LOUISVILLE, Ky. — My five elements that might help decide the 72nd Senior PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club on Sunday:
• Kerry Haigh’s Sunday-morning course set-up
The PGA of America staffer responsible for course setup was a key proponent of the Tee It Forward movement in Round 1, shaving some 334 yards off the scorecard length of 7,297 yards. But that was when the course was under the onslaught of one deluge after another and he had to worry about getting 156 guys around while playing under lift, clean and place regulations. The course has had two and a half days to dry out with no further precipitation since Thursday afternoon, so whether Haigh decides to take the markers back close to his original set-up will go a long way in deciding how much of a shootout ensues. Players hated the Committee’s decision not to play Preferred Lies on Saturday, but regardless of how much mud is on the ball with so much on the line, everyone’s in the same boat.
• No. 6
Mark Brooks said it early in the week: This par 4 is going to be a bear for everyone, so make two 4s and two 5s and “that’s not the end of the world.” Only 19.5 percent of the field was able to hit this green in regulation through the first two rounds, so take 6 out of the equation and bide your time until later in he round.
Best of the best: Nick Price has played this hole 3-3-4. That means he picked up two strokes /ITAL/or more/ITAL/ on 63 players in the first round and 75 players in the second.
• No. 16
This long par 4 was where Tiger Woods made his famous finger-pointing birdie on his way to winning the 2002 PGA Championship, but, like the sixth hole, this isn’t a place to try to be a hero. This green not only has been the toughest to putt on each of the first three days, but the hole serves as the back end of a very difficult one-two punch. The 15th hole has produced more scores of double bogey or higher and the 16th ranks second.
• The areas that haven’t seen a mower in a week and a half
Granted, most of these places aren’t where players of this caliber are likely to hit it, but because it’s been so wet, there’s an occasional spot of rough that’s a good 18 inches high. So if someone hits one that’s way off line, they might help need the help of a GPS: “Please return to the highlighted route.”
You might say a prayer for those who are playing Valhalla early next week.
• Hale Irwin’s nerves
He’s been in hot pursuit of a title more often than we can count, but it’s been five years since his last top-3 finish in a senior major. So the question is, are 65-year-old nerves any different than 60-year-old nerves? Among those chasing Irwin are a couple of players with multiple majors, Tom Watson and Nick Price, and defending champion Tom Lehman. So if he’s able to hold them off and become the oldest winner in Champions Tour history, he’ll be a most-deserving victor.
Or . . .
Kiyoshi Murota’s nerves
He’s beaten plenty of name players throughout his career, but in each instance that was in an event in Japan. Now he’s far from home and he’s got Watson and Irwin to keep an eye on. He hit some poor shots in Round 3, so it remains to be seen if he’s got those out of his system. If he wins, it won’t be a fluke.