KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — The final major of the year, and everyone was cramming for their last big exam.
Ernie Els and Adam Scott walked up to the 18th green at Kiawah Island on Wednesday evening about the time most people in the low country would be going out for a dinner of shrimp and grits. Behind them on the Ocean Course was Ian Poulter, facing the prospect of missing out on the Ryder Cup team, and Graeme McDowell, in Sunday contention at the last two majors and hopeful the outcome at the PGA Championship will be different.
The major that bills itself as "Glory's Last Shot" felt more like a pop quiz.
Rain has pounded Kiawah Island throughout the week, and it got so bad Wednesday that play was suspended because of storms before anyone teed off. It has led to limited practice time on the one course where players really need it.
This is the first time South Carolina has hosted a major championship. Kiawah Island had the Ryder Cup in 1991, so long ago that Jose Maria Olazabal is the only player at the PGA Championship who played in the matches. And he's only in the field as the European captain.
McDowell, Scott and Tiger Woods were among those who came to Kiawah last week for a look at the Pete Dye design, though all of them remarked that 2 inches of rain had fallen the night before and it was soft. Not much has changed a week later.
"The last couple of days have been very difficult from a preparation standpoint," McDowell said. "The golf course has taken a lot of rain. It seems to drain extremely well, though. But there's no doubt, this golf course is a long course, and this little bit of rain is going to make it play longer, and certainly is changing the dynamic of it as we speak."
Then, he headed out for an emergency nine, one last chance to see the stretch of holes that could determine the winner.
"It's going to be busy this afternoon," he said. "Guys are scrambling around to get their preparation done. Thankfully, I feel like I have done enough so far."
At most majors, practice rounds are busy Monday and Tuesday, with mostly work on the practice range on the eve of the championship, perhaps nine holes in the morning.
"It was a little strange to prepare — not your typical week leading up to a major," Stewart Cink said late Wednesday afternoon. "But it was fine. We could get enough work in. Everybody is in the same boat, so it will be all right."
No one is sure what to expect at Kiawah, the longest course in major championship history at 7,676 yards, depending on how they set it up.
The nines on the Ocean Course are divided by the clubhouse and practice range — the front nine is to the north and cuts through marshes, the back nine to the south, about a mile away from the ninth green, and featuring majestic views of the Atlantic Ocean beyond the dunes and sea oats.
The course looks wide open, although typical of a Dye design, it forces players to look at trouble without realizing there's more room than meets the eye. The last time Kiawah was in a major spotlight — the ‘91 Ryder Cup — the course was new and ragged around the edges, the wind picked up and it was pure survival. Hale Irwin had a 41 on the back nine and still won the decisive point for a U.S. victory, but only after Bernhard Langer missed a 6-foot par putt. That anguish on his face epitomized the emotions of the Ryder Cup.
The question is whether it becomes a product of Kiawah Island.
The hazards are plenty — 27 of the 86 acres that make up the Ocean Course are sandy areas, not to mention the water, the oppressive heat and humidity and mosquitos that do most of their damage in the morning. Darren Clarke was among those who got in a quick nine Wednesday morning, before a burst of showers. Walking off the 18th green, he wiped a small streak of blood from his wrist where he had killed a mosquito.
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Kiawah Island, S.C.