Sparse Turnout For PGA Champions Dinner; Tiger Appears Dressed As A Faux Wood Pillar**

If you look closely there between Y.E. Yang and Phil Mickelson, the ghost of Tiger Woods is there at the 2015 PGA Championship Champions Dinner

Love how John Daly was enlisted to act as a floral backdrop for the Wannamaker. Nice touch. Wait, maybe Dan Pino had it right, Tiger's the photographer!

The photo Tweeted by the PGA Championship account:

Covering Up The DJ Bunker, No Relief From Reading

On a showerly, sometimes rainy Monday here at Whistling Straits there wasn't much to do but take in the scene of the last 18th hole brouhaha here...wait, what? The Dustin Johnson bunker really as been covered by a corporate tent? And who is the company directly above the half-covered bunker?

I answer that with images on The Loop.

The players are also learning about the bunkers in all of the same places as last time.

That still may not clarify things either. I explain at The Loop.

And we talked about all of this and the remnants of 2010 on Morning Drive.

Handicapping This PGA Should Be Easy, Right?

Which means this’ll be the year YE Yang finds his touch and becomes a two-time PGA Champion?

As John Strege notes, Bubba Watson has to be the favorite based on his WGC Bridgestone driving show. Or not, based on his play in majors?

The runner-up last time the PGA was played in Wisconsin, Bubba is certainly on my list of eleven, which does not include Rory McIlroy due to his return from injury. But he's dangerous off a layoff and can't be discounted.

Still, the 2010 leaderboard looks eerily like the list of top players in the world right now, making this, to me, a pretty easy one to take some handicapping swings. Day, Watson, Spieth, Johnson and Johnson should all be right there.

Here is my breakdown of the eleven I feel are most likely to contend, including all of the obvious names, reasons to like them, and my longshot from the European Tour who made his major debut at Whistling Straits.

Revisting The Dustin Johnson Episode, Because We Need To

In the August Golf Digest, Ron Whitten does an excellent job counting the number of hazards at 2015 PGA venue Whistling Straits while revisiting the whole bunker fiasco as idea behind playing all sand as a bunker.

Many will not enjoy the dredging up of this unfortunate moment, but considering that Johnson is a pre-tournament favorite and the incident has never sat well with anyone registering a pulse, it won't hurt to to rehash this as we return to the Straits Course. If nothing else, the talk will serve as a public service reminder to all players to not touch any area of sand with their club before impact.

There was this from Whitten's piece on DJ's odd episode, which ultimately ended up involving his brief, barely discernable pre-shot routine club grounding, not a grounding behind the ball to improve his lie. The randomness and lack of intent makes the entire thing that much more regretable.

Johnson told officials he thought he was in a patch of rough trampled by the gallery. Trouble is, every patch of sand at Whistling Straits is considered a bunker. The course looks like a links in towering sand dunes along the western shoreline of Lake Michigan, but in a previous life, the site was a flat Army air base, crisscrossed by concrete roadways and runways and containing the type of bunkers in which ammunition was stored. When Dye starting transforming it, he found no pure sand on site. The soil was rocky and mostly clay--even the beach was mostly rock--so Dye had 13,126 truckloads of sand hauled in.

Again, in Johnson's defense, photos taken before the Straits opened in 1998 show some of the faux dunes created by Dye were covered in sand, which had been dumped and spread in an apparent attempt to make them appear as natural sand dunes. But then tall fescue grasses overtook them, and the hillsides went from white and barren to green and wavy (golden in the fall). But in 2010, spectators' wear patterns might well have exposed some of that thin layer of sand.

This bit is highlighted not to dispute the findings in 2010, but to just remind all how peculiar the situation is given that the game on links evolved with a "play it as it lies" mantra and the PGA adopted this philosophy at Kiawah for the 2012 PGA, yet not at Whistling Straits. Whitten writes:

Player confusion might lie in the fact that this all-sand-is-a-bunker rule isn't universal. The opposite rule was applied at the 2012 PGA at Dye's Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C., where nothing was considered a bunker. All sand was considered a "transition area," and players could ground their club anywhere. It also differs from the rule the USGA applied at last year's U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, where only sand having rake marks was considered a bunker. All other patches of exposed sand were treated as "through the green," and a final determination was left with the rules official accompanying each group.

From the archives, if you want to relive the episode, there was this post on intent that might be worth a minute of your time. And this from Pete Dye, who would have none of it when talking about Johnson not recognizing he was in a bunker.

"I was standing right there," Dye said. "When he hit the ball in the bunker, the referee walked up to him and said, 'Do you need anything?' and Dustin said, 'No, I'm good.' There were no beer cans in the bunker, there were no chicken bones in there. Ray Charles could have seen it was a bunker."

The CBS coverage from back then showing the "split second" grounding, as Nick Faldo called it. Feherty's return to the bunker after the episode is telling in how (A) many people didn't understand the local rule (B) and how much he felt for Johnson in trying to ID the bunker as a bunker.

Five years later, it seems as if this episode ultimately still feels unresolved because the rule seems so contrary to the spirit of the game, especially since it was so clear that the situation was frenetic, uncontrolled and carrying such hugh ramifications.

Reminder If You're Going To Whistling: Drive Very Carefully!

