With Michael Campbell’s glorious triumph at the US Open Championship still fresh in the memory, a powerful party of European Tour Members landed in America this week looking to produce a repeat performance at the season’s fourth and final Major, the US PGA Championship.
Awaiting them is the 7,392 yard Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, the longest par 70 course to be used in the Championship’s 87-year history and only the second venue in New Jersey after the legendary Sam Snead captured the 1942 US PGA at Seaview Country Club in Atlantic City.
Baltusrol should suit the in-form and big-hitting Vijay Singh, who won last year’s event over the lengthy Whistling Straits course and recently picked up his fourth title of 2005 at the Buick Open.
With South African Ernie Els missing the tournament after having surgery on his damaged knee, Fijian Singh is the natural leader of The European Tour challenge, although there will be plenty of others among the Tour’s 40 entrants who feel they have a real chance of lifting the Wanamaker Trophy.
The total was reduced by one on the eve of the Championship after BMW Championship winner, Angel Cabrera of Argentina, withdrew due to illness.
Australian Greg Norman has also pulled out to rest his back, which required surgery earlier this year. However other injury doubts, Stephen Gallacher and Colin Montgomerie of Scotland, have been passed fit to play.
Campbell, currently top of The European Tour Order of Merit, proved he has the capabilities to hold off World Number One Tiger Woods in winning the US Open at Pinehurst No.2 back in June and the New Zealander followed this up with tied fifth place at St Andrews in The 134th Open Championship.
South African Retief Goosen, winner of the 2004 US Open, looks to have hit form at exactly the right time after winning his first tournament of the year, The International in America last weekend, while Sweden’s Niclas Fasth and US PGA debutant Stephen Dodd of Wales have both won twice this year.
Fasth arrives in America buoyed by his success at The Deutsche Bank Players’ Championship of Europe last month, when he beat Cabrera in a play-off, and is hoping to become the first Swedish winner of the US PGA.
Singh, meanwhile, will make it a hat-trick of US PGA titles if he is crowned Champion on Sunday. The World Number Two collected his first Wanamaker Trophy in 1998 and followed this up with victory in 2004 when won a nail-biting play-off against Americans Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco. Three other European Tour Members finished in the top ten that year – Els, Paul McGinley of Ireland and Australian Adam Scott.
Play-offs have tended to feature large when European Tour Members have been in the hunt. Sergio Garcia of Spain was beaten by Woods in 1999 and Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie came within a whisker of his first Major when he lost to Australian Steve Elkington four years earlier.
With this season already witnessing a record 12 play-offs on The European Tour, few would bet against another shoot-out come Sunday.