PGA might be the fourth of four majors, but history is still worth watching

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Poor PGA Championship.

The black sheep of the major-championship family is not only the fourth chronologically, it brings up the rear in terms of prestige, too. It doesn't have the "tradition unlike any other" of the Masters, the cold-blooded notoriety of the U.S. Open or the historical significance and international charm of the British Open.

No, instead the PGA is the one you forget to circle on the calendar, only to stumble upon it while flipping channels. It's the one you don't discuss endlessly with your golfing buddies. It's the one for which you don't play hooky or cancel your tee time or even (gulp) blow off dinner at the in-laws' house.

Phil Mickelson was recently asked to discuss the identity of the PGA versus the other three big 'uns. "It's one of the four majors," he began. "So when it's one of the four majors, it's thought of as being really important."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the event billed as "Glory's Last Shot," is it?

The latest edition of the PGA -- the 90th in a series that began in 1916 -- will tee off Thursday at Oakland Hills Country Club, but don't expect its drawing power to increase at all. The tourney will coincide with the Summer Games, NFL preseason football, pennant-race baseball and, as usual, multitudes of family vacations and other summer activities that will keep fans away from the galleries and the nearest television set. The largest detriment, however, comes in the form of a two-time defending champion who will be absent from this week's festivities. Tiger Woods will miss his second straight major championship, as he sits out the remainder of the season with knee and leg injuries.

"I noticed it when I walked in," Mickelson said. "There's a lot of empty seats. Usually when [Woods] is in the event, that doesn't happen."

All of which leads to one lamentable conclusion: This is the least-anticipated major championship in recent memory.

Don't believe me? Ask Tiger. "I probably won't watch any of this one," he told ESPN Radio on Tuesday.

This is a tournament that needs more sympathy, less apathy. Woods won't watch? Fine. That doesn't mean you shouldn't, either.

If we learned anything at Royal Birkdale last month, it's that a tournament devoid of Tiger Woods isn't necessarily a tournament unworthy of attention. Between tumultuous weather conditions that were fun only if you weren't trying to play golf in them, Padraig Harrington's back-nine charge on Sunday to successfully defend his British Open title and Greg Norman's turn-back-the-clock performance, Woods' absence was quickly converted from headline to afterthought.

"It was said best, I think, during the British Open telecast," said Woody Austin, who finished in sole possession of second place at last year's PGA. "The guy is the best player in the game; he does win a lot, but he doesn't win them all. So just because he's not here doesn't mean that the tournament should be less or that he was going to win.

"Why should everybody else be downplayed or why should everybody else be lowered because he's not here?"

An argument can be made that the PGA has provided more drama and excitement than any of its major championship brethren over the past decade. There was Woods' thrilling victory over upstart Sergio Garcia in 1999 and Woods' playoff-for-the-ages one year later against Bob May and Rich Beem holding off Woods in 2002 and Woods' back-to-back wins at Medinah and Southern Hills the past two years & and, well, even some memories that don't involve the four-time champion.

This used to be the one major championship attainable for the masses, as 13 of the 16 winners from 1988 through 2003 have been one-and-done when it comes to claiming major hardware. That includes journeymen from Wayne Grady to Mark Brooks to Shaun Micheel. But the times, they are a changin' at the PGA. All-time greats Vijay Singh, Mickelson and Woods (twice) have accounted for the most recent quartet of Wanamaker Trophy etchings, giving the tournament a champions' pedigree greater than that of the other three majors.

Although this week's winner won't be a certain guy clad in a red Nike shirt on Sunday, don't be surprised if it's another top-10 type. Here's one guarantee: The tourney won't lack for story lines. OK, so Norman, who led through 54 holes and finished T-3 at the British, declined his invitation to participate this week. That doesn't mean other blasts from the past -- Fred Couples, anyone? Or maybe Colin Montgomerie? -- can't scrape their way up the leaderboard. Or blasts from the future, as the case may be; this could be yet another coming-out party for a youngster such as two-time PGA Tour winner Anthony Kim.

There aren't many upper-echelon pros who would prefer a PGA Championship title over a green jacket, U.S. Open trophy or Claret Jug. But none are going to turn down the opportunity, either.

"A trophy's a trophy," said Boo Weekley, who is competing in his second career PGA this week. "To me, it's just another golf tournament. It don't matter if it's Augusta or what it is. You gotta tee it up, you gotta play golf and you gotta play well."

"It's a top-four tournament," said Corey Pavin, who has made the cut in 12 of 18 previous PGA starts. "There are four majors and every one is just as good as the other."

The black sheep may never become the favorite son. And that's OK. But don't let a lack of anticipation fool you into believing that this week's PGA Championship won't be worth watching. Skip it at your own risk. Just like Tiger, you may miss something pretty special.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.