Monday, August 12, 2002

PGA Championship, Player Capsules

AP Golf Writer

        CHASKA, Minn. — A capsule look at 20 top players in the 84th PGA Championship, to be played Aug. 15-18 at Hazeltine National Golf Club:

       Age: 22.
       Country: Spain.
       World ranking: 5.
       Worldwide victories: 8.
       Majors: None.
       2002 Majors: Masters-8, US Open-4, British Open-T8.
       PGA appearances: 3.
       Best finish: 2.
       Backspin: Even though he's only a pup, Garcia is overdue to win his first major championship. Top-10 finishes in every major this year, and in the mix Sunday in five out of the last six. Has increasing control of his game, and appears to have cut down his waggles to single digits.

       Age: 32.
       Country: United States.
       World ranking: 2.
       Worldwide victories: 22.
       Majors: None.
       2002 Majors: Masters-3, US Open-2, British Open-T66.
       PGA appearances: 9.
       Best finish: 2.
       Backspin: Coming off his worst major performance in three years, but that's to be expected at the British Open. He's back on comfortable soil, where he can attack pins. He's due to have everything go his way, although watch out for the 16th — a pivotal hole at Hazeltine, a pivotal hole in three of his major chances.

       Age: 26.
       Country: United States.
       World ranking: 1.
       Worldwide victories: 39.
       Majors: Masters ('97, '01, '02), U.S. Open ('00, '02), British Open ('00), PGA Championship ('99, '00).
       2002 Majors: Masters-Won, US Open-Won, British Open-T28.
       PGA appearances: 5.
       Best finish: Won.
       Backspin: Don't buy into the theory that Woods will suffer an emotional letdown with the Grand Slam no longer in the picture. A major is a major. He figures he already has the slam, now wants only to catch Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors. Hazeltine sets up nicely for him. Like most any other tournament, a good week putting will put him there Sunday.

        ERNIE ELS
       Age: 32.
       Country: South Africa.
       World ranking: 3.
       Worldwide victories: 37.
       Majors: U.S. Open ('94, '97), British Open ('02).
       2002 Majors: Masters-T5, US Open-T24, British Open-Won.
       PGA appearances: 10.
       Best finish: T3.
       Backspin: The '95 PGA was one of his greatest setbacks, but he seems to be back on track after a gutsy victory at Muirfield for his first major in five years. Has played solidly all year, and the confidence from winning a British Open could make him a much more difficult challenger in the final round.

        SCOTT HOCH
       Age: 46.
       Country: United States.
       World ranking: 23.
       Worldwide victories: 16.
       Majors: None.
       2002 Majors: Masters-MC, US Open-T5, British Open-T8.
       PGA appearances: 21
       Best finish: T3.
       Backspin: Once he got his eyes and his wrist straightened out, has been playing like the Scott Hoch everybody knows and loves — or at least knows. Good play, bad shirt at the U.S. Open. Good play, good attitude at the British. One of the most underappreciated players of his generation, still very capable of winning his first major.

       Age: 30.
       Country: United States.
       World ranking: 9.
       Worldwide victories: 14.
       Majors: British Open ('01).
       2002 Majors: Masters-MC, US Open-MC, British Open-T22.
       PGA appearances: 6.
       Best finish: T10.
       Backspin: Finally headed in the right direction: Made the cut at a major this year. Game has been derailed most of the year, and comes into the final major of the year having missed the cut at the International. PGA is the only major in which he has never seriously contended, although the way his year has gone, perhaps he'll look at this like the start of his season.

       Age: 38.
       Country: United States.
       World ranking: 8.
       Worldwide victories: 16.
       Majors: PGA Championship ('97).
       2002 Majors: Masters-T14, US Open-T24, T-14.
       PGA appearances: 15.
       Best finish: Won.
       Backspin: A poor start to the year hasn't gotten that much better, although Love has been at his best in the majors. Still one of the best drivers in the game, can easily get into Sunday contention and then hope there's a rainbow over Minnesota.

       Age: 39.
       Country: Fiji.
       World ranking: 10.
       Worldwide victories: 29.
       Majors: Masters ('00), PGA Championship ('98).
       2002 Majors: Masters-7, US Open-T30, British Open-MC.
       PGA appearances: 10.
       Best finish: Won.
       Backspin: Missed the cut in the British Open for the first time in 13 previous appearances, so all is not perfect in the world of the big Fijian. His best finish in the PGA since winning in Sahalee four years ago was a tie for 49th. Still, a great all-around player who can be dangerous if he sees a few putts disappear early in the week.

       Age: 30.
       Country: Ireland.
       World ranking: 7.
       Worldwide victories: 5.
       Majors: None.
       2002 Majors: Masters-T5, US Open-T8, British Open-T5.
       PGA appearances: 3.
       Best finish: T58.
       Backspin: He and Garcia are the only players with top 10s in every major this year. Has become Europe's top contender in the majors, although showed a mental frailty at Muirfield by hitting driver off the 18th tee in regulation — onto the driving range. A tireless worker, needs to be leading on the back nine to have a chance.

       Age: 34.
       Country: Northern Ireland.
       World ranking: 16.
       Worldwide victories: 13.
       Majors: None.
       2002 Majors: Masters-T20, US Open-T24, British Open-T37.
       PGA appearances: 4.
       Best finish: T9.
       Backspin: Showed flashes of being a major championship contender at the British, but was slowed by a 77 in the wretched weather of Saturday. The burly cigar smoker is still a fearless player and knows how to handle the pressure (beating Tiger in the Match Play). The key for him is getting off to a good start.

