'Monster' mashes in first round

Course rules as J. Singh, Karlsson share lead

August 08, 2008

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - The PGA Championship looked a lot like the U.S. Open, with only seven players under par when darkness finally covered Oakland Hills yesterday and put "The Monster" to sleep.

It sounded like a U.S. Open, too.

"There's only one guy who's going to like this place by the end of the week," Ben Curtis said.

Jeev Milkha Singh and Robert Karlsson found it agreeable enough after each shot 2-under-par 68 in the pleasant morning conditions, before thunderstorms stopped play for 90 minutes in the afternoon. Andres Romero of Argentina was 2-under through 16 holes, the only late starter under par and among 18 players who did not finish the first round.

Kenny Perry finished the round, but he won't finish the tournament. Playing in a major for the first time this year, he withdrew after a 79 because of an eye injury.

The calendar says August. It sure seemed like June, with firm fairways, thick rough, hard greens and plenty of opinions.

"A great test of golf and patience," Singh said.

Said Ernie Els: "It was a real beast today."

Els overcame a double bogey after the rain delay to shoot 71.

It was easy to lose patience on a course that was punishing from the opening tee shot to the final putt. The rough is the thickest for a U.S. major this year, and the greens at Oakland Hills are as frightening as those at Augusta National.

"The course is 7,500 yards long, the greens are firm and the pins are tucked away," Lee Westwood said after finishing with six straight pars to salvage a 77. "They are sucking the fun out of the major championships when you set it up like that.

" ... I sound as if I'm moaning - which I am - but it's a great shame. It's a fantastic golf course. ... But there is no need to play it as it is."

Such comments typically are reserved for a U.S. Open, and the similarities didn't stop there. The rough is so thick that players rarely reached the green after missing the fairway, and caution was required for every putt on greens that became so crispy that tournament officials hosed down three of them throughout the day.

Even so, the best golf was rewarded. Sergio Garcia struck the ball solidly, limited his mistakes and joined a group at 69 that included Billy Mayfair, Ryder Cup hopeful Sean O'Hair and Ken Duke.

Phil Mickelson was in three bunkers before he reached his second green (No. 11), was 2-over for his round and somehow managed a 70. He made only eight pars, but among his five birdies was a 35-foot putt down the scary slope on the 16th, followed by a 4-iron that rolled within 18 inches for a birdie on the 238-yard 17th.

"I'm just happy to have shot even par today," he said.

Anthony Kim made five bogeys but still shot a 70, joining the likes of former U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera and Rod Pampling.

Karlsson, the only player to finish in the top 10 at all three majors this year, opened the fourth one with a shot that bounded off a cart path over the first green and led to a double bogey. He answered with three straight birdies and settled for a 68.

How does someone start with a double bogey and not lose his cool, much less his mind?

"My caddie said, 'Remember, we played with Tiger [Woods] in the U.S. Open.' And I think he took 6 down the first hole pretty much every day. So you can shoot a good round from here as well," Karlsson said.

But such rounds were hard to find.

"It's a U.S. Open at the moment," said Geoff Ogilvy, who won the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2006 without breaking par in any round and failed to do that yesterday with a 73.

Ben Hogan gave Oakland Hills its nickname when he won the 1951 U.S. Open and said he was glad he brought "this monster" to its knees. Yesterday "The Monster" played as if it were on steroids, especially after Rees Jones lengthened it to just under 7,400 yards.

"If you had Rees Jones redo Scrabble, he'd leave out the vowels," Paul Goydos said after a 74.

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