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SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF

Road to PGA Title Skirts a Cornfield--and Woods

August 11, 2000|THOMAS BONK

It has been four years since the PGA Championship was held at Valhalla Golf Club in suburban Louisville, Ky., and it's quite possible that the area is a lot more urban than it was in 1996.

Best way to find the place back then was to follow these simple directions: Turn left at the first cornfield.

Next week at Valhalla, we will learn the answers to three vitally important questions.

* Can Tiger Woods win his fourth major in 53 weeks and his third in 2000?

* Will Ernie Els complete the mini-slam by finishing second in his fourth major this year?

* What's with the clothes around Valhalla . . . was there a sale on overalls?

As we have learned, anything can happen in the PGA, which is famous for vaulting players to a higher professional level. Since 1986, the PGA was either the first or only major title for 12 of the 14 champions.

So you can see that handicapping the field isn't easily done. Check that. Handicapping the field wouldn't be easy except for the fact that Woods is in it.

The U.S. Open and British Open champion is also the defending champion in the PGA, so it's not much of a stretch to say that Woods is the player to beat. But he always is. Let's take a quick look anyway at which players figure to be in the hunt Sunday, after you turn left at the first cornfield.

* Woods: He sets up his schedule to play well in the majors and this one is no different. Put it this way: Anybody want to say he can't win?

* Els: No one has finished second in all four majors in one year, but he has a chance. Does this mean we have to root for him to do it?

* Davis Love III: He tied for 11th at the British Open and tied for seventh at the Masters. He missed the cut in 1996 at Vallhalla, but he won the PGA at Winged Foot the next year.

* Colin Montgomerie: A fixture as a pre-tournament favorite in majors. And, we might as well admit it, he's going to keep getting mentioned until he finally wins one.

* David Duval: (See Montgomerie).

* Phil Mickelson: (See Montgomerie and Duval). If anyone is used to the late-summer heat, it's him, since he lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. Besides, who is more due? (You guessed it: See Montgomerie, Duval).

* Stewart Cink: Great ball striker, great iron player, great chance to become the next welcome-to-the-PGA winner.

* Brad Faxon: While the big names were at the British Open, he won the B.C. Open, which isn't exactly the PGA Tour equivalent of the PGA, but close enough.

* Lee Westwood: He just keeps rolling along in Europe and once he gets used to KFC franchises on every corner, he's sure to fall in love with Louisville.

* Miguel Angel Jimenez: He tied Els for second at the U.S. Open and obviously can play. Also fills the bill for quirky PGA champion.

TIGER UPDATE

Woods didn't show up at the Buick Invitational until Tuesday night. Why? He played a practice round at Valhalla in the morning.

By the way, Woods has finished under par in each of his 13 PGA Tour events. No one has ever played an entire season playing each event under par, although Jack Nicklaus was under par 17 times in 18 events and finished at par in the other.

TIGER UPDATE II

Here we go again. Woods has had to deny for the second time a New York Post story that he and his girlfriend, Joanna Jagoda, are getting married.

"The truth isn't always as exciting as the fiction," Woods said.

You have to give the Post credit for being consistent, at least. The Post had the same Woods story in February and it wasn't true then, either.

BEING ERNIE

News item: Els moves up to No. 2 in the Official World Ranking.

Reaction: Uh, he isn't going any higher.

There is a guy named Woods in front and Els trails Woods 27.26 points to 11.93. What does this mean? Roughly, it means that Els would have to win every tournament for, say, the next two years to overtake Woods.

By the way, Els replaced Duval as No. 2. Duval had been No. 2 since last September.

WE KNOW WHO

In his media interview after winning last week's PGA Tour event in Castle Rock, Colo., Els never mentioned Woods by name. But he did refer to Woods twice as "you know who."

And everybody did.

WE KNOW WHAT

Put this one under the headline, "Time Magazine Discovers Golf."

Woods is on the cover of this week's Time and featured in an "exclusive" story about how he "risked it all" by reworking his swing. Fine, except he did it three years ago, something that Woods has talked about in nearly every interview in the last 36 months.

What's next? Three years from now, Time probably will say it has learned that the Lakers won the 2000 NBA title.

WHOLE LOTTA SHAKIN'

Gary Player on Woods: "The pressures on Tiger will be fantastic; he is the Elvis Presley of golf."

Better keep him away from those deep-fried sandwiches then, the ones that ballooned Elvis into a blow fish.

Player, 64, one of five golfers to have won all four majors (a list that includes Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Nicklaus and Woods), said he would have loved to play against Woods.

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