I can't wait for next week's PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club. So often dismissed as the most minor of the majors, the PGA could actually turn into the best of the bunch this year. Traditionally the period at the end of every golf season's narrative, it figures this time around to be more like an exclamation point. Golf's most exclusive tee time comes during the first two rounds of the PGA, when the winners of the year's three previous majors are paired together. That David Duval has finally earned a place alongside Tiger Woods goes a long way toward explaining why this PGA looms so large.
A victory by either Woods or Duval—or for that matter Phil Mickelson or Sergio Garcia—would provide welcome clarity to what has been a disjointed season. Woods was brilliant for about a month this spring, but he's basically been a non-factor since then. In his absence we've been given the Summer of the Great Gaffe, from the 72nd-hole blunders by Relief Goosen and Stewart Cink at Southern Hills to the brain cramp suffered by Ian Woosnam and his beleaguered caddie at Royal Lytham. Meanwhile, Mickelson and Garcia have played the most consistently fine golf week in and week out, only to falter when it has mattered most, on the weekend at the majors. In short, the plotlines of this season have been more confounding than anything you'll find in Memento, and that's where the PGA comes in.
Yeah, it has the coolest trophy of all the majors, the sterling silver Wanamaker Trophy, but the PGA delivers something more precious—sterling silver history. If you made a list of the most memorable majors of the '90s, easily half would be PGAs: John Daly crashing the party in '91, the Paul Azinger-Greg Norman playoff of '93, Nick Price's coronation the following year, Davis Love III finally finding fulfillment at the end of the rainbow in '97, the Garc�a-Woods tango in '99, and then Woods's thrilling defense in 2000, edging a game Bob May. All that drama elevated the PGA to a different level.
A tournament is only as good as its champions, and Jack Nicklaus won five PGAs, a personal haul exceeded only by his six green jackets. The Masters is where Woods, too, has announced his dominance, but the PGA is the tournament in which he has earned his competitive bona fides. The disparity between his past performance and present form adds one more layer of intrigue to the 2001 PGA. It has been a lost summer for Woods, and he needs to make a statement in the season's final major, especially given the company he will be keeping over the first two rounds.
Still only 29, Duval has proven to be a slow learner capable of mighty streaks once he's made sense of the syllabus. Duval spent his first 2� years on Tour kicking away chances at a first victory, but when he finally broke through he tore off three straight. Now, having at last won his first major championship, he could easily take two in a row, especially with the PGA being played in Atlanta, the city where he went to college, at Georgia Tech. If the Woods-Duval rivalry is going to move beyond the hypothetical, this PGA is the place to get it started.
Back when he was younger and considerably brasher, Duval said, "Would I be thrilled to win the PGA? Of course. It is a major championship, and it would be a great honor. But would it mean as much as the Masters, U.S. Open or British Open? No offense intended, but no."
Duval is a noted book lover, but clearly golf history was not on his reading list. You can make the case that only the U.S. Open has a better tradition than the PGA. By the time Bobby Jones threw together his first cookout in Augusta, the PGA was 18 years old and had celebrated Walter Hagen as champion five times and Gene Sarazen thrice. For all the misty-eyed blather about the British Open's 19th-century roots, the tournament didn't really become a compelling event until Arnold Palmer's back-to-back wins in 1961 and '62, by which time Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead had combined to win seven PGAs.
Once again the PGA sets up as the season's most intriguing tournament. Whoever wins next week will be elevated for the achievement. Here's hoping it's the right player, who can, in turn, take the PGA even higher.