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Sunday, August 9, 2009
Jason Sobel's live blog

By Jason Sobel

5 p.m. ET: As I wrote earlier, there's a delicate balance between getting fully prepared and becoming overprepared at a major championship. The live blog is walking that line right now.

Practice rounds are beginning to conclude for the day, which means I am, too. Thanks for all of the questions, comments and tweets throughout the Wednesday edition of this thing.

The Round 1 live blog will start up at 9 a.m. ET, 8 a.m. local time. Can't wait that long? Bide your time by listening to the live blog theme song from our house band, Far Beyond Frail.

Until then, hit 'em straight ...

4:50 p.m. ET: Tweet, tweet ...

adam_stanley@jasonsobel - If Cink wins this week ... More impressive than Paddy last year? (With no TW in the field in 08?)

If he beats Tiger in a head-to-head battle down the stretch on Sunday? Maybe. But Harrington's victory at Royal Birkdale wasn't any more or less impressive than Cink's at Turnberry with TW not in the field as opposed to him missing the cut. There were, of course, plenty of guys who beat Woods last month, so it's not as though Cink should be given special commendation for winning a major when the No. 1-ranked player wasn't even around during the weekend.

4:10 p.m. ET: Here are five dark-horse selections who could have an impact on the final leaderboard here at Hazeltine this week ...

Mathew Goggin: Yeah, I know. Been there, done that. After playing in the final pairing with Tom Watson at Turnberry, though, anything else should be cake.

John Senden: He's a greens in reg machine, currently leading the PGA Tour; he hasn't finished outside the top 10 in that category in any of the last three years.

J.B. Holmes: Remember, he played in the final threesome last year at the PGA Championship before being derailed early with a triple-bogey on No. 1.

John Rollins: Coming off a win in Reno, he's ranked third in total driving.

Kevin Na: He is right behind Tiger Woods in top-10 finishes this season, tied with Steve Stricker at eight.

3:30 p.m. ET: E-mail from Jeffrey in Parts Unknown regarding my top-25 ranking:

No Stewart Cink??? Man's gonna be in the top 25. You're crazy!!! Man has been pretty strong this year, got the big win under his belt.

Mulligan! In all truthiness, I had Cink up there on my list and, uh ... I don't know what happened. But yeah, I don't necessarily disagree with your assessment that he is a man to watch this week. Seems like a good course for him.

In fact, this is as good a time as any to apply my "playing with house money" theory, which basically states that after a guy wins a major -- especially his first major -- he can play a little faster and looser for a while, because he's already got one under his belt. I could certainly see that being the case for Cink this week.

3:05 p.m. ET: Tweet, tweet ...

GlennShirley@jasonsobel - favorite first day pairings/times?

Let me give you five to watch for Thursday and Friday ...

9:15 a.m.: Rory Sabbatini, Sergio Garcia, Tom Lehman. Can't you just see Rory and Sergio getting into a fight with Lehman playing peacekeeper?

9:25 a.m.: Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan, Camilo Villegas. I've got two of these three guys in the top three of my rankings. And neither one is named Rose.

9:35 a.m.: Padraig Harrington, Rich Beem, Tiger Woods. This just in: These three players are already on the clock.

2:25 p.m.: Ian Poulter, Ernie Els, Steve Stricker. Three totally different players who will attack the course in totally different ways.

2:35 p.m.: Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink. I seem to remember each of these guys winning a tournament at some point ... can't recall when, where or how, though.

2:55 p.m. ET: U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin is now in the interview room and just the thought of next year's competition brings up one of my favorite current stats. Here is the top 10 on the U.S. points list:

1. Lucas Glover -- 1,350.000
2. Stewart Cink -- 1,277.046
3. Phil Mickelson -- 859.830
4. Tom Watson -- 732.603
5. Kenny Perry -- 713.831
6. Chad Campbell -- 660.000
T-7. Ricky Barnes -- 559.830
T-7. David Duval -- 559.830
9. Tiger Woods -- 476.163
10. Hunter Mahan -- 420.850

That's right. Tom Watson, Ricky Barnes and David Duval are currently ranked ahead of Tiger Woods.

Of course, this list is only through three events, as in odd-numbered years only the major championships count toward the points standings.

