger. However, if we're talking a shorter guy with loads of power, you'd have to consider Camilo Villegas. Talk about a physical specimen. The guy is a freak of nature.
Villegas shot a 1-over 73 today, so he has work to do. But, overall, if you go inch-for-inch, Villegas has got to be the most powerful player teeing it up this week.
2:55 PM CDT -- The meteorologists here in Minnesota must be from New England because they're way off with today's forecast.
It was supposed to be sunny with a high of 90 and lots of humidity. Instead it's been overcast and incredibly pleasant in the low 80s.
It just makes the wonderful experience if walking the grounds of a major championship all the more enjoyable. You can't beat great golf in comfortable weather, can you?
1:45 PM CDT -- Here are a couple more emails:
From Steve Lentz in Seattle:
"T.J. Great coverage of the tournament. How are some of the club professionals playing so far? As a Seattle native, I would love to see Ryan Benzel play well and make the cut again."
Thanks, Steve. Good question -– and I myself am a huge Ryan Benzel fan. In fact, I was there for his great finish at Twin Warriors in Santa Ana, N.M., which got him into the field here. I saw Ryan about an hour or so ago. He's currently 2 over after bogeying his first two holes.
As for the other club professionals, they're holding their own. Keith Dicciani, an assistant professional from Metropolis Country Club in White Plains, N.Y., opened with an impressive even-par 72. Scott Hebert from Traverse, Mich., winner of the 2008 National Championship, also turned in a 72. Both those players are inside the top 20 currently, along with Mike Miles, a teaching professional from Virginia Country Club in Long Beach, Calif., who is even par through 16 holes.
At the other end of the spectrum, Mitch Lowe (Director of Golf at Del Rio Country Club in Modesto, Calif.) and Kevin Roman (Assistant Professional at Cherokee Town and Country Club in Atlanta) are struggling mightily. Both players are making their PGA Championship debuts. Lowe had a rough 12-over 84 on Thursday, while Roman is 14 over through 15 holes.
Let us keep in mind that these guys may be struggling, but they don't play golf for a living -– instead, they teach it and take care of their members. It's a remarkable achievement to earn a spot in a major championship. Some might be struggling, but you can bet they're enjoying the experience.
From Chris Cullinan in Boston:
"T.J. -- You have the best job in the world. Just thought you might need to be reminded of that."
No reminder needed, Chris.
From Mark Glende in Burnsville, Minn.:
"If Tiger is wearing a purple shirt to appease the Vikings fans, maybe tomorrow he'll wear gold pants! Saturday his TW hat with yellows braids and Sunday ... well we will just have to wait and see won't we? Keep up the good work T.J. (that wouldn't be short for Tarvaris Jackson would it?)"
Creative mind you have there, Mark. Like you said, we'll just have to wait and see. Doubtful on all counts though.
And sorry to disappoint you, but "T.J." is actually short for "Thomas Jr." –- not Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. Hailing from Rhode Island, I'm a New England Patriots fan anyway. Go Pats!
1 PM CDT -- I just spent a few minutes on the range talking to swing coach Sean Foley, who works with the likes of Anthony Kim, Justin Rose and Sean O'Hair among others.
Sean, who like me stands at about 5 feet, 8 inches, was commenting on the size of the guys lined up on the range -- Ernie Els, Stewart Cink, Ian Poulter and Steve Elkington -- all well over 6 feet.
Then I pointed out England's Chris Wood, who stands at 6 feet, 7 inches. Foley thinks in a few years that Wood will be one of several guys playing professional golf who are that tall.
Why, I asked?
"Because Tiger is cooler than Kobe Bryant and Michael Vick, so kids who would be prone to playing a more athletic sport are going to gravitate towards golf instead," he said.
12:40 PM CDT -- The emails are pouring in to firstname.lastname@example.org. Time to answer a couple.
