Despite drought, Europeans remain fond of Oakland Hills

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BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. --- To walk up the stairs to the locker room at Oakland Hills is a swift journey through history, the kind that most Americans would like to forget.

Go up the first flight and on the wall is a wood-framed photograph of Colin Montgomerie, posing after another flawless swing. More large photos are at every turn, from Sergio Garcia staring down another flag to Luke Donald thrusting both arms in the air to Bernhard Langer posing with a gold cup. The final photo shows a champagne-soaked celebration at Oakland Hills.

The last major competition at Oakland was the 2004 Ryder Cup, and it wasn't much competition at all: Europe 181/2, United States 91/2.

"I got here this morning to play and there wasn't a soul out here," David Toms said Monday. "It was a lot different from the last time I walked off this golf course."

For eight Europeans from that winning team, there are only happy memories. That might be why odds are better than ever of a European winning the PGA Championship for the first time in 80 years, its longest drought in any major.

"It was one of the most memorable weeks I've ever had, certainly on that golf course," said Ian Poulter, who won his singles match against Chris Riley in 2004. "And it will be nice to go back to a golf course that I know, that I've played well on, and refresh and rekindle your mind with those good thoughts. That certainly is a golf course I've got a lot of good memories around."

Poulter also can take good memories from the last major, where he challenged Padraig Harrington at Royal Birkdale with a birdie on the 16th and a 15-foot par on the final hole that turned out to be good enough for the silver medal.

And he's not alone.

Europe has 16 players who are among the top 50 in the world ranking, although Donald is not at Oakland Hills because of a wrist injury that has kept him out of the final two majors and could keep him off the Ryder Cup team.

Three other players from Europe's record-setting victory in 2004 did not qualify for the PGA Championship -- Paul McGinley, Thomas Levet and David Howell, whose 6-iron to 8 feet on the 17th hole was among the signature shots that week.

Even so, their collective spirits have never been this high. Harrington has led the way, ending Europe's eight-year drought in the majors by winning at Carnoustie, then becoming the first European in 92 years to win the British Open in consecutive years.

Maybe it would be best for Americans to use alternate stairs to reach the locker room, for Oakland Hills has far more history than an exhibition between continents.

The last of eight majors held at Oakland Hills was the 1996 U.S. Open, where Steve Jones won by one shot over Davis Love III and Tom Lehman, and Tiger Woods played his final U.S. Open as an amateur.

Woods is missing his second major in a row after season-ending surgery to rebuild his left knee, although PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said the world's No. 1 player is starting his rehab.

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP


WHEN: Thursday-Sunday


SITE: Oakland Hills Country Club (South Course); Bloomfield Township, Mich.


LENGTH: 7,395 yards; 35-35--70


ON TV: Thurs.-Fri., 1-7 p.m. TNT; Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.-2 p.m., TNT; 2-7 p.m., CBS-Ch. 12


DEFENDING CHAMPION: Tiger Woods


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