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First impression

The majority of the players in the field this week had never seen Whistling Straits until a few days ago. As they start to learn their way around the course, their reactions are ranging from "difficult" to "intimidating."

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy (right, with his father, Gerry McIlroy, believes placement off the tee will be crucial this week. (Getty Images)

By Stan Awtrey, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

KOHLER, Wis. – With views and vistas unlike most venues visited by professional golfers, Whistling Straits is certainly one of the most visually stunning courses in the world. And with 1,000-plus bunkers dotting the landscape and greens that seem to fall into Lake Michigan, it can also be one of the most intimidating.

Just ask the first-timers.

“I heard a few things,” said Louis Oosthuizen, recent winner of the Open Championship. “It could scar me for life, I guess.”

The field for the PGA Championship is loaded with players who haven't played Whistling Straits, even though it has only been six years since the season’s final major was last contested here. Only 27 of the 73 players who made the cut in 2004 are in this week's field.

That leaves room for a lot “oohs and aahs” from players who are getting their first glance at Whistling Straits. From the 20 PGA Club Professionals who qualified to the world's best touring professionals, there's definitely a wow factor.

“It is the most visually intimidating golf courses I've ever seen,” said Sonny Skinner, a teaching professional from Albany, Ga. “You stand on the tee and you see all the obstacles – the bunkers, the high grass. It's mesmerizing at times.”

Rory McIlroy, ranked No. 8 in the Official Golf Rankings, said, “It's definitely an interesting course and you've really got to put your ball in good positions and from there I think you can get at it.”

McIlroy emphasized how accuracy and placement off the tee may be of the utmost importance this week. “I think the big thing about this golf course is getting lines off tees and really committing to your targets,” McIlroy said. “Because you're hitting into such a big area out there, sometimes it's hard to really find a definition of where the left side and the right side of the fairway is. So you've just really got to commit to the lines.”

Hunter Mahan, winner of last week's World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, agreed with McIlroy about the difficult tee shots that await.

“It's going to be a difficult test if the wind starts to blow,” Mahan said. “You've really got to find your spots off the tee to find your lines, and because fairways are going to be important because there are a lot of sharp kind of cliffs where the fairway kind of runs off into deep bunkers and waste areas. So you've got to pay attention out there and avoid the big number.”

U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell said, “You have to drive your ball extremely well around here or you're in big trouble, simple as that. If you get out of position on this golf course you're in a world of pain.”

Defending champion Y.E. Yang picked up on the presence of the bunkers, which are so numerous that not even architect Pete Dye knows the correct count.

“It feels a bit more difficult than Hazeltine,” said Yang. “The rough is a bit longer and there's a lot more bunker, so if you're not careful you might not get very good scores.”