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As the fourth hole proves, danger lurks most everywhere at Oak Tree. (Photo: PGA.com)
As the fourth hole proves, danger lurks most everywhere at Oak Tree. (Photo: PGA.com)

Oak Tree all the talk on eve of 67th Senior PGA Championship

Despite sporting new, less-undulating greens and somewhat manageable rough, players are expecting a supreme test this week when the 67th Senior PGA Championship is contested at Oak Tree Golf Club.

By T.J. Auclair, Junior Editor

EDMOND, Okla. -- The 67th Senior PGA Championship at Oak Tree Golf Club is less than a day away. Throughout the practice rounds, the course has received rave reviews from many of the top players, including defending champion Mike Reid.

"It's an honor to be here and to play a golf course that's of this caliber and this championship," Reid said. "I think that there's a special kind of electricity that goes through all of us on the golf course that you can feel it and the whole presentation of this tournament this week. I think that it gets your blood pumping a little bit faster. And I think that on behalf of all of the players it's a thrill to be here and I have heard a lot of positive comments about the golf course. And nothing negative at all. It's a very demanding course and I think it's going to lend itself to a great championship."

Oak Tree hosted the PGA Championship in 1988, which was won by Jeff Sluman. In that tournament 18 years ago, the course played 87 yards shorter than it will this week [it will play at 7,102 yards and a par 71] and the winning total was 12 under par.

Arguably the most profound difference at Oak Tree between 1988 and now are the greens. The Pete Dye course, which was known for it's tremendously contoured greens, still possess some serious undulations, but they're not as severe as they used to be.

Mike San Filippo, the reigning champion of the Callaway Golf PGA Senior Club Professional Championship, played in 1988 and missed the cut, but noticed a significant difference in the greens.

"I just think it's a whole lot more playable than it was, with the greens particularly on the front nine," he said. "They took a lot of the mounding out and I feel they're a lot more receptive. On the first hole, the green is moved over and we have a little better angle to hit into it. There aren't all the ridges and lumps we had when it was new. I think it's going to hold iron shots a little better and it's going to be easier to get the ball closer to the hole."

Doug Tewell, the 2000 Senior PGA Champion who calls Edmond and Oak Tree home, believes that the target score will be 8 under par. But if the conditions are the same as they were in the practice rounds -- The Perfect Storm windy -- Tewell guesses the winning score could be as high as even par.

"Mother Nature can make anything play difficult," Tewell said. "I hope the winds lay down a little bit. I personally don't want to have to fight them for four days. Maybe a day or two would be fine, but I know they were worried earlier in the week about the rough wasn't up and I said, listen, guys, I play here all the time and this golf course is not about the rough. It's about the wind. And what the wind's going to do to this golf course will really dictate the scores."

Four-time Senior PGA Champion Hale Irwin finished tied for 38th at Oak Tree in 1988. He is by far the Champions Tour's most decorated player at Oak Tree having won 44 times over almost 10 years. However, Irwin has yet to notch a win this season. He said it's because of his putting and he may even consider going to a different putter once the tournament starts.

"This week I'm probably going to be using a different putter, which is yet to be announced to the starting lineup," Irwin said. "Simply, I need something different. And this being a very important week, it's, why not? I can't think of a reason why to stay with what I've been doing. I can think of all sorts of reasons to change. So that's it, just poor putting."

Gil Morgan, also an Edmond, Okla., native, believes that the 16th hole, a 528-yard par 5, will have a lot to say about the outcome of the tournament.

"I think 16 is a hole that could make or break somebody's championship," he said. "It's a situation where you can make an eagle, or you might make a big number there."

Loren Roberts and Jay Haas are both hoping to claim their first major championship at Oak Tree. The duo is No. 1 and No. 2 on the money list, respectively. Not even halfway through the season Roberts is already a three-time winner, while Haas has two victories that came in consecutive weeks just recently.

"The goal is to win major championships out here," Roberts said. "Obviously I didn't get that job done on the regular tour after 23 or 24 years, so I would like to get it done out here. Obviously you have a much shorter window out here to do that. So you want to make sure all these weeks count."

Haas is looking for a bit of redemption when he tees off Thursday. In 2004, while playing in his first Senior PGA Championship, he finished alone in second. Last year at Laurel Valley he missed the cut.

The one aspect Haas truly enjoys about a tournament like the Senior PGA Championship is the difficulty of the courses it's played at. Oak Tree, Haas said, is no exception.

"If the wind blows, you're going to see some high scores, but even if it doesn't, the greens are just fairly small and especially where the ones that are big, they're almost sectioned where you just have to be in that one little area to have a decent chance for a par or birdie," Haas said. "I think it's a good thing that this is a tough place. And I would like to think that plays into my hands, but if I don't play well and I miss the cut like last year at Laurel Valley, and I love that place, so if I don't play well, I'm not going to like it too much."

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