1:55 p.m. ET: Thursday is a big day in the world of golf -- and not just because it's Round 1 of the PGA Championship.

On Thursday, the IOC executive board will announce the selection of two sports being considered for the 2016 Summer Games and golf is among the front-runners for one of these spots.

It's been a main topic of conversation here at Hazeltine. This is what some of the game's top players have had to say ...

Tiger Woods: "I think that golf is a truly global sport and I think it should have been in the Olympics a while ago. If it does get in, I think it would be great for golf and especially some of the other smaller countries that are now emerging in golf, I think it's a great way for them to compete and play and get the exposure that some of these countries aren't getting."

Padraig Harrington: "I'd love to be an Olympian. Doesn't that sound good? Imagine us being Olympic athletes. I think it would be fantastic for golf. As a golfer, I would think we have all the credentials to be Olympians. We probably have one of the -- how would I put this? Not very many sports -- most of the time, we don't have referees out there. We are playing away on our own. It seems like it was always destined to be an Olympic sport. I'm sure there's a lot of athletes out there that would never put golf as a sport, but trying to explain that to somebody that doesn't play golf, they will never understand what goes into golf. Most golfers realize what goes into it and will see it as being a natural sport for the Olympics."

Colin Montgomerie: "I actually went over with your own Tim Finchem and Ty Votaw and also with our Peter Dawson to Lausanne [Switzerland]. And I spoke on behalf of golf to recommend golf to the IOC, to the committee to try and get golf in the Olympics in 2016, starting in 2016. I hear the vote and the recommendation is to be put forward tomorrow for the two sports to go into another selection process in Copenhagen later on. I just hope and pray that golf is one of those seven sports that we were up against, and let's hope that it does. I won't be personally playing possibly in 2016. I heard that Tiger, unless he's retired, which he won't be, will play, and I'm delighted that he's put his name forward, as well, to [compete] not just for himself but for the United States. That gives us all a boost. And let's hope that golf becomes an Olympic sport. It was an Olympic sport in 1900 and 1904 in the Paris Olympics, but for some unknown reason didn't continue."

Lee Westwood: "When it was initially mentioned to me I was a bit against it because I was of the view that an Olympic gold medal should be the pinnacle of your sport; whereas in golf, I don't think it's ever going to be like that with the four major championships. They are always what people are going to be judged by in the years to come. But having sat down with people who have obviously sat in meetings about it and know more about it than me, that have told me, you know, what being involved with the Olympics and the fun that can come from being in the Olympics and the broadness of people that are obviously going to watch the Olympics that have never seen golf before, it could involve more people in different countries, as well, take it to more countries; then I think it's probably a good thing."

My thoughts? I'm all for it ... but not in the current format that has been proposed to the IOC, which is -- yawn -- a 72-hole stroke-play event. How original.

Instead, I'd like to see some sort of co-ed team match play format that includes alternate shot, best ball and maybe even a scramble. Let's face it: During the two weeks of Olympics, there are other sports which will garner more coverage than golf. If this is just another four-round medal play event like every other week on tour, it won't make a dent in the general coverage and fan interest. But dress it up and make it interesting with some different formats and I think it would gain an incredible amount of attention.

1:35 p.m. ET: My ranking of the top 25 players in this week's field is now posted.

Commence your criticism in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

1:25 p.m. ET: Tweet, tweet ...

scwauters@JasonSobel any news on paul casey. Looks like he'll still play if he's on range.

The last update from Casey's own Twitter account regarding his status was posted around 9:30 p.m. last night:

@Paul_Casey Making a decision tomorrow as to playing this week. Hit some balls today and felt good. If it's no good i'll make way for someone else.

I've got to believe that if he's still here and working on his game, barring further injury this afternoon, he will tee it up in Round 1.

Last week, the world's No. 3-ranked player pulled out of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational after only six holes with a strained intercostal.

1:05 p.m. ET: To the untrained eye, it's utterly impossible to separate the great pros from the good while only watching their swings.

Sure, anyone can surmise that Ernie Els owns a prettier move than Jim Furyk, but those are pretty opposite ends of the spectrum.

Every once in a while, though, a player stands out as a diamond in the rough -- and often, it's not even an elite guy.

Late last year, I watched Nick Watney hit balls for 45 minutes and determined that he was an up-and-coming star. So far this season, he broke through with his second career win at Torrey Pines and finished runner-up to Phil Mickelson at Doral.