From Markie Mark in parts unknown (perhaps the leader of the Funky Bunch?):
"How are the crowds for day 1? Seems like all records were broken for the practice rounds. People in Minnesota love their golf."
Well, Mark, I don't have an exact number for you, but in a word I'd say enormous. Helping that, I think, is the wonderful routing of the golf course. The holes are close together and easy to get to, which can't be said for a lot of major championship venue. The fan aspect will definitely have an impact on the outcome of this event. Nothing gets a player juiced like making a key birdie down the stretch and sending thousands of fans into a frenzy. The players live for that and feed off of it.
From Cassandra Hutchinson in Oak Park, Ill.:
Good Morning T.J.
Who raugth you how to rype? "Rime" and "mote" –- looks like your keyboard has it's t's and r's switched. I know it's early, just my way of trying to make you laugh. Maybe I'll see you at Cog Hill for the BMW Champsionship.
Fote, I mean fore.
Keep up the good work.
Thanks, Cassandra. You did make me laugh, so well done. My apologies for the typos. I'm out here pounding away on an iPhone keyboard and my fat thumbs must have a mind of their own. I'll try to tighten it up. At the same time, since you're apparently such a stickler for typos, you made one yourself when you didn't mean to. See if you can find it.
Be right back. Gotta run to the media center to wake my editor up from his nap. Then again, who needs an editor when I have all you emailers?!
Keep 'em coming.
From Mark Haddorff in Lakeville, Minn.:
"What are the chances of Tiger doing the hula dance if he wins? Better yet, who would make the best hula dancer? Maybe Daly? Weekley? Cabrera? Petterson? Other?"
Great question, Mark. As for the odds of Tiger doing the hula dance if he wins? I'd say you've got a better chance of seeing your homeboy Tim Herron win this thing. And, as you no doubt know, good 'ol Lumpy isn't in the field.
However, that also answers your second question: Lumpy would be the most awesome Hula dancer ever. In fact, I'd pay NOT to see that!
12:10 PM CDT -- Japan's Ryo Ishikawa, the youngest player ever to tee it up in a PGA Championship at age 17, is on the range pounding golf balls right now.
At the start of the season, the phenom had a crazy-haired and visored Ian Poulter head cover on his driver. But now that Ishikawa is himself a rock star, he's rockin' his own spike-haired and visored head cover on the driver. The mini Ryo is complete with red pants and a white shirt.
11:50 AM CDT -- Sorry, folks. This job is so tough I had to stop inside for a quick lunch.
While I was in the lovely air-conditioned media dining area, I had a chance to look at a leaderboard and happened to see that Michael Bradley leads at 4 under through nine holes.
Here's my prediction: Bradley won't be winning on Sunday, but it's not his fault. Tiger just won't be denied a major in 2009. And, he's just one back at 3 under.
11:11 AM CDT -- Move over Tiger and Paddy. This supergroup is quickly turning into the Rich Beem birdie show.
Beemer just tapped in on No. 18 for his third birdie in as many holes to get to 2 under. The crowd is just loving it. If Beemer keeps this up, might we see Part II of that disturbing Hula dance on the 18th hole come Sunday evening?
You never know. But, it does seem like Hazeltine brings out the best in Beem.
10:45 AM CDT -- Tiger's solid play continues. He followed up a birdie on the par-5 15th with a par on No. 16 and is looking as sharp as ever.
The crowds are swelling even bigger as we get closer to the clubhouse to turn onto the front nine.
Weatherwise it's still perfect with a little wind. Cloud cover shielding us from that hot sun.
9:45 CDT -- Way early this morning I inadvertently talked trash about there only being a breath of wind to contend with here. My bad.
The wind is refreshingly blowing a lot harder than a breath.
Refreshing, that is, for the spectators. All the players are having a devil of a time playing shots while trying to gauge the wind.
If it were a walk in the park -- which Hazeltine is the furthest thing from for these guys -- you couldn't ask for a mote perfect day.
