A record 35 European Tour Members - four more than the previous record in an American Major set during last year’s US PGA Championship - will tee up at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Georgia this week hoping to win the final Major of the 2001 season, the US PGA Championship, and end World Number One Tiger Woods's hopes of a unique title hat-trick.
The legendary Walter Hagen did win the event four years in a row from 1924-1927 but that came in the days when it was a match play contest. Since the change to a stroke play format in 1958, no-one apart from Woods has won consecutively, far less three times in a row.
The last person to lift the Wanamaker Trophy before Woods was Fiji's Vijay Singh, who was accorded Honorary Membership of The European Tour in the week of the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth Club, and whose 1998 triumph at Sahalee was his first Major victory. Singh will again be a strong contender as will the entire European Tour challenge which will feature 19 of the current top 20 on the Volvo Order of Merit, led by current Number One, Retief Goosen.
The South African made America sit up and take notice two months ago when he won the US Open at Southern Hills Country Club, beating Mark Brooks in the 18 hole play-off. Goosen's achievement will be properly recognised when he lines up with Masters champion Woods and Open champion David Duval in the leading three-ball of the opening two days.
Other European Tour Members hoping to perform well again include Bob May, who lost to Woods last year in a play-off at Valhalla, as well as Thomas Björn and José Maria Olazábal, who took third and fourth place respectively in Kentucky 12 months ago.
Amongst The European Tour challenge will be a number of players making their debut in the event including Adam Scott, winner of the Alfred Dunhill Championship in January, Niclas Fasth, runner-up to Duval in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes, and Andrew Oldcorn, winner of the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth Club in May. All will find the Highlands Course at the Atlanta Athletic Club a stern examination of golf with all aspects of the game tested over the 7,213 yard, par 70 layout.
The US PGA Championship returns to this corner of Georgia for the first time in two decades, the last time being in 1981 when Larry Nelson triumphed with a seven under par score of 273, one of only three players under par that week. Nelson's pin point accuracy off the tee and superb putting were two of the keys that saw him win the first of his three Major Championship titles and whoever wishes to follow suit will have to adopt a similar plan of attack. Since that time the Highlands Course has undergone a couple of redesigns and has matured considerably. A 1995 redesign by Rees Jones proved to be the most successful in bringing thecourse to an even higher standard than before.
As a result, competitors in the 2001 US PGA Championship will find a long, difficult course with tight fairways, thick bermuda rough and testing undulating greens.
The key to scoring will again be accuracy off the tee and the ability to negotiate the subtle slopes on the tricky greens.