Singh's win ends a brilliant PGA Championship
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2004 US PGA Championship | Wrap | 16 Aug 2004
The week of the 86th PGA Championship was probably best summed up by Vijay Singh’s post round comment that “they (the organising committee) finally got what they wanted today.” He was of course referring to the fact that after a week of waiting, the Whistling Straits Golf Course started to show the character that most had anticipated it would show from early in the week and indeed from the time that the venue was first selected to stage the event.
A golf course that had seen 46 players under par heading into the final round, finally got some revenge on the field when a wind shift and tougher pin positions saw a total of only fourteen under par rounds today verses the 39 recorded on Saturday and it was being felt at both ends of the field.
The venue had come under much scrutiny before, during and will no doubt after the event, as to its suitability or otherwise as a PGA Championship venue, but at the end of a great week, the answer must surely be a resounding yes to its capacity to fairly test such a quality field. Whether it can rightly claim the title of a links course or a links style course or neither, hardly seems to matter now as Whistling Straits established its own persona.
On a golf course that was supposedly built around the bombers in the game (it measured more than 7500 yards) it was surprising and pleasing to see the 96th (Justin Leonard) and 163rd (Chris DiMarco) ranked players in driving distance on the PGA Tour, mixing it with one of the longer hitters (Singh), right down to the wire. Perhaps at the very end of things, it was Singh’s length that proved the tiebreaker in the playoff as his drive at the par four 361 yard tenth hole, all but reached the green, setting up a birdie that would establish an edge, but amongst the top twenty players on the leader-board there was a great mix of games and skills.
This is a quality golf course, both in its visual and strategic appeal, and there already seems a clear desire by those involved, for the PGA Championship to return there in the not too distant future. As is often the case with players of this calibre, they find a way to play a golf course that may appear at the start of the week to be daunting, this week’s leaderboard highlighting just that. It is true that they were blessed with relatively calm conditions, but even allowing for that, the scoring was much better than most predicted.
Singh secures 3rd PGA Title
Vijay Singh now has his third major championship to add to his 1998 USPGA and 2000 US Masters titles and despite what could only be described as a struggle for him in the last round, he was able to turn it all around in the playoff. Vijay becomes the dominant player of the year, this win his fifth of the 2004 USPGA season and now with prize money of close to US$7 million. This is Singh’s 20th win in his USPGA Tour career since joining this elite club in 1993, eleven of those coming in the last two and a half years and who is to say it is over yet.
He took the lead into the final day, but perhaps surprisingly it was he who showed the first signs of succumbing to the dangers that Whistling Straits would present on day four. A wayward tee shot at the par four fourth was followed by a pulled second into a green where going left was just not an option. Four shots later he had given up the lead as his playing partner Leonard’s solid start, which included a birdie at the par three third, had him ahead by two.
Singh would not lead the tournament again until a missed ten footer at the last by Leonard allowed him and DiMarco to join a playoff. When DiMarco birdied the 12th hole today however, he had joined Leonard in the lead but Leonard then made a beautiful birdie at the par four 13th to move ahead. With DiMarco, Singh and Els struggling in his wake it appeared Leonard would only need to stand up over the closing holes to take the title. Standing up down the stretch in this arena and on this golf course was going to be a lot easier said than done however.
After Leonard’s closest friend this week, his short game, had withstood a stern examination early in the day, it quickly became his foe as he missed from short distance at the 14th for par and for birdie at the 15th after a shot which, if he had made the putt and gone on to win, may well have become folklore in PGA history. It was a two iron into the wind from 216 yards that came to rest nine feet right of the hole but the miss there and then yet another for par at the 16th saw him reach the 18th tee with just a one shot lead.
He found the fairway from the tee at the last and then, taking a line just right of the flag with a five iron, pitched into the bank in front of the green coming to rest in an awkward lie that required perhaps a more aggressive swing than he was prepared to give at that stage. He came up fifteen feet short with his pitch and when he had missed his putt for par, he, Singh and DiMarco were on their way to the 10th tee for a three hole cumulative score playoff.
Els – Close But No Cigar
Ernie Els, who had looked out of it for most of the afternoon, so very nearly forced his way into the playoff with back to back birdies at the 15th and 16th, his birdie at the 15th, like Leonard, coming after a magnificent iron to the long par four. He birdied again at par five 16th and he was back into it after what had been a shaky day. At the last however, although he did well to find the green after missing the fairway right, he three putted from sixty feet, a mistake that would be magnified just twenty minutes later when eight under made the playoff. Els finished just one back in a share of 4th with Chris Riley. It was a case of “close but no cigar” for Els in the majors this year. He was runner up to Mickelson at the Masters, a last round disaster at the Shinnecock Hills and a playoff loss at the British Open and this week. What a year it has been but what a year it could have been.
Vijay took the initiative in the playoff and was rewarded with a drive that so nearly reached the par four tenth. His little pitch came to rest some five feet from the hole and he made the putt to edge one shot ahead of his opponents both of whom had made par.
When the Fijian hit his tee shot at the par three 17th to six feet, it appeared all over, especially when Leonard and DiMarco both missed the green with their tee shots. They both however made great recoveries to salvage par and when Singh missed his birdie attempt there was still only the one shot separating Singh from the others.
Singh took a fairway wood from the tee at the last of the three playoff holes, the par four 18th and was perhaps fortunate to find the fairway after pitching well into the right hand rough. The contour was always going to take it that way but it was a generous bounce. He was a long way back and when Leonard and DiMarco both hit superb tee shots it was game on. I mentioned earlier the second shot of Leonard’s on the 15th of regulation play was perhaps the short of the day, but Singh’s approach with his fairway wood from 240 yards or so to the last was brilliant in itself. He had to find the green to force DiMarco and Leonard into mistakes and he did just that. DiMarco and Leonard both missed the green, albeit narrowly in Leonard’s case, and when Singh two putted for par, there was nothing they could do about the outcome.
For Leonard this would be his second loss in a playoff of this nature having lost the 1999 British Open to Paul Lawrie when in a four hole playoff with Jean Van de Velde.
On the plus side for Leonard is that he has likely played his way into the Ryder Cup side as has Chris Riley whose fourth placed finish got that job done for him.
Of the Australasians, Adam Scott recorded his equal best finish in the majors when he put up a sterling last round effort for 70 and five under total. Also on that mark was Robert Allenby finishing inside the top ten in majors for the second time this season, following his 7th place at the US Open.
If any of the Australians had a “what if” story however, it must be Stuart Appleby. A double bogey, double bogey finish on Friday saw him slip back from a good position heading into the weekend and then on Saturday having played his heart out to get to five under and not too far out of things, he was penalised four shots for two misdemeanours on the one hole.
There had been considerable discussion, even early in tournament week, about whether some bunkers would be considered waster bunkers and therefore allow the removal of loose impediments and the grounding of the club in the bunker. Although a letter was put on each players locker advising that all bunkers would be considered hazards, Appleby, who was at five under at the time, removed some material from around his ball in the bunker beyond the gallery ropes on the 16th and then grounded his club at address. It would later cost him four shots and on reflection perhaps a shot at winning the PGA Championship.
Appleby finished in 17th place at three under and that he was able to put the disappointing finishes behind him each day is a reflection on a very strong character.
Geoff Ogivly finished 24th, Nick O’Hern 31st, after a round that saw him at five under for the tournament at one stage, Michael Campbell was 44th, Rod Pampling and Craig Parry were 55th and Mark Hensby 68th.
The PGA Tour now moves to Akron Ohio for this week’s NEC Championship.