By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (AP) - Even the best of intentions can lead to backhanded compliments.
Especially when it comes to the PGA Championship.
Since it abandoned match play in 1958 as television played a more prominent role, the PGA Championship has suffered somewhat of an identity crisis. The Masters is without compare for many reasons, though it starts with being at Augusta National every year. The U.S. Open is billed as the toughest test in golf, sometimes to a fault. The British Open is the only major played on links courses. And where does that leave the PGA Championship?
"The fourth major," Graeme McDowell said, stating a fact instead of making a crack.
"It doesn't get the accolades it deserves," he said. "But there's not a guy on the range that wouldn't put it head-and-shoulders over any tournament in the world _ apart from the other three major championships."
Of course, the PGA of America doesn't help itself by taking its premier championship to an ordinary course like Valhalla, which it owns. Or when it goes to Kiawah Island, where the president of the resort (Roger Warren) just happened to be a former PGA of America president. No other major telecast is laden with so many commercials and so little golf. And it's the only major this year where a corporate sky box occupies more space than grandstands along the 18th hole.
Even so, the slogan says it all _ Glory's Last Shot.
It's the last chance this year to win a major, and remember, it was Tiger Woods who once said it can't be considered a great year without one. After the last putt falls on Sunday, there won't be another major for nearly eight months, when azaleas start to bloom in Augusta.
And it's worth noting the first part of what McDowell said. There isn't a single player in the 156-man field _ including the 20 club pros _ who wouldn't love to see if they have the muscle to hoist the heaviest trophy of the four majors.
The PGA Championship over the last decade has billed itself as the strongest field in golf, an argument it wins with evidence from the world ranking. Barring anyone pulling out before Thursday's opening round, it will have the top 103 players in the world. That's more than the entire field at the Masters. Going into this year, the PGA Championship had the 10 highest-rated fields in all of golf.
But that distinction is losing some of its shine. The World Golf Championships bring at least the top 50 together three times a year, which could turn into four times a year once the HSBC Champions becomes part of the PGA Tour official schedule. The Players Championship does the same, and arguably has the strongest and deepest field in golf because it doesn't have 20 club pros.
So where does that leave the PGA Championship in the major championship rotation?
Perhaps it should be referred to as the fairest of them all.
Ask just about any player for their impressions of the PGA Championship, whether it's held on a classic design like Southern Hills or Baltusrol, or it goes somewhere new like Kiawah Island or Whistling Straits, and the answer typically is the same.
"It's set up a little more fairly than the other ones," Steve Stricker said. "I think over the years, they've done a better job of mixing it up on a daily basis with the tees. The rough isn't over-the-top brutal. It's still hard, don't get me wrong. The tournament is always hard. It's probably not set up as hard as the other ones, but it's more fair."
"Most PGA venues I've played have been quite fair," Ernie Els said. "Some of them have been an upgrade from tour events, maybe a touch more difficult. It's the more friendly one of the four."
But it's fair in other ways.
No other major rewards a player for having a good year by giving them a spot in the field.
Think about it. Is anyone ever missing from the PGA Championship who should be here? Augusta National didn't give a spot to Els because he had fallen from the top 50. The British Open and U.S. Open offer spots to the top 50 in the world. Among those in the PGA Championship this year are Robert Rock, who took down Tiger Woods in Abu Dhabi; Bernd Wiesberger, who has won two smaller events in Europe; a couple of PGA Tour winners at opposite-field events, Scott Stallings and J.J. Henry.
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