9:15 AM CDT -- The first huge roar of the 91st PGA Championship came on the 12th green, where Tiger made a lengthy birdie putt to get to 1 under. The place erupted and Tiger obliged with a mini uppercut fist pump.
Now there's a bit of a backup on the 248-yard, par-3 13th. It'll give these galleries a chance to relax a little after those roars on 12.
9:15 AM CDT -- So the 606-yard par-5 11th hole is not reachable in two, right?
Well, not for most, or not for any except Spain's bomb-igniting Alvaro Quiros.
While Rich Beem, Tiger and Padraig Harrington were putting on the 11th green, Quiros nukes his second shot onto the front of the green.
Neither Tiger, Beemer, or Paddy were amused until they looked down the fairway to see Quiros's playing partner Lee Westwood flexing his biceps, making it clear that Quiros is strong. All three players got a good laugh.
In the end, it was an easy birdie for Quiros.
As for Tiger, a fan let him know as he exited the green, "I love your video game!"
8:45 AM CDT -- More than one spectator has rhetorically asked weather or not Tiger is wearing a purple shirt to endear himself to Minnesota Vikings fans.
Chances are, probably not.
At his own tournament in July -- AT&T National -- he wore Dallas Cowboys colors in the pro-am with Tony Romo. Redskins fans weren't pleased.
I'm chalking today's purple ensemble up to coincidence.
8:35 AM CDT -- The 10th hole is packed in like a football stadium. Tiger looked like he was doing a little dance on the tee to get loose. Everyone is a little on edge and uptight to start a major, but not him.
Dressed in a black hat with black slacks and a purple shirt, Tiger just sent his opening shot into the first cut of rough on the left side of the fairway. It's game time.
8:20 AM CDT -- Tiger Woods is on the grounds here at Hazeltine. He goes off the 10th tee at 8:35 CT this morning with Padraig Harrington and Hazeltine’s 2002 PGA Champion, Rich Beem.
Tiger looks pretty loose too. Then again, why wouldn’t he be? He’s got five wins in 2009 – including two in the last two weeks – after missing several months to recover from reconstructive knee surgery. Moments after the first threesome of D.J. Trahan, PGA Professional Keith Dicciani and Briny Baird teed off on the first hole, Tiger was making his way to the practice green, which sits just to the left of the first tee, all the while joking with Rod Pampling.
If we have any kind of luck, there should be some nice hangover from last weekend’s duel between Tiger and Paddy at Firestone. We’ll see.
As for breaking news, because that’s what we like to do here, if you had Paul Casey to win the PGA Championship, you’d better call your friends and see if they’d be kind enough to let you choose someone else.
Casey, who was injured and forced to withdraw from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week, decided just minutes ago that he won’t be able to tee it up in the season’s final major either.
Tim Petrovic will take Casey’s spot in the field.
8:05 AM CDT -- One of the great elements of the PGA Championship is the participation of the top 20 club professionals from the PGA Professional National Championship.
One of those PGA Professionals making his PGA Championship debut this week is Virginia Country Club Teaching Professional Mike Miles.
Regardless of how this week turns out, the Long Beach, Calif., pro will have a cool story to bring back to his members. He's currently two slots down from Tiger Woods on the range.
Of course, not all his members will be overly impressed. John Mallinger, John Merrick, Peter Tomasulo and Paul Goydos all belong at Virginia CC.
7:45 AM CDT -- There's a thick crowd gathered on the range right now... And it's not because of 2005 U.S. Open winner Michael Campbell. It's because of the guy hitting balls to the right of Campbell -- Tiger Woods, who one older lady just observed from over my shoulder, "is looking as buff as ever!"
Looks like Buff Tiger and the rest of the gang are going to have ideal conditions to deal with throughout the day. The weather is absolutely perfect here. The sun is quickly warming things up. With a cloudless blue sky above, we're expecting temperatures to reach 90 degrees today with just a breath of wind. Seems like ideal scoring conditions