Much at stake in morning sprint at USPGA
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2005 US PGA Championship | Final Round | 15 Aug 2005
For the second time in three hours the volatile north eastern USA summer weather has brought the USPGA Championship to a grinding halt with the result very much in the balance. Play was delayed initially around 3:00pm Eastern time when the threat of an electrical storm was too great to ignore.
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When the sirens sounded for the second time, the final pair, which included the leader Phil Mickelson, was on the 14th green with Mickelson about to tackle a four footer for par after missing an eight footer for birdie. He holds a precarious but important one shot lead over Steve Elkington, who had just made bogey at the 15th and was standing on the par three 16th tee when play was called, and Thomas Bjorn who was playing the 16th.
As had been predicted all week, the golf course became increasingly demanding over the weekend and by today the combination of firming fairways and greens and tough flag placements ensured nobody was going to get away from the field. Mickelson threatened to do just that briefly when he took a three shot lead over Elkington and Bjorn at the 5th, his only birdie coming at the dangerous par three 4th after a tee shot to eight feet. That took him to 7 under and with those behind battling it seemed, even early in the round, to be a substantial cushion.
At the 6th though, after a great tee shot, Mickelson pulled his second right and although he hit a very good trap shot from long range he missed and the difference was two. Mickelson came up short with his approach at the next and made bogey and the lead was shared with Elkington who, after a fine birdie from 13 feet at the 9th, had played beautifully over the front nine for 33 and at five under had a share of the lead.
Elkington’s three wood from the tee at the 10th found the rough and when he was short with his approach he had left himself a tricky pitch. He made a mess of it and walked off with bogey, but when he birdied the 11th, after holing a magnificent pitch from behind the green, he was back at five under. When Mickelson bogeyed the 9th and 10th, Elkington had a two shot cushion but it was clear that there would be many twist and turns before this was over.
One of those twists would be at the 13th when Elkington three putted from long range and he was just one ahead. Another would come at the 15th when Elkington again bogeyed after driving it in the right fairway bunker and missing a par saving 7 foot putt.
Mickelson managed to turn around what appeared to be a downward slide when he birdied the 13th from 15 feet and he had grabbed the lead once again. Just a few minutes later, after missing a makeable birdie chance at the 14th, Mickelson was faced with a par saving four footer when play was called.
Thomas Bjorn had started shakily with three bogeys by the 10th but when he holed a long birdie putt at the 13th he was back in the mix.
One shot further back are players who could still conceivably win the tournament. Vijay Singh made a shocking start when he double bogeyed the 4th, then bogeyed the 5th to slip back to one under. When he turned around that momentum at the 8th with only his second birdie of the weekend he, courtesy of the woes of those behind, was still in with a chance. He then parred the next seven holes but pars were a very good score on this day. At two under and with the par three 16th and two par fives to finish, he still has a chance to post a score that might prove very hard to catch or match.
Also at two under, but with momentum going the wrong way, is joint overnight leader Davis Love III. It might just be that this break in proceedings is enough to turn his mindset around when he returns to the 14th green in the morning. A good strong finish could yet see him with his second PGA title.
Tiger Woods found a way to be still a factor although he might yet come up one or two short. If play had have continued it might have given Woods an even greater chance as, with a late wind change, the closing par fives had become more difficult and were no guarantee of birdies or pars for that matter. After bogeys at one and three today and at that stage eight shots back, Woods found a way to close the gap through sheer determination and brilliance and he is not yet completely out of it.
Michael Campbell further confirmed his arrival in Championship golf with yet another great week. Three birdies in the closing eight holes have him at one under and although he misses the chance to win, it will result in his third top ten in three majors in 2005. This is very impressive for a man who before this year seemed to have a mental block with major championship golf.
Geoff Ogilvy has also followed up his 5th placing at St Andrews with his second top ten in majors by finishing in a share of one under with Campbell. It will likely result in a 7th or 8th place finish. Ogilvy has well and truly come of age in 2005.
Stuart Appleby was going backwards as fast as some were moving forwards. He played with Elkington but their rounds were like chalk and cheese. He bounced back with a birdie at the third after a bogey at the second but that was the only highlight in a round that has seen him so far slip from 4th to 15th. Like Elkington he will return to the 16th tee tomorrow morning to recommence battle.
Adam Scott will finish around 41st and Mark Hensby 59th. Hensby’s finish may or may not cost him a Presidents Cup spot. He was 10th in the rankings for the International side coming into this week and it will be very much in the lap of the Gods as to whether, when world ranking calculations are done, he has retained that spot. It is arguable whether Gary Player will pick him if he has not made it.
One man who has almost certainly gained a spot, and from left field, is Elkington. With the need for experience at the bottom end of his team, Player will likely be convinced by Elkington’s showing this week that he is the man for the job, even if he was ranked in 38th place coming into this week.
There is much at stake over the sprint that will be the final four holes of the USPGA tomorrow morning. It might be even longer than that with a playoff a real possibility. Whatever the outcome the 2005 USPGA Championship at Baltusrol will long be considered as one of the more memorable in recent times.