2005 PGA Championship - The Second Time is just the Beginning

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Images Courtesy of the PGA of America


SPRINGFIELD, NJ – Phil Mickelson may not be the best player in golf, but he sure is the most stressful to watch.


It isn’t often when a major champion shoots over par the final two rounds in a tournament and still wins.  It isn’t often when a player has a large lead going into the weekend and at the end of the final round needs to make a birdie to ‘come back’ and win a title.  And it’s becoming all-too-often that Tiger Woods’ name crawling up a leader board at a major championship triggers a cataclysmic free-fall for the leaders, bringing him back into the tournament at the end.


Phil Mickelson holds the Wannamaker Trophy with PGA President Roger Warren. Photo courtesy of the PGA of America.

All of those scenarios happened during the PGA Championship at historic Baltusrol Golf Club, on a steamy week in August, in northern New Jersey, about 25 miles from New York City.


Further, Mickelson’s triumph is the next-to-last ‘major’ statement in a season full of great events for Mid-Atlantic golf in 2005, awaiting only the return of the American and International teams next month to the Washington, DC area to compete in the Presidents Cup, along the shores of Lake Manassas (at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club) in Virginia.


It’s been quite a summer, with the Booz Allen Classic at Congressional Country Club, the US Open the following week at Pinehurst, and the PGA Championship a few hundred miles up the road at the northern end of the ‘Mid’ Atlantic.  This season, the professionals and the world got a unique glimpse into the region’s quality golf, and we’re happy for it.


Now all the folks up north need to do is swallow the $2.65/gallon gas prices and drive down here – or perhaps we should point out that some of the best golf in the country is a couple tank-fulls closer than Myrtle Beach.  Now there’s a marketing campaign… just a thought.

Davis Love III played well enough to join Mickelson in the final pairing on Sunday/Monday, yet drove it poorly the whole round, and failed in his attempt to win his second major. Photo courtesy of the PGA of America.


Here are some observations from the 2005 PGA:


Now that it’s #2, now what?


Remembering back to the beginning of last year (2004), the wolves were preparing to sink their fangs into nice-guy Phil Mickelson after another anticipated season without a major.  They said it was partly due to his large ‘choke’ factor, but mostly attributed to the presence of Woods, who seemingly could leap tall green complexes in a single bound – and would continue winning all the majors away from Phil.


The 'chip heard 'round the world.' Mickelson called on practice knowledge from his parents' San Diego backyard to get this one into gimme range. Photo courtesy of the PGA of America.

Thankfully, ‘Mick’ smiled his way to glory at the Masters, ending forever the relentless TV commentary about his near-misses – and the speculation that his accumulated pile of losses had made him a head-case forever.


A mere year-and-a-half later, ‘Mick’ has his second major victory – exactly the same number as Woods in the same time period, though everyone’s back to slobbering over Tiger as the best player, hands down (we won’t even bring Vijay Singh into this discussion).  Mickelson had similar close finishes (as Woods had this year) at the US Open, British Open and PGA Championship in ’04, but has faltered a bit in the important events this year.


But all and all, he’s on par with Woods for his play the last couple seasons.  Forget the world ranking, ‘rock star’ Mickelson is right up there – and his fan base is just as supportive (even if the TV ratings don’t show it).  He’s moved up to #3 in the world rankings, and seems set on a plan to ‘play smart’ in the coming years, hopefully adding to his majors total.


Wisely, he’s taking it one event at a time, admitting that the career grand slam is something he’s aiming for, but not boasting that it’s a sure thing he’ll get it -- and this observer thinks he’ll finally challenge Woods for supremacy in the major championships.  One is good, two is better, and even more vaults him up amongst the best ever, the legends of the game.  It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, either.

Tiger Woods still managed a smile amongst a poor putting performance and some bad breaks that all but put him out of the tournament. Photo courtesy of the PGA of America.


One does wonder how Mickelson will do now that his kids are starting to reach school age, and won’t be able to travel as extensively with him on his pursuit towards the top-ranking.  Mickelson is publicly very close to his family, and as most of us know, once the kids get older, priorities change.


Jack Nicklaus made a career out of his family and golf, but never let one get in the way of the other.  Who knows if Mickelson – or Woods – will enjoy equal success as the Golden Bear in this regard.


Elk and Bjorn – Exercising the Demons


Charles Howell III celebrates a hole-in-one on the 4th hole during Saturday's round. Photo courtesy of the PGA of America.

Another nice thing to come out of the 2005 PGA Championship was the presence of two 'good' international players – Thomas Bjorn, a career European Tour player who’s most remembered for blowing the 2003 British Open while taking three to get out of a greenside bunker, and then Steve Elkington, an ‘Americanized’ Aussie who’d all but disappeared from mention as one of the game’s key players (despite being in a playoff for the 2002 Open Championship).