Well, watching players hit balls on the range right now, I've got another future star picked out. Trust me on this one: Jeff Overton will win at least one or two titles before the end of next season and will contend for a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Remember: You read it here first.

12:45 p.m. ET: The more experienced players at major championships not only own an advantage in that they've played in this environment before, but they have greater knowledge of how to prepare for an event like this, too.

Wednesday is a crucial day at these tournaments in that players want to be prepared yet don't want to wear themselves out. It's a very delicate balance. Not only do they want to have a good feel for how the course is playing and how to plot their way around it, but each player wants to have his game in shape, too.

Then again, overprepare for a tourney like this -- say, by playing 18-hole practice rounds during each of the three days prior to the opening day -- and fatigue may set in before even reaching the weekend.

It's one reason that Phil Mickelson came to Hazeltine to get that strategizing out of the way last week and Tiger Woods is only hitting balls today, not playing the course (so I've heard).

12:15 p.m. ET: Stewart Cink and Tiger Woods are currently working next to each other on the practice range.

They both just took a brief break from hitting balls to have a quick conversation, as it appeared that Cink was explaining something to Woods.

No doubt he was telling Tiger how to win a major.

Oh, c'mon. Admit it. You just laughed a little bit.

12:10 p.m. ET: I certainly haven't seen every player in the 156-man field today, but I've got to believe the Wardrobe of the Day award goes to Brendan Jones.

Jones is wearing a hot pink mock turtleneck, shiny black pants and a gold belt.

And yes, it's as bad as it sounds.

I'm OK with the proliferation of white belts and Anthony Kim's belt buckles, but Jones may have just helped golf belts jump the shark with this one.

12 p.m. ET: I'd just like it to be known that I was camped out here on the practice range for about 10 minutes and then Tiger Woods walked over and decided to start hitting balls about 10 feet away.

Hope he's not too nervous.

Pretty decent place to be right now, as Woods is directly in front of me, with Anthony Wall, Rich Beem and Rory Sabbatini within viewing range to the right, and Paul Casey, Stewart Cink and Martin Kaymer to the left.

As for TW, the swing looks ... good. Under the watchful eye of instructor Hank Haney, it looks like he's working on moving the ball with his irons, hitting a few draws with each club, then working on some high fades.

11:50 a.m. ET: On the driving range, watching Anthony Kim bust 3-wood after 3-wood.

Just spoke with someone in Camp Kim. (What, you thought Tiger was the only one who has his own camp?) This person told me AK hit the ball really well last week at Firestone, but didn't make any putts. They also said he feels better with his swing right now than he has in a few years on tour.

If that's the case, watch out for Kim this week. With two third-place finishes in his last four starts, he's definitely on the short list of favorites after Woods.

11:35 a.m. ET: Just had a long conversation with a source within Camp Tiger who told me confidentially ... that he's feeling really good about his game right now.

Nice scoop, huh?

I tried to extract some good dirt and inside knowledge for you on TW, but no such luck. This person did, however, once again confirm that Woods was not fined by the PGA Tour for criticizing rules official John Paramor following the "on the clock" controversy on Sunday at Firestone.

Other than that? He's feeling good.

You know, just in case you weren't sure after those last two victories.

11:05 a.m. ET: In his news conference here at the course yesterday, Tiger Woods was asked how he would rank this season if he failed to win a major championship:

Question: If you win this week at the PGA, what letter grade would you give your 2009, and if you don't win this week, what letter grade would you give your season this year?
Tiger Woods: Well, it's been a great year either way. For me to come back and play and play as well as I've done and actually win golf events; to say at the very beginning of the year, when I was feeling the way I was, to be honest with you, I don't think any of us would have thought I could have won this many events this year.

This goes against what TW has said so often throughout his career, that winning majors are far and away the biggest priority in his professional life. In fact, we're only two years removed from a very similar situation, when Woods came to Southern Hills for the 2007 PGA Championship without a major to his credit that season. Here's what he said prior to winning there:

Question: How would you assess your year to this point, and given how you measure a year, what's at stake for you this week in terms of how you define your performance for a year?
Tiger Woods: Golf-wise it's been pretty good, but not great. I just think the major championships are valued that highly, and I've come close. Just haven't got it done yet.