Going back through the archives of posts from the 2010 PGA at Whistling Straits, I'd forgotten just what a lousy time was had by most.

The combination of the marshaling crew (including one laughing at a media member who seriously injured himself falling), awful crowd control, the scale of the venue, the spectator-unfriendlness of the course and the commute for most, meant the gripes were applenty. But best of all was the effort by local law enforcement to enrich the state and local coffers by setting up a ticket-distributing speed trap, even nailing a PGA of America officer rolling a tad too liberally through a stop where an officer was waiting to write up a citation.

So remember players, drive your ball carefully and your courtesy course even more deliberately.

From my post summarizing the week of phone calls that ensued after the 2010 PGA:

And then there were also many remarks of surprise that none of the post-2004 issues with spectating had been resolved. To which I reminded these folks that it'll only get more awkward when the USGA goes to Erin Hills and Chambers Bay, each of which is just as difficult to navigate for those outside the ropes, if not more problematic.

But we know our ruling bodies don't care about these things. They care about how much money they can rake in and how much affection they'll get for going to venues with cachet. Yet it seems in the aftermath of the Dustin Johnson escapade and above mentioned items, Whistling Straits has lost its cache as an elite major venue. What can Herb Kohler do, if anything, to restore order?

It'll be interesting to see what is done this week to make for a better experience or what the USGA is going to do to make Erin Hills another of the made-for-TV major venues despised by most who visit.

Rory McIlroy Tees It Up Despite What His Publicist Says

These kids today are so defiant.

Gary D’Amato reports from the 2015 PGA Championship site where Rory McIlroy tested out his kicked-about ankle just days before the title he is set to defend. And the round came just days after his publicist, Terry Prone, denied to the Irish Golf Desk any accuracy in the Reuters report stating McIlroy had "booked" a round.

Turns out, McIlroy had...scheduled a round, just as Reuters had said.

Reuters clearly knows McIlroy’s schedule better than his own publicist!

Anyway, the point is, McIlroy looks ready to tee it up again after missing The Open in a quest for normalcy via the seemingly stress-reducing act known as the kickabout.

In a brief interview as he walked quickly from the 18th green to the parking lot, McIlroy deemed his first practice round for the 97th PGA Championship a success.

"Yeah, it's good," McIlroy said. "Good to get a look at the course. Obviously, I have decent memories from five years ago. Yeah, good."

Golf Channel had a live lookabout into Rory's first public round since his kickabout, including when he ran up a dune and hopped to show us how healthy his ankle is.

The GC Report:

Rory Now Communicating Via Emoji; Will Make Next Presser Fun

While most have been trying to analyze the emoji's for deep, hidden meaning, the non-millennial, non-Emoji-emplying print media will probably find more to decipher in his private jet magazine spread. Looks like Golf Digest is resonating with this jet-setting millennial! And GQ, Fortune and The Economist. Plus newspapers and his passport.

The latest Tweet comes after other tantalizing social media hints suggesting a return to the game. This, after hurting himself in a "kickabout," marking the first time a professional athlete has hyped their return from a completely embarrassing and (you would think) forgettable injury.

Has The DJ "Bunker" Been Covered By A Corporate Tent?

After this week's Golf Channel re-airing of the 2010 PGA Championship, the Dustin Johnson bunker/not-a-bunker mishap remains an awkward, bizarre, unfair, cruel and understandable scar on Whistling Straits. Look for the episode and the local rule that all sand is played as a bunker to be revisted ad nauseum, though I would argue with merit considering the impact on the championship.

Yet Will Gray reports on the comments of Graeme McDowell, who recently played Whistling Straits and says that the PGA of America has covered the offending "bunker" with a corporate tent.

“There’s a big stand over Dustin’s bunker, though,” McDowell said. “There’s a big corporate hospitality unit on Dustin’s bunker. So you’re in good shape if you whip it through that fairway.”

Video: Rory Trick Shot At Whistling! (And As Close As He'll Get)

It doesn't sound like Rory McIlroy will defend his PGA Championship title at Whistling Straits, so assuming the world's worst kickabout-erer doesn't make it to the year's final major, we at least have two reminders of his brief time in Wisconsin:

(A) The Omega ad that has inexplicably resurfaced after having been designated for shipping to hostage relief teams across the globe for flushing out barricaded suspects.

(B) His trick shot appearance at PGA Championship media day with the Bryan Brothers. This would be a great chance to merge one negative with one positive and air it as 2015's endlessly played Omega ad, minus that grating song. Wait, sorry, I forgot about the blatant Bose ad to kick things off the trick shot video. Because nothing sums up the joy of media day like giant noise-cancelling headphones!

BTW the trick shots are fun, and so are the drone views of Whistling all set to stock music known simply as What We Think The Millennials Would Download If They Paid For Music, Theme.

You Really, Really Want To See Chambers Bay

I thought the poll question from earlier this week was a loaded one, what with The Old Course hosting The Open this year.

But with 715 votes 47% of you said Chambers Bay was the most anticipated major venue of 2015, followed by St. Andrews at 27%. And the quick return to Whistling Straits has almost none of you excited.

Certainly there is a mysterious quality to Chambers Bay and how the entire thing will work (or not), from the conditioning to the setup to the logistics to the first Fox telecast. As always, thanks for voting.