Robert Karlsson hasn't finished worse than eighth in a major this year and is leading at the PGA Championship. Dust in the wind: Karlsson, minus his volcanic dust, among PGA leaders, as Perry withdraws

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. - The Swede who's made this a summer of always being there in majors is there again - minus the volcanic dust he used to eat. This 90th PGA Championship isn't close to being all about Robert Karlsson yet, though.

Instead it's becoming more and more about who isn't here. Kenny Perry - arguably the biggest story in the PGA Championship with Tiger Woods already sidelined - withdrew late Thursday evening because of complications from Lasik eye surgery. Perry's departure came so late that almost none of the other players in the field knew about it when they left the course.

"I love the PGA Championship and hate to not be continuing," Perry said. "But I have to get ready for the Ryder Cup."

Perry signed his scorecard for 79 and hours later ended his 2008 run at the majors at 18 mere holes (he skipped the U.S. Open and the British Open in his Ryder Cup plan obsession).

So a major that's been largely overshadow by Ryder Cup talk gets more Ryder Cup-effecting drama. The actual golf at Oakland Hills has the trio of Karlsson, Jeev Milkha Singh and Andres Romero (who only completed 16 holes) tied for the lead at 2-under heading into today's second round. There are 31 other golfers within three shots of the lead, including big names like Sergio Garcia (1-under), Sean O'Hair (1-under), Anthony Kim (even), Phil Mickelson (even), Padraig Harrington (plus one), Jim Furyk (plus one) and Brandt Snedeker (plus one).

On a course that already shocked the pros with how much tougher and faster it got just from the practice rounds Wednesday to the tournament start Thursday, this represents quite a bunching with a great chance.

"You just want to be close to par," Mickelson said. "You can't fall too far back on a course like this. But as long as you're right around par nobody's going to run away from you."

For Hunter Mahan - who's drawn focus at the PGA because of his "slave" rips on the Ryder Cup - it's long past gotten away. Mahan shot an 11-over 81 even as more and more European players stepped forward to publicly mock his remarks. Adam Scott - the fourth-ranked player in the world who has had nothing approaching major success this year - can relate with a 77. Vijay Singh, who came here reenergized after last week's win, gave himself plenty of work to do after a first-round 76.

"I was happy to break 80," Lee Westwood said after a 77. Westwood went on to charge that the PGA of America's setup here is more unfair than what those famed torturers from the USGA did this year at Torrey Pines South.

"I'm not sure you need the rough as long as it is and you certainly don't need to sweep it back towards the tee the night before the tournament when we have played it another way in the practice rounds," Westwood said. "I can't recall that ever happening before and I can't think of a reason why they would do that other than to irritate the players as that is all that does."

Robert Karlsson, Anthony Kim all right with PGA

Not everyone is quite as worked up as Westwood.

Karlsson - who hasn't finished worse than eighth in a major this year, all the while giving new meaning to the term eccentric - is just rolling with the vibe. But one of the last true originals in a sport that's only gone increasingly corporate would probably be doing that even if he wasn't tied for the lead.

This is the guy who tried eating volcanic dust to increase his success in the golf's big events several years ago.

"Well, you've got to have something to write about don't you?" Karlsson said.

When Karlsson hit a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-3 13th that hit the back of the hole hard, popped straight up in the air and fell down into the hole, he certainly had something to talk about. For a guy who really believes in omens - and just about everything else - it was a good sign.

"It was just hit too hard," Karlsson said of the putt. "It probably would have been eight feet past (if it hadn't popped straight up and in). It was definitely lucky there."

Karlsson believes he now has "a vision" for the majors. He's not the only one thinking breakthrough big win, however - though it's a good bet that guys like Garcia and Kim, or really anyone else but Karlsson, didn't consider achieving those visions with the help of a volcanic dust treat.

"Volcanic what?" Boo Weekley cracked. "I thought I'd done it all. And that's a new one to even me."

Kim - who drew the biggest gallery of the day and is getting more and more people telling him he's the next it thing in golf - wasn't looking for dust on a Michigan day that alternated between sun, clouds, wind and then pouring rain (there was a 90-minute delay, and 18 players didn't finish their first round). Rather, Kim wanted a better head.

After bogeying his final hole of the day, Oakland's devilish brute par-3 ninth, Kim blamed himself repeatedly for his decision to go for the pin.

"I knew I could not fire at the flag there with the wind," Kim said. "But I couldn't stop myself from firing at it for some reason."

Then Kim grinned. When you're this close in the PGA Championship, when you haven't had to withdraw, when you're not raging against the rough, things are good.

August 8, 2008

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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