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Birdies still possible at Hazeltine despite length

CHASKA, Minn. — So much for all that talk about mighty and monstrous Hazeltine National.

Tiger Woods and the other long hitters had no problem in the early going at the PGA Championship today. Woods and defending champion Padraig Harrington made the turn at 2 under, a stroke behind Robert Allenby and three others. Rich Beem, who hasn't won since the 2002 PGA here at Hazeltine, is also at 2 under after three straight birdies.

By mid-morning, 26 players were under par at Hazeltine, at 7,674 yards the longest course in major championship history.

Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink, winners of the year's first three majors, tee off together this afternoon. Phil Mickelson, who missed the British Open to tend to his wife, Amy, who has breast cancer, also plays in the afternoon.

Paul Casey, the world's No. 3 player, withdrew because of a rib injury and was replaced by Tim Petrovic.

Much has been made of the supersized Hazeltine, which is 300 yards longer than it was the last time the PGA was here, seven years ago. Most of the new length comes on the par 5s — three are 600 yards or longer. The thinking is that No. 7, at "only" 572 yards, will be the lone par 5 that players can still reach in two.

But players will find a way to get their birdies, and they did today, despite hot, muggy, breezy conditions.

At 642 yards, the 15th hole is the longest at Hazeltine. Yet Woods knocked his second shot over the green and into a bunker. Harrington and Beem, his playing partners, were right next to the green in two, as well.

Woods also had a birdie on 12, a 518-yard par 4.

Woods has won at least one major the last four years. After missing the cut at the British Open, though, he's running out of time to keep that streak alive. But he knows his way around Hazeltine, closing with four straight birdies in 2002 to finish second to Beem.

Beem has just one top-10 finish this year, and has made the cut at half the 20 events he's played. But if there's a spot for him to revive his career, Hazeltine is it. He was given an honorary membership after 2002, and he's taken full advantage of it. He's played here a dozen times since then — he's angling for his own locker when the locker room is renovated — and he's as comfortable here as his home course in Austin, Texas.

That showed when he birdied the last three holes of his front nine. He nearly holed his second shot on the par-4 18th, leaving himself a tap-in.