By Mark Lamport-Stokes
ROCHESTER, New York (Reuters) - A formidable finish, challenging rough and a difficult but fair test overall lies in store for the players this week when Oak Hill Country Club's East Course stages its third PGA Championship.
Golf's leading players have assembled in the leafy surrounds of upstate New York for the year's final major, featuring a 156-man field that includes 99 of the world's top 100 with South Africa Louis Oosthuizen (hip-related injury) the lone absentee.
"The golf course is in fantastic shape," Tiger Woods told reporters on Tuesday.
"It's dry now, it's got some speed to it, and the rough is certainly up. It's clumpy. It's imperative to hit the ball in the fairways and hit the ball on the greens, because it's going to be tough to get up and down."
Asked how he felt the par-70 layout set up for his game, Woods replied: "Well, I like it. I liked it when I played here in '03."
Woods tied for 39th when the PGA was last held here a decade ago, American Shaun Micheel emerging as a shock winner.
"I think it's a fantastic golf course," Woods said. "It's tough. It's right in front of you. There are really no surprises out there.
"You just have to play well. This is one of those courses where you've just got to bring it ball-striking wise. You've got to hit the ball well."
Phil Mickelson was lavish in his praise for Oak Hill after playing a practice round on Tuesday with fellow Americans Rickie Fowler, Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka.
"The golf course here is just in incredible shape," Mickelson said. "It's one of the best setups I've ever seen.
"The way the PGA has set it up with the graduated rough, the way they have rewarded good shots, and they have not overly penalized poorly struck shots, they have severely penalized poorly struck ones.
"I just think it's incredibly well thought out and should identify the best player this week. The golf course is a fair, difficult test that you want, without going over the edge and without trying to protect par."
According to Mickelson, the real sting comes in the tail on Oak Hill's heavily tree-lined East Course.
"Seventeen and 18 are two of the hardest par-fours that you can possibly have coming down the stretch, so we very likely could see a two or three-shot swing there," he said.
"And so you've got 12 through 16 where you can make up ground by making birdies, and you have 17 and 18 where you're trying to get home in pars. You can have a huge swing of strokes in that stretch.
"I've always said that my favorite thing about great championship courses is having the easy holes be easy and be birdieable and having the hard holes being really hard pars. Oak Hill does that exceptionally well."
For Masters champion Adam Scott, the major threats at Oak Hill stem from the graduated rough and the green complexes, many of which have very subtle slopes, as well as the formidable two-hole finish.
"The rough is long and that's the challenge here ... to keep it in the short stuff to give yourself a chance to score," said the Australian.
"And I think you're going to have to be very careful on the greens. There are some severe greens out there where it's important to keep the ball under the hole, on or off the green.
"Then 17 and 18 are just an extreme test of ball-striking really, and nerve. They are two of the best par-fours you could have to close probably."
The 95th PGA Championship starts on Thursday.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Julian Linden)