The real winner is the rough

Of the 14 fairways each day, Micheel (left) averaged hitting 7.8, not a good number at most courses but a winning number at Oak Hill where the rough swallowed tee shots.

DAVE ANDERSONNew York Times News Service

Shaun Micheel didn't win the PGA Championship, the Oak Hill rough did.

Only three golfers finished under par, with Micheel, at 4 under, winning by two strokes over Chad Campbell after one of the most memorable shots to the final green in major tournament history — a 7-iron off the first cut of rough that soared 175 yards and snuggled to within 2 inches of the cup for a tap-in birdie at that treacherous 482-yard 18th hole.

Shaun Micheel? Chad Campbell?

Whatever happened to Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Davis Love III, Vijay Singh and even Mike Weir, the Masters winner who was only three strokes off the lead before Sunday's final round? Whatever happened in what most people thought was those big names' small, small world?

What happened was that the big names got lost in Oak Hill's long, thick, spinach-like rough as the three golfers under par — Micheel, Campbell and South Africa's Tim Clark — proved that golf is really a big, big world.

Three weeks earlier, before Ben Curtis, another pro from nowhere, won the British Open at Royal St. George's, he was 396th in the world rankings.

And when Micheel, out of Memphis, emerged into contention here he was 169th in the world. Campbell, a touted Texan, was 58th; Clark was 85th.

Even with their unfamiliar faces filling Sunday's CBS telecast, all three would have been ideal candidates to be the mystery guest if the "What's My Line?" television show were still running.

When Micheel was the surprise leader after a 69-68 in the first two rounds, he acknowledged that Curtis' triumph had "absolutely'' inspired him to play well here in only his third major.

"I missed the cut that week at the B.C. Open,'' Micheel recalled, "so I was home with my wife watching. I knew Ben was going to win. I could see that he was hitting the fairways. That was the key.''

That was the key for Micheel too. Of the 14 fairways each day, he averaged hitting 7.8, not a good number at most courses but a winning number at Oak Hill where the rough swallowed tee shots. Recent rains thickened the rough more than usual, but Oak Hill rough had a reputation to uphold.

At the 1980 PGA, Jack Nicklaus was the only golfer to finish under par, at 8 under. Andy Bean was second at 1 under.

At the 1989 U.S. Open, Curtis Strange won his second consecutive Open at 2 under; three others were 1 under.

"When you have rain like this and the nights are cool, like they are here, that produces growth and you're going to get longer grass,'' Jim Awtrey, the PGA of America's chief executive officer, said. "This site grows really good rough. Every tournament they've had, the rough has been tall.''

About an hour before Micheel and Campbell teed off, Tiger Woods finished with a 12-over-par total of 292, the most he has ever been over par in a pro tournament.

Woods was 10 over par at both the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie and the 1998 U.S. Open at Olympic in San Francisco. The only times he failed to break par in any round in a major were in those two tournaments and again here.

And somewhere, Walter Hagen was smiling.

Hagen, who grew up here at the nearby Country Club of Rochester, won at least one major title a record six consecutive years (1924-1929).

Woods' streak ended after four years. He had only six birdies all week, against 18 bogeys but, oddly, no double bogeys.

"I didn't really hit the ball close enough to give myself chances,'' he said. "Every putt I had inside of 10 feet, I pretty much made, but most of those were pars. Actually, I putted great just to make the cut.''

In his previous tournaments at Firestone, Woods has earned about $3 million.

"It's awfully nice,'' he said, "to go back to a golf course that you feel comfortable on.''

But Woods had no complaints about Oak Hill, which he again described as the "hardest fairest'' course he has ever played, as opposed to Carnoustie, which he and many others thought was not set up fairly.

And he had no objection to the local whispers that Oak Hill might be the site of the 2011 U.S. Open.

"This week has been fantastic,'' he said. "The galleries were loud and boisterous, but very respectful. They understand a good shot.''

Woods also predicted that Micheel and Campbell, who had shared the third-round lead at 4 under, would benefit from playing together.

"I think it's great for both of them that they are playing together and don't have a major championships winner in their group who has the experience,'' Woods said. "They are in it together. I think it will be a great pairing for both of them.''

It was, as Micheel shot a solid par 70, Campbell a 72. But if you looked closely in the twilight, you could see the Oak Hill rough smiling. It knew it had really won this 85th PGA.