Both have made swing changes, and both have admitted having ‘demons’ that’ll bring them down to earth in all-so-human ways.  Both were right there on Monday with a chance to tie/win on the 18th hole, and it would’ve been a terrific playoff with Mickelson if the fates had rolled the ball a little differently.


Great players get it done consistently.  Good players are there enough times to force us to remember their names – and sometimes, that’s for failure as well as triumph.  It was a good thing for golf to see Bjorn and Elkington on the same stage with Mickelson and Woods, and here’s hoping we’ll see them more often, as well as many other ‘good’ players in the coming years.  If for nothing else, it makes life more interesting.


Tiger Woods has left the building (clubhouse?)

1995 PGA Champion Steve Elkington nearly came out of nowhere to win again ten years later. Photo courtesy of the PGA of America.


Perhaps one of the oddest bits of news leaked in the days after the PGA finish was the fact that Tiger Woods had not only not shown up on the practice range on Monday, he’d flown back to Florida on Sunday night -- deciding to skip altogether the last hour of competition on Monday.


Woods’ rationale turned out to be right on, but if he only had a monitor on the heart rates of Mickelson, Elkington, Bjorn, Love III and Singh on Monday, he might’ve regretted not sticking around.  None of these players at any time made it a cinch that something lower than Woods’ 2-under total wouldn’t have had a darn good chance of at least being in a tie – and when you’ve got a reputation like Woods for winning head-to-head playoffs, why tempt fate?


It wouldn’t be right to beat up Woods for his decision to go home, especially since it happened to be the correct one.  In essence, Tiger had ‘confidence’ that the others would come through okay, and they did.  After seeing this year’s US Open and PGA, however, if I’d been Woods, I would’ve booked my flight for late afternoon Monday… leaving more than enough time for a playoff and the post-championship niceties that come along with receiving a third Wannamaker Trophy.


From steamy hot conditions to lightning, weather was certainly a factor at the 2005 PGA Championship. Photo courtesy of the PGA of America.

I’d also bet he wouldn’t make the same mistake again... he’s a smart guy.


Getting some Love (III) once again


It was sometimes painful to watch, as his driving was all over the place – but seeing Davis Love III in the final group on Sunday/Monday was a good thing for golf.  Love’s career total of one major championship win has to be considered under-achieving and disappointing (at least for his fans), but the fact he seems to have put it back together late in ’05 means he’s again reaching top form – and we’ll see him more in the coming years.


If only his back holds out.

Tiger Woods had his usual share of wayward drives, but managed to put it in the fairway when he absolutely had to. Photo courtesy of the PGA of America.


Love’s got one of the great family stories in golf, and together with his brother Mark – will leave a legacy in golf course design as well as for his PGA Tour victories.  His dedication to the sport is admirable, and he’s a worthy role model for the younger generation.


As a fan of DL III, welcome back!


Jack’s still the man, even if he’s not making putts anymore


Vijay Singh lurked near the lead the entire tournament, yet couldn't seem to make enough birdies to charge the lead at the end. Photo courtesy of the PGA of America.

Jack Nicklaus’s presence at the PGA was also good for the sport.  Though he was primarily there to scout out his picks for the upcoming Presidents Cup, the memories of his wins at Baltusrol gave this year’s championship even more of a special quality.  Seeing Phil Mickelson tapping the Nicklaus plaque on the eighteenth hole on Monday before hitting his second shot to the green – now that was a great moment.


Nicklaus also made the seemingly correct captain’s choices for his team as well – choosing Justin Leonard (who barely missed making the team on points) and veteran Fred Couples, who’s played well for most of the 2005 season.  Couples loves international team competition, and he’s also a great fan favorite.


It should be fun to watch, and it’s hard to believe it’s only a month away.


‘Glory’s Last Shot’

Phil Mickelson shows his displeasure after missing a close putt. But he'd built a big enough lead in the first two rounds to allow him to prevail. Photo courtesy of the PGA of America.


It’s odd that the PGA Championship’s slogan is ‘Glory’s Last Shot,’ in that there’s still over 2 ˝ months left in the Tour season, and there’s still much to be determined – including, Player of the Year and the money title.


There’s quite a lot of ‘glory’ yet to be determined.


Now that Mickelson has captured a major and tied Woods for number of victories on the season, it’s not inconceivable that Phil could have a strong season-ending stretch and grab the POY title away from Woods.  They both have four victories on the season – but Woods’ strong showing in all four majors will make for a very convincing argument in his favor.


In other words, Mickelson would have to do something spectacular to take the title away.


One way or another, Mickelson’s victory at the PGA gives us something to talk about – and to look forward to, even if the 2006 Masters is still a fall and winter season away.



The 2005 PGA Championship

At Baltusrol Golf Club, Lower Course.  Yardage:  7,392, Par 70

August 11 – 14, 2005


Winner:  Phil Mickelson.  Score:  276 (-4).  Winner’s Share:  $1,170,000.  Total Purse:  $6.5 million.

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