        DAVID TOMS
       Age: 35.
       Country: United States.
       World ranking: 6.
       Worldwide victories: 7.
       Majors: PGA Championship ('01).
       2002 Majors: Masters-T36, US Open-T45, British Open-83.
       PGA appearances: 5.
       Best finish: Won.
       Backspin: Went from first-to-worst in the British Open, and hasn't contended in any of the majors this year. Hasn't won this year either, which is not to say the season has been a total waste. Has won over $2 million and has had a couple of chances. Pride alone should give this talented, all-around player a decent chance at Hazeltine.

       Age: 38.
       Country: United States.
       World ranking: 83.
       Worldwide victories: 4.
       Majors: None.
       2002 Majors: Masters-DNP, US Open-3, British Open-T47.
       PGA appearances: 10.
       Best finish: 3.
       Backspin: Streak of consecutive majors played ended at 38 when he failed to qualify for the Masters. A sneaky good player in the majors, has had a couple of good chances in the PGA and has been playing very well this summer.

        NICK PRICE
       Age: 45.
       Country: Zimbabwe.
       World ranking: 11.
       Worldwide victories: 41.
       Majors: British Open ('94), PGA Championship ('92, '94).
       2002 Majors: Masters-T20, US Open-T8, British Open-T14.
       PGA appearances: 18.
       Best finish: Won.
       Backspin: A resurgent year, with a victory at Colonial and solid play in all three of the majors. Was limited by the length at Augusta and Bethpage, played well in the howling wind and rain of Muirfield. If he gets his putter going, look out.

        TOM LEHMAN
       Age: 43.
       Country: United States.
       World ranking: 35.
       Worldwide victories: 7.
       Majors: British Open ('96).
       2002 Majors: Masters-MC, US Open-T45, British Open-MC.
       PGA appearances: 9.
       Best finish: T10.
       Backspin: Nothing to suggest he'll be a factor at Hazeltine, but he's probably the most famous Minnesota native in the field, which should count for something. Plus, there's no better stage to tell Curtis Strange what he thought about being left off the Ryder Cup team (without airing his complaints to a magazine columnist).

       Age: 31.
       Country: Australia.
       World ranking: 38.
       Worldwide victories: 5.
       Majors: None.
       2002 Majors: Masters-MC, US Open-T37, British Open-T2.
       PGA appearances: 5.
       Best finish: T4.
       Backspin: Lackluster play most of the year until he nearly pulled one out at Muirfield, getting eliminated from the playoff after four holes. Probably took participation in the majors for granted, but smelling victory should awaken this talented Aussie.

        JIM FURYK
       Age: 32.
       Country: United States.
       World ranking: 12.
       Worldwide victories: 8.
       Majors: None.
       2002 Majors: Masters-MC, US Open-MC, British Open-MC.
       PGA appearances: 7.
       Best finish: T6.
       Backspin: Chalk up the MC at the Masters to recovering from a virus that caused vertigo. The weekend off at the US Open? His wife was close to having their first child. The British Open? Being a first-time father. Seriously, this guy can play no matter what his swing looks like. PGA has a history of first-time major winners.

       Age: 34.
       Country: United States.
       World ranking: 36.
       Worldwide victories: 2.
       Majors: None.
       2002 Majors: Masters-DNP, US Open-T68, British Open-T69.
       PGA appearances: 3.
       Best finish: MC.
       Backspin: One of the great stories among first-time winners on the PGA Tour this year. He played like a veteran in winning at Riviera, and finished strong to win in Memphis. Would fit the profile of a PGA winner who had a great year that no one really noticed until he had the Wanamaker Trophy (see Bob Tway, Mark Brooks).

       Age: 33.
       Country: South Africa.
       World ranking: 4.
       Worldwide victories: 15.
       Majors: U.S. Open ('01).
       2002 Majors: Masters-2, US Open-MC, British Open-T8.
       PGA appearances: 5.
       Best finish: T37.
       Backspin: Overshadowed fellow South African up until Ernie Els won the British Open. Still, must be considered one of the premier players in golf. Has struggled a little bit after finishing second in the Masters, but his game returned to form at Muirfield.

       Age: 32.
       Country: Japan.
       World ranking: 22.
       Worldwide victories: 11.
       Majors: None.
       2002 Majors: Masters-T14, US Open-T16, British Open-T5.
       PGA appearances: 5.
       Best finish: T22.
       Backspin: A better player than Shingo Katayama (T4 in PGA last year), only without the silly hat. Became the first Japanese player with two PGA Tour victories at Nelson Classic, and has been solid in the majors this year, playing in final group at Muirfield.

       Age: 42.
       Country: United States.
       World ranking: 20.
       Worldwide victories: 4.
       Majors: None.
       2002 Majors:
       PGA appearances:
       Best finish: 2.
       Backspin: The only active player with at least 10 appearances in the PGA Championship who has never missed the cut. An underrated player in many aspects, particularly as a ballstriker. Lost a chance to win the '96 PGA when he butchered the 18th hole in regulation at Valhalla. Could quietly sneak into contention.

        MARK O'MEARA
       Age: 45.
       Country: United States.
       World ranking: 121.
       Worldwide victories: 23.
       Majors: Masters ('98), British Openn ('98).
       2002 Majors: Masters-MC, US Open-MC, British Open-T22.
       PGA appearances: 19.
       Best finish: T4.
       Backspin: Hard to call a two-time major winner a darkhorse. Much easier when he's 45 and hasn't won in four years. Tied the major championship record with a 63 at last year's PGA in Atlanta, and has been swinging the club very well. Could sneak one in here.


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