THERE’S A CHILL IN THE AIR AT PGA CHAM­PI­ONSHIP

Top golfers ready to tee it up at sea­son’s first ma­jor in cold, damp San Fran­cisco

Windsor Star - - SPORTS - JON MCCARTHY

The face cov­er­ing low­ered around Tiger Woods’ neck was pulling double duty as a scarf on a cool Tues­day morn­ing at TPC Hard­ing Park in San Fran­cisco.

Any­one fa­mil­iar with the Bay Area knows that morn­ings are usu­ally brisk, windy, and foggy — and can some­how last all day. The PGA Cham­pi­onship be­gins Thurs­day and the best play­ers in the world are busy pre­par­ing for the first ma­jor of this strange sea­son. That means get­ting ac­cli­mated to a golf course play­ing host to its very first ma­jor cham­pi­onship and to a cli­mate quite dif­fer­ent than the heat wave most of the PGA Tour restart has been played in.

It was 12 C on Tues­day morn­ing at Hard­ing Park and for Woods that adds a height­ened level of con­cern about his sur­gi­cally-re­paired back.

“I think that for me when it’s cooler like this, it’s just make sure that my core stays warm, lay­er­ing up prop­erly,” Woods said. “I know I won’t have the same range of mo­tion as I would back home in Florida where it’s 95 (F) every day. That’s just the way it is.”

Golf fans will hear about the “marine layer” so of­ten this week that if that’s your drink­ing game cue, you might not make it to the week­end. The fog brings with it a mois­ture that makes the air heavy and the ground wet, so ex­pect the 7,251-yard par-70 course to play much longer than it looks on the score­card. Hard­ing Park is a rolling Cy­presslined park­land course tucked be­side San Fran­cisco’s Lake Merced. The lush rough can be pun­ish­ing and sev­eral play­ers in­clud­ing Brooks Koepka and Ian Poul­ter have com­mented on how dif­fer­ent the lies can be for balls sit­ting just inches apart. The patchy rough means there will be some luck in­volved should your ball miss the fair­way.

“You can get some pretty juicy lies and not ad­vance it very far,” Koepka said. “But it all de­pends. Is it go­ing to be wet? I think it will be, es­pe­cially in the morn­ings, so it could be quite tough to con­trol your dis­tance, spin, things like that.”

Koepka will be look­ing to earn him­self a cou­ple more pages in golf ’s his­tory book this week as the two-time de­fend­ing champ goes for a PGA Cham­pi­onship three-peat. No player has won this tour­na­ment three times in a row since it made the switch from match play to stroke play in 1958. Koepka is also look­ing to win a ma­jor for the fourth sea­son in a row which has only been ac­com­plished by Wal­ter Ha­gen, Tom Watson, Jack Nick­laus, and Woods twice. Over the past three sea­sons Koepka is an ac­cu­mu­la­tive 70-un­der in ma­jors, 36 strokes bet­ter than Rickie Fowler who is in sec­ond over that stretch at 34-un­der.

On Tues­day at the out­door podium, like Tiger be­fore him, Koepka ar­rived look­ing a lit­tle weather-worn when he met with on-site and re­mote re­porters in­clud­ing Postmedia.

It wasn’t long though be­fore the trade­mark straight talk re­turned.

“I break things down very eas­ily,” Koepka said in ex­plain­ing his ma­jor suc­cess. “For some rea­son, peo­ple make golf a lot more com­pli­cated than it should be. Wor­ried about where shots go, re­sults, you know, putting more em­pha­sis on this week or the ma­jor weeks, when to me, it al­most seems the most re­lax­ing week of the year.”

Now this is the Brooks ev­ery­one tuned in for.

“I don’t put any ex­pec­ta­tions on my­self,” he said. “Just go out and go play golf ex­actly like I know how, and if I do that, then yeah, I prob­a­bly should win.” Sim­ple as that.

Koepka also sees the course play­ing longer than ad­ver­tised be­cause of the con­di­tions, but says it should play in his favour. When Koepka was asked whether he’s go­ing to use shot-track­ing data this week to see the dif­fer­ence these con­di­tions have on his dis­tance he seemed to take yet an­other shot at golf’s big­gest hit­ter Bryson Decham­beau.

“I’m not go­ing to be a sci­en­tist and go fig­ure it out on Track­man,” he said. “I’ll do it my­self. Me and (caddy) Ricky (El­liott) have a pretty good idea how far the ball flies in this weather. Played golf for prob­a­bly 25 years now.”

Both Woods and Koepka are play­ers who thrive un­der the ma­jor cham­pi­onship at­mos­phere, much of which will be lack­ing this week with no fans in at­ten­dance at Hard­ing Park. Koepka was asked whether it even feels like a ma­jor for golfers this week.

“I know it, so that’s all that mat­ters,” Koepka said.

Not to be out­done, the fi­nal ques­tion asked to Tiger was whether he can win this week.

“Of course,” Woods said with a smile.

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