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Whistling Straits will be the toughest test

With the wind blowing, world number one Tiger Woods says he has never played a tougher course.

Spaniard Sergio Garcia rates it the hardest layout he has ever tackled. Britain's Darren Clarke describes it as "brutally difficult" while three-times major winner Ernie Els pays tribute to a great venue providing a great test.

U.S. Masters champion Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, believes there are plenty of birdies to be had if you play well there.

A range of opinions and all directed at the 7,597-yard Straits Course at Whistling Straits, opened in 1998 and venue for this week's U.S. PGA Championship.

Designed by Pete Dye, the par-72 layout is modelled on an Irish seaside links.

Eight of the holes hug the Lake Michigan shoreline and the course, which includes three par-four holes in excess of 500 yards, is the longest in major championship history.

The terrain, once flat, windswept and featureless, is now studded with soaring sand dunes, deep pot bunkers and fast-running fescue fairways.

"If the wind blows like this, I don't think I've played a golf course this difficult," Woods told reporters after a practice round on Tuesday. "If the wind doesn't blow, the guys will shoot good scores.

"But if the wind blows like it did today, every hole is a crosswind. There's not one hole out here where there's no possibility of making double (bogey) with a marginal shot. I've never seen that in any other golf course.

"I tell you if I was an 18-handicapper, I would not want to play here."

Garcia, who finished runner-up to Woods in the 1999 U.S. PGA Championship at Medinah, agreed. "I don't think I've ever played anything as tough as this," he said. "This is definitely the toughest course I've ever played in my life."

Northern Ireland's Clarke played the Straits Course for the first time on Sunday, with the prevailing wind.

"I don't think it's too tough," he said. "I just think it's brutally difficult. It's very, very demanding. This is the toughest and fairest course I've played."

Fellow Briton Lee Westwood had his first look at the course on the same day.

"I was told before I got here that there were 10 really difficult holes and eight impossible ones," he said. "I'm just trying to work out which the 10 difficult holes were.

"It's a very, very difficult golf course, almost a little too difficult really."

Els, however, was suitably impressed. "I think it's a great venue. It's a great test," he said.

"You have to bring your game here. You're not going to fluke this one. You've got to really play well. If it really blows, it's going to be a survival test.

"Putting is going to be difficult in the breeze. There's a lot of slope on the greens and they're pretty fast."

Left-hander Mickelson, renowned for his attacking approach at the majors, believes Whistling Straits can be challenged as well as challenging.

"I think that this golf course, with wind, is one of the hardest courses tee to green that we'll see," he said.

"Although it looks like a links-style course, there are no run-up shots. You have to fly the ball on the green and you have to drive it extremely well into crosswinds, which is not easy to do.

"But there's plenty of room in the fairways and the greens are very receptive. So I think that there are plenty of birdies out there. If you play well, you could score pretty well here."

The 86th U.S. PGA Championship starts on Thursday.

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