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Weinhart in select company - again

When the PGA Championship tees off Thursday at Hazeltine Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., a sizeable number of Georgia's PGA Tour players will not be in the field.

Jason Bohn, Jonathan Byrd, Troy Matteson, Heath Slocum and Vaughn Taylor, all of whom have won on tour, failed to qualify for the last of golf's four major championships for the year.

But Tim Weinhart will be among the 156 players competing for a Grand Slam title. Again.

Weinhart, a teaching professional at St. Marlo Golf Club in Duluth, will be making his fifth start in the PGA Championship in the last eight years. He's played in the event as many times as Brian Gay, who has won twice on the PGA Tour this year, and more times than U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover.

In fact, Weinhart will be making his second start in the championship on the same course. When Hazeltine last hosted the PGA in 2002, Weinhart was in the field for the first time. He hopes to use the knowledge he gleaned from that appearance, along with his three subsequent PGA experiences, to accomplish the rare feat for the 20 club professionals who qualify for the event.

Make the cut.

Weinhart has made a run at getting to the weekend in each of his last two PGA Championship appearances - at Medinah in 2006 and Oakland Hills last year. Coming off some strong showings in Georgia PGA events in recent months, Weinhart hopes to sustain that momentum, and is playing in the Georgia Open this week in a final competitive start before his step up onto the national stage.

After playing in the PGA Championship four times previously, the 40-year-old Weinhart is prepared for the unique experience of competing in one of golf's four majors.

"I know about the circus," he says. "I've played in it enough now that I don't see it as an adjustment. It's just me and a stick and a ball with a lot of folks around."

Weinhart retains vivid memories of his first PGA appearance at Hazeltine seven years ago.

"I remember my first time and how I hit my first shot," he said. "This is my fifth time and I'm going back to play where I played before."

From his four starts in the PGA, Weinhart has learned to gear down a little tournament week, especially after playing in a 72-hole tournament the prior week. He says he will limit himself to 36 holes of practice spread out over three days, and is hoping to take some positive thoughts with him from his play at Barnsley Gardens.

In his first four Georgia PGA tournaments of the year, Weinhart has placed fifth, first, fifth and third, with his victory in the Atlanta Open enabling him to complete the Georgia PGA Grand Slam.

Weinhart had previously won the Georgia Open, Section Championship and Match Play Championship, and with his victory in the Atlanta Open in June, has now won all four of the Georgia PGA's "major" events.

To earn a spot in the PGA Championship, Weinhart had to finish in the top 20 of the PGA Professional National Championship, which concluded in early July in New Mexico.

Weinhart, who had finished in the top 10 of the PNC twice before, including last year at Reynolds Plantation, was in position to win during the final round, but struggled over the final five holes to end up tied for eighth.

After beginning the final round five strokes off the lead, Weinhart found himself two ahead with five holes to go, playing his first 13 holes in 5-under par. But four bogeys down the stretch knocked him out of the lead, although he easily maintained his spot among the top 20 finishers.

"I'll take positives from it," he said of his admittedly disappointing finish. "I can't say, 'Oh, woe is me.' I'm going to the PGA Championship. Only 20 (club professionals) get to go out of about 4,000 who try."

Weinhart knows what he has to do to have a chance to tame the long and demanding Hazeltine layout.

"I'm going to work on driving the ball," he said after a recent third-place finish in the Griffin Classic. "When I drive the ball good I can make birdies. That's what it comes down to."

Weinhart was the Georgia PGA's Player of the Year four straight times from 2002-2005, and is currently No. 1 on the points list with a fairly substantial lead over 2007 Player of the Year Jeff Hull.

He made it to the finals of PGA Tour qualifying in 2006 to earn status on the 2007 Nationwide Tour, but was able to get into only nine tournaments and spent a lot more money than he made. After capturing six Georgia PGA titles between 2004 and '06, Weinhart was winless until the recent Atlanta Open, where he finished three strokes ahead of the field, ending his pursuit of a title that had long eluded him in heartbreaking fashion.

Weinhart will not be the only Georgia PGA member in the PGA Championship. He will be joined by Kevin Roman, an instructor at Cherokee Country Club, who needed to go two extra holes in the PNC to survive an eight players for five spots playoff.

SideBar: PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

When: Aug. 13-16

Where: Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.

Field: 156 professionals (20 club pros)

Defending champion: Padraig Harrington