The US PGA Championship might be the least prestigious of the four majors but it is the most lucrative and attracts brings together the strongest field of the year. Bubba Watson can beat all the other best players in the world and pick up a huge cheque at Whistling Straits this week. Jason Day is a certain future major champion but mental fatigue may compromise his chances so Justin Rose is the next best placed to win the final major of the season.
The course on the banks of Lake Michigan was only opened in 1998 and stages the PGA for the third time in 12 years. In 2004 Vijay Singh was at the peak of his powers and beat Chris DiMarco and Justin Leonard in a playoff. The track is a specially designed links style course and at the time was the longest ever used for a major. There are over 1,400 bunkers and the rough is long. Cross winds make club selection tricky and course management is key.
Five years can be a long time in professional sport but the leading characters from Whistling Straits’ last PGA Championship in 2010 are still major players in the game. Martin Kaymer beat Watson in a playoff to win his first major and Rory McIlroy and Zach Johnson were tied third. Dustin of that name was right in the mix but grounded his club in a bunker of the 72nd hole to spoil his chances. Jason Dufner was tied fifth just two shots off the pace.
2010 US PGA Championship
In the last five years five of the players who finished in the top seven in 2010 US PGA Championship have won major championships. Watson has won the US Masters twice, Kaymer has added the US Open to his tally, McIlroy has won four majors, Dufner won the 2013 PGA and we all know what has happened to Zach. Steve Elkington was the other top seven player and he is also a former major champion so the odd one out is DJ but only just.
Dustin clearly has the game to win a major but sooner or later these near misses will get to him. Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood are good enough to win one of the four most prestigious prizes in the sport but often just come up short and the issue could now be mental. Westwood is the only player to finish in the top three of all four majors without winning one. Garcia puts himself in contention but his short game is unreliable when it matters most.
Johnson leads the Tour for driving distance and Whistling Straits is a course where length of the tee is useful. However, there is a greater premium on course management and accurate iron play and Johnson is not a top 50 player in this area. Scrambling and putting will be significant skills but Johnson does not excel on and around the greens so other players are preferred.
Bubba Watson’s Form
Watson is in the top 50 for driving distance, greens hit and scrambling and that gives him the ideal skills profile for this week’s host course. Statistics from five years ago suggest long drivers with good numbers for hitting greens in regulation allied to an excellent short game will be suited to the course. Watson has not taken to links golf but has the form and game to meet the demands of this links style layout which is not a typical one dimensional American challenge.
Rory v Jordan
The perfect scenario for the organisers and television executives is a head-to-head between McIlroy and Jordan Spieth with the number one spot in the world rankings at stake. McIlroy is returning from an injury after just six weeks when typically the recovery time is three months. Spieth is no flash in the pan and is a brilliant putter and scrambler but is more at home on courses that don’t require bombs off the tee. Class could get either player over the line but on balance Rose looks the more likely champion.
Justin Rose’s Profile
The world number six is proven at the highest level and in most years would have won the US Masters but came up short against the record breaking Spieth. He was only on the periphery at the Open but his current form suggests he can win his second major. Rose stumbled during the final round of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational but took plenty of positives from the week including a third round 63 on the Saturday. Driving distance and GIR are strong areas and he is a top 50 player for average putts per round. Rose and Watson have the best profiles of the major champions in the field and can gatecrash the Rory and Jordan party.
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