CRAWFORD | Amid PGA Championship drama, a victory for Valhalla - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Amid PGA Championship drama, a victory for Valhalla

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A rare look at Valhalla's No. 13 green lit up by TV lights. A rare look at Valhalla's No. 13 green lit up by TV lights.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Yes, all right, Valhalla Golf Course has fake waterfalls. But it produces real drama.

As golf venues go, Valhalla is still young. But if you measure by history, it's in its prime. Since Mark Brooks birdied No. 18 twice in an hour to win the 1996 PGA Championship, every significant stroke-play event it has played host to has come down to its 18th hole.

And it doesn't hurt to have winners of note. Look at this list: Rory McIlroy with a one-stroke win over Phil Mickelson in the near darkness on Sunday, Tiger Woods in 2000, the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2008, Hale Irwin and Tom Watson in its Senior PGA Championships.

It wasn't just drama on the leaderboard, with Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and McIlroy battling it out in the final holes. It also was a race against the clock, with sunset fast approaching and the tournament in the balance. Valhalla groundskeepers had worked doggedly to renovate the course after an early afternoon deluge had ducks spacing in the fairways.

They were rewarded with a Twilight showcase -- and we're not talking about the vampire kind.

It all played out, thanks to the nearly two-hour delay, through the hallowed time slot reserved for "60 Minutes," one of the most-watched hours on television, and all the way to 9 p.m.

With McIlroy taking a 2-stroke lead to No. 17, CBS announcer Jim Nantz said, "Valhalla is undefeated as a championship venue."

On the less-reserved Golf Channel, the praise was no less enthusiastic.

"Without a doubt it was one of the greatest major championships I have ever seen," Brandel Chamblee said. "Given the ending, it is not only one of the best major championships of all time, it is one of the craziest.  All of those chapters playing out at the same time.  It was like Quentin Tarantino wrote the final chapter to this movie."

Tarantino? How about Jack Nicklaus. The more than $5 million in changes made by Nicklaus and course officials after the 2008 Ryder Cup pulled par from 72 to 71 and turned Valhalla into the longest par-71 in the history of the PGA.

Valhalla's back nine is built for golf theater. The course won't be mistaken for one of the hardest pro golfers will see all season. Pundits say it is too easy. The soft conditions created by 2.1 inches of rain during the tournament made it more receptive to aggressive play.

Say whatever you want about the place, it delivers on Sunday. It puts on a show. It's a long course that affords golfers chances to make shots. Strange and memorable things usually happen here. Mickelson said Valhalla's layout contributes to the drama, because it makes players take chances.

"Every hole is a potential birdie hole, soft conditions allow you to go after the pins," Mickelson told the Golf Channel. " ... I think having the par-fives be reachable somewhat, they're certainly not short, but they're reachable with the long clubs for some of us and the soft conditions allowed us to stop the ball on the greens with those long irons and hybrids. I think the most boring shot in golf is the second shot to an unreachable par-5. There's nothing worse or more unappealing to hit that, and yet we continue to make our holes that long. But here at Valhalla that's not the case. Even No. 10, which I couldn't reach, some of the guys could. But No. 7 is a great par-5, and so is No. 18. So it makes for a very exciting finish."

To beat the darkness, Mickelson and Fowler essentially invited McIlroy to hit his tee shot while they walked to their balls on the fairway, then were surprised when McIlroy wound up playing his approach shot right after they did. The group essentially became a foursome for the final hole.

Dan Jenkins, who was covering his 223rd golf major, said: "I can honestly say I've never seen a foursome on the last hole of a major. And I've seen a lot of majors."

And then there were the fans. Not only were the galleries huge and enthusiastic despite the sloppy conditions, but they were huge and engaged at home. In the Louisville market, the final hour of the championship drew a 21.9 rating, 31 share, according to figures from The Nielsen Co. Nationally, Nielsen overnights show a 36 percent increase over last year's PGA Championship final, and it was the most watched final day of the event since Y.E. Yang held off Tiger Woods in 2009.

Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN Tweeted on Sunday, "I'm giving these Louisville golf fans a standing O. They're amazing. No matter how much it rains, they've been out here at Valhalla."

Mickelson said of the course and its fans, "I'm sure the PGA will come back here. … It's fun to play here and the people are terrific."

PGA officials haven't committed to when, but say they'll "almost certainly" return to the Louisville venue. They love the drama, if not the weather. And to pull of a major TV rating without Tiger Woods is a big deal, and should speak loudly in Valhalla's favor, even if golf's purists scoff.

"Valhalla, I think it always seems to provide a very exciting finish in these championships," McIlroy said. "I watched the 2000 PGA here when Tiger won against Bob May, and I was sitting at home watching The Ryder Cup, as well.  It seems like it always provides a great finish."

That's not a bad reputation to have. And with last week's PGA Championship, Valhalla built on it.

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