The difference between the two seasons is, of course, the fact that Tiger is returning from knee surgery this year as opposed to working at full strength back then (although he admits his knee was bothering him at that point, too).

Considering Woods can potentially go 0-for-4 in the big ones and still maintain "It's been a great year," that speaks volumes about what he thinks of his performance and how difficult it's been for him to return from the injury.

10:35 a.m. ET: So I mentioned in the opening post that Hazeltine's length may not play into the hands of the long hitters. I know that notion may not make sense to the uninformed observer, but let's delve a little deeper.

Actually, I already did this in my Weekly 18 column that previewed this event:

Fact or Fiction: Hazeltine's three par-5 holes of more than 600 yards give long hitters a huge advantage.

On the surface, this is a no-brainer. Longer holes suit longer hitters because -- duh! -- they hit the ball farther. Uh & right?

Not so fast, my friends.

Fact is, at some point, a hole can become so long it negates players' length, in effect leveling the playing field. If the 633-yard third hole, 606-yard 11th hole and 642-yard 15th hole play to their numbers on the scorecard -- and yes, there's a chance they might not, at least not for each round -- they'll likely be too long for even the brawniest bombers to reach 'em in two.

Don't believe me? Just ask Tiger Woods.

"I'm not Dustin Johnson, so I can't get there," he said of the long-hitting youngster. "But who knows, the PGA has been known to move tees around like what the USGA is doing now lately under Mike Davis. I don't know if they're going to play it all the way back or not, but if they do, I don't think a lot of the guys can get to all the par-5s, and they're going to be true three-shotters."

So much for the advantage to the long guys. Meanwhile, the ball-strikers -- players who might not knock it three bills off the tee, but keep their ball in play and have solid wedge games -- can simply go about their business as usual, plotting and plodding their way around these holes without ever having a thought regarding going for the green in two.

Call it the Zach Attack strategy, one made famous by eventual champion Zach Johnson during the 2007 Masters. During that tournament, he elected to lay up on each of Augusta National's four par-5 holes in every round, yet still played them in 11-under-par, posting 11 birdies and five pars.

Don't be surprised to see a few short-knockers making red numbers on these holes once again, while the long hitters remain confounded by the uncommonly unreachable par-5s. Consider the above statement FICTION, though the real answer, of course, will be unveiled this week.

10:20 a.m. ET: I'm currently sitting in on Lee Westwood's session with the media in the interview room. Always a brutally honest guy, the T-3 finisher at last month's British Open has some interesting things to say about Hazeltine ...

• The toughest stretch of holes starts at No. 12 and doesn't stop until you walk off the 18th green. Westwood mentioned the 12th (par-4), 13th (par-3) and 15th (par-5) in particular as lengthy holes that will give players a lot of trouble.

• The fairways are wide open, which should mean driving accuracy on the whole will be up this year. "If you're good tee to green, you're going to have a few birdie chances," Westwood said, though that could describe any golf course. He said he'll use "eight or nine" drivers on the 14 driving holes.

• Like most players, he would rather see a tournament where birdies are plentiful as opposed to one where a score of even-par wins it. "Hey, we're in the entertainment business," he said. As for the idea brought up by one reporter that we could soon see an 8,000-yard course, he responded with a smirk, "I'm not sadistic. Maybe you are."

10 a.m. ET: Good morning from Hazeltine National Golf Club, where just like the 156 players competing in this week's PGA Championship, the live blog is getting in a much-needed practice round before the real thing kicks off tomorrow.

So far the word of the week is ... long. (Just imagine one of those creative TV montages with about 15 different players saying that word in reference to the course this week.) It will play a major championship-record 7,674 yards on the scorecard, which equates to 23,022 feet or 4.36 miles. That's a lot of ground to cover. Then again, it may not set up for the big bombers. I'll explain that notion during the day.

It's a beautiful, hot, sunny day here in lovely Chaska, Minn., but there is a decent breeze blowing throughout the course right now, which should hopefully help to firm up the turf after it was softened by recent rain.

I'll be out on the course getting a look at the conditions, speaking with players and updating the live blog pretty frequently, so keep close tabs on that refresh button. As always, send your questions, suggestions, comments and corrections to or Twitter account JasonSobel. You may now swing away ...