'Usual Suspects' Line Up for Jack's Links

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky -- As the kindly police chief in "Casablanca" said to his officers after Humphrey Bogart gunned down the bad guy: "Round up the usual suspects."

The PGA Championship is the final major of the year and for the fourth time Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Tom Lehman, Ernie Els and a few other usual suspects should dominate the leaderboard Sunday.

It takes a special mix of good golf, great concentration and solid decision-making to win major championships. And that will be especially true this week when 156 professionals take on a virtually unknown Valhalla Golf Club whose tiered greens place a premium on accurate iron shots.

And the mental side of the game will get an added test as players grind it out under 30-degree-Celsius heat and in suffocating humidity.

Four guys have shown this year that their games are at the kind of peak-performance level to hold up under the pressure of a major championship.

Norman, Faldo, Lehman and Els are the only players to finish in the top 20 in all three majors this year.

And Norman is the only one to finish in the top 10 every time. In fact, Norman has finished in the top 20 in 13 consecutive majors.

Now if only he'd win now and then, it would be quite impressive.

"If you go down the normal list of the top players, then you're not going to go too far wrong," Tom Kite said Tuesday, handicapping the field. "Start with Greg and Ernie," he said. "Freddy's got to be up there," Kite said about Couples, who was 15th in the Masters, seventh in the British Open and missed the U.S. Open because of a sore back.

"Those three guys come to mind right off the bat," Kite said. "Faldo's hitting it longer than he ever has in his life, so this would be a good golf course for him, especially for the size that he is with his irons. Those are really good players. They really favor the links."

They favor the links and they understand how to win majors.

"You start working on different things," Faldo said after practicing Tuesday. "Generally it's a mental thing. I think you just start to target in your mind before the next one and start thinking about it, what the golf course needs," the Masters champion said.

Lehman has his mind focused this year, finishing 18th at the Masters and second in the U.S. Open before winning the British Open. Els, at only 26, has shown amazing poise in the big ones. The South African was 12th in the Masters, fifth in the U.S. Open and second in the British Open. He was third in the PGA last year and 11th in the 1995 British Open, giving Els five consecutive top-12 finishes in majors.

If Els, who won the 1994 U.S. Open at age 24, gets into contention this year he likely won't make the same mistakes he made at Riviera in 1995 when he played safely with the lead and let Steve Elkington and Colin Montgomerie sprint past him in the PGA.

Els has the game and the discipline to win, and with the heat and humidity hanging over the Jack Nicklaus-designed course in the Ohio River valley he could find a strength in his age. This could be the PGA Els should have won last year.

There are a few other guys among the usual suspects who should make some noise at Valhalla. Davis Love III, Corey Pavin, Frank Nobilo, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, Steve Jones, Jim Furyk and Mark Brooks all have top-10 finishes in majors this year.