SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — The first round of the PGA Championship has begun more than three hours late after a fog delay, a fittingly odd start to the final major in what’s become the strangest of seasons.
With Whistling Straits shrouded in fog so soupy it obscured Lake Michigan, Tiger Woods and other players with morning tee times could do little but wait out the delay of 3 hours, 10 minutes on the driving range and putting green. A few players used the time to rest after their early wake-up calls, stretching on the ground and using their bags as pillows.
The PGA is known for producing some unexpected winners, but it’s even more wide open than usual this year. Woods’ game is as big a mess as his personal life, Phil Mickelson has forsaken his beloved burgers for broccoli because of arthritis and Lee Westwood is at home with a calf injury. With five of the last six majors won by first-timers, including the U.S. Open (Graeme McDowell) and the British Open (Louis Oosthuizen), just about every guy in the locker room is thinking this could be his week.
“This is probably as wide open a major as we’ve seen in a long time,” Steve Stricker said. “I think we all have a sense that if you can play well and get it going, then you have that great opportunity to win here.”
Woods, who needs a good week to hang onto his No. 1 ranking and end the hubbub over his Ryder Cup status, is now teeing off at midday in a group with Vijay Singh, the winner the last time the PGA was at Whistling Straits, and defending champion Y.E. Yang.
It was Yang’s victory at last year’s PGA that was the first sign of trouble for Woods, though no one could have imagined this dramatic of a downfall. Woods hasn’t come close to winning a tournament since running over that fire hydrant on Thanksgiving, unleashing a firestorm of tawdry details about his rampant infidelities. While his personal life is beginning to “normalize,” his game is doing the exact opposite.
He slumped to a new low last week, shooting a whopping 18-over 298 and managing to beat only one player in the 80-man field at Firestone — a course where he’s won seven times. He’s broken par in only four of his last 20 rounds, and is scrambling to hang onto the No. 1 ranking he’s held for a record 270 weeks in a row.
Mickelson has come up short in his previous opportunities to reach No. 1 for the first time in his career. But he could do it this week with five scenarios: a victory; runner-up finish with Woods out of the top three; third-place finish with Woods out of the top 11; fourth-place finish with Woods outside the top 46; a two-way tie for fourth with Woods missing the cut.
Mickelson tees off in the afternoon with McDowell and Oosthuizen. Playing two groups ahead of them are Stricker, the Wisconsin native and No. 4 player in the world, and Rory McIlroy, who tied a major championship record with a 63 in the first round of the British Open.