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Sunday, 08 August 2004
The 86th US PGA Championship unfolds this week with a record European Tour contingent gathered on the shores of Lake Michigan ready to tackle the longest course in Major Championship history.

A total of 42 European Tour Members will line up at Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wisconsin, to pit their skills against the Pete Dye creation that will measure 7,514 yards for the final Major Championship of the season.

No fewer than 44 Members were invited and despite the withdrawal of Denmark’s Thomas Björn though a shoulder injury and US Open Champion Retief Goosen after a jet-skiing accident, the European representation still surpasses the previous record of 41 at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester last season.

The current leader of the Volvo Order of Merit is another South African Ernie Els, the World Number Two looking to capture the US PGA Championship after finishing second in the Masters Tournament and the 133rd Open Golf Championship, where he lost a play-off to Hamilton, and joint ninth in the US Open Championship this season.

Two more European Tour Members Vijay Singh of Fiji and American John Daly play in the company of World Number One Tiger Woods. Victory by either Singh, the World Number Three, and World Number Two Els could end Tiger Wood’s five year reign at the top of the Official World Golf Rankings this week.

Being the third last counting event on The Ryder Cup European Points List and penultimate counting event for The Ryder Cup World Points List, additional interest will be huge outside the quest for the impressive Wannamaker Trophy itself.

There will be plenty if intrigue surrounding those players on the bubble, players like Sweden’s Fredrik Jacobson who will be battling to climb back through either the World Points List, where he is seventh, or the European Points List from his current position of 11th.

David Howell of England, currently eighth in the combined Ryder Cup tables will be hoping to consolidate his place in the European Team with a good performance at Whistling Straits as will compatriot Ian Poulter and Swede Joakim Haegman, the players holding on to the last qualifying places for the Team.

Jean-Francois Remesy and Raphaël Jacquelin of France, Jacobson, England’s Brian Davis, Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland and Ireland’s Paul McGinley, the man who holed the winning putt at The De Vere Belfry two years ago, head the list of those challenging for places, all desperate to join the Team on the flight to Detroit in the full knowledge they are involved in sprint to the line.

Alex Cejka of Germany, the higest placed European in the US PGA Championship last season, forced his way into Captain Bernhard Langer's thinkiong with an impressive week at The International and goes to Whistling Straits high in confidence.

For the Americans, their race comes to an end this week with the US Ryder Cup Team decided at the conclusion of the US PGA Championship.

Defending Champion will be American Shaun Micheel who produced one of the shots of the year at the final hole, a seven iron to inches from the cup to seal his victory.

It was the fifth consecutive victory by an American player in the event following Rich Beem (2002), David Toms (2001) and Tiger Woods (2000 and 1999). The year before that saw the last victory recorded by a European Tour Member when Singh triumphed at Sahalee.

Opened in 1998 and designed by Dye, Whistling Straits emulates the great old seaside links courses of the British Isles. The Straits Course is open with rugged and windswept terrain. A more mature course than one would expect, golfers encounter huge sandy areas, deep pot bunkers, grass-topped dunes, big and undulating greens and majestic views of Lake Michigan from each of its 18 holes. The 17th, the course's unofficial signature hole, features a green precariously perched over water and sand.

The area was once the flat desolate site of Camp Haven, leased to the Army for ten years in 1949 and used as an anti-aircraft firing centre and later acquired by the Wisconsin Electric Power Company as a possible site for a nuclear power plant.

In 1995, the Kohler Company, led by its President and Chief Executive Officer, Herbert V Kohler Jr, completed an agreement to obtain the 560 acre two-mile stretch of shoreline.

Kohler’s vision, the resources of his company and 170,000 loads of quarried sands, and Dye’s imagination have transformed the site.

“Mr Kohler showed me the piece of property and said: ‘I want to strive for something like Royal Portrush and Ballybunion. Make it as close to that as you can.’ We just kept plugging away at it.”

As a result Kohler and Dye decided to seed the fairways with fescue, a grass common in the British courses but rarely used in the United States. The result is a fast, running course that will fully test the best players in the world.

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