PGA Championship Starts Without Defending Champ The PGA Championship — the golf season's final major tournament — begins Thursday — without last year's champion Tiger Woods, who is rehabilitating an injured knee. Commentator John Feinstein talks about the history of the tournament and its relative importance among the four majors.
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PGA Championship Starts Without Defending Champ

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PGA Championship Starts Without Defending Champ

PGA Championship Starts Without Defending Champ

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Golf's final major tournament of the year - the PGA Championship - gets underway today. It takes place at one of the sport's most fabled courses, Oakland Hills Country Club in the suburbs of Detroit. Tiger Woods, who will be out until sometime next year after knee surgery in June, is the non-defending champion. Commentator John Feinstein joins us now.

Good morning, John.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's start, for a change, with the course. Why is it so famous or so storied?

FEINSTEIN: Well, there's a couple of reasons. One is that virtually every championship that matters - other than the Masters, which is always played down at Augusta National in Georgia - has been played at Oakland Hills. PGA was last played at Oakland Hills in 1979. The U.S. Open has been played here a number of times.

But I think it really goes back to Ben Hogan, when he won the Open there in 1953 and after winning declared: I slayed this monster, referring to the golf course. So because of Ben Hogan the golf course has always been known as a monster, and it can be. It's very long, high rough, very fast greens, and two great, difficult finishing holes.

The golf tournament will probably be decided on the par 3 17th and the par 4 18th. The last time the U.S. Open was held here, three guys - Tom Lehman, Davis Love and Steve Jones - went to the 17th tee tied. Love and Lehman couldn't make pars on the last two holes. Steve Jones did, and he won the championship.

MONTAGNE: Now, John, what does it say that my second question here is about Tiger Woods? Basically, I want to know how is his recovery going?

FEINSTEIN: Well, he's off the crutches. He's on a cane. He says he has started his rehab. He's hoping to hit golf balls by January 1st, which would be right on schedule for this kind of surgery and would, he hopes, get him back in time to play in the Masters next April.

But it's interesting: In all the press conferences this week, all the players have been asked not about how's your game but about what does it mean that Tiger's not here, which just shows you how dominant he is in the sport that he can be absent but still very much present.

MONTAGNE: And of course there are players who are teeing up. Let's go to them now. Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson both played well last week. What, so they're the favorites?

FEINSTEIN: You know, they are, because they're the guys who've each won three major titles. Each has won this championship, the PGA. In fact, Singh's won it twice. And this is an opportunity for both of them. Again, as you said, they're both playing well. Singh won last week in Akron, Ohio. Mickelson was in contention until the last couple of holes. So they should have confidence coming in.

You know what, Renee? They're not getting any younger. Singh is in his mid-forties. Phil Mickelson's closing in on 40. That doesn't mean their golf careers are over, but this is a chance for them to add a major to their resume right now. It's also a major opportunity for younger players like Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott, who've made a lot of money, who've been ranked in the top five in the world but have never won a major title.

MONTAGNE: Now, people always say that the PGA is the least important of the four majors. What do you think? First, true, and if so, why?

FEINSTEIN: Well, it is true, because as David Duval said several years ago, if you've got four majors, one of them has to be ranked number four. And I think the reason for that with the PGA is that it doesn't have anything about it that's unique. The Masters it's the golf course. The U.S. Open it's the set-up that's so difficult. The British Open it's the links courses and the wind and the weather. The PGA's just a really important golf tournament without a particular personality.

But you tell somebody who's won it that it's not important and you're going to get laughed at. Jack Nicklaus won it five times. He certainly counts it among his 18 majors.

MONTAGNE: John, thanks very much.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: The comments of John Feinstein, whose book "Tales from Q School" is now in paperback.

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