FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (Reuters) – The PGA Championship finally took on a major feel on Wednesday as the sun shone, the players emerged from seclusion and spectators turned up in droves to watch the world’s best players put the finishing touches to their preparations.
Bethpage Black had been completely deserted in a bleak Monday afternoon rain and only a few dozen players had a practice round on Tuesday, when the weather was mostly fine, though still cold and cloudy.
But the temperature ticked up on Wednesday, and most players took the opportunity to get in nine holes on the eve of the championship.
Masters champion Tiger Woods was a notable absentee, however. He had been expected to play nine holes, but never appeared, deciding to rest up on his yacht docked in nearby Oyster Bay.
Woods’s absence no doubt disappointed many fans at the course, but Phil Mickelson kept them happy, signing autographs for more than half an hour next to the 18th green.
A few minutes earlier Rory McIlroy had skipped past the waiting throng to a lusty chorus of boos from spectators upset at being ignored.
Mickelson finished second here at the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens and despite being a Californian has developed a rapport with the New York galleries.
“I would love nothing more than to have a victory here and feed off the energy the people have provided me,” he said.
Despite Wednesday’s sunshine, the damp par-70 Bethpage will play to every bit of its 7,459-yard length, and the lush rough will likely put a premium on accuracy, which is not usually Mickelson’s strong suit.
He guesses he will have to hit 65-70 percent of fairways to have a realistic chance of winning.
“With the severity of the rough I’ll have to drive the ball at my best,” he said.
“I can make some pars out of the rough but you’re not going to win the tournament playing out of the rough.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Zach Johnson is one of the shorter hitters in the field, but he thinks his accuracy will give him a chance of competing with the big boys.
Johnson had to hit a driver from the back tee and a three-wood second shot to reach the front of the green at the 515-yard, par-four 12th.
“The beauty of this course is, yes, it’s big but if you’re not hitting fairways it’s even bigger,” the two-times major champion told Reuters.
“It’s fair. The fairways are generous, the rough’s dense and the greens, surprisingly considering all the rain, are fantastic, smooth and the speed if perfect.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Ed Osmond)