I know not too much time has passed since the Open Championship, because Phil is still ear-to-ear, but the PGA Championship is upon us–back at venerable Oak Hill. The storylines for the PGA are often dictated by what happens earlier in the golf season. Long the major without a true identity, the PGA has tried to latch onto, “Glory’s Last Shot,” and there is some truth in that corniness, especially for a player like Tiger Woods who is judged solely on his performance in the major championships.
With Phil and Tiger back at numbers 1&2 in the World, this is definitely has the feel of a head-to-head battle. While Tiger vs. Phil rarely plays out on the course, it certainly plays well in the media and there is plenty of debate leading up to this tournament about who owns the better season to this point and whether or not either should be considered the odds on favorite to win this week.
It’s funny that you have to defend the honor of regular PGA Tour events for a player with 14 majors, but that is the case for Woods, who probably trails Mickelson’s year in some polls despite rolling off five wins–most in convincing fashion. Are five regular wins better than 3 worldwide wins including the Open Championship? Most people would say no, and Tiger might be among them. He’s done so much to downplay the significance of the non-majors through his career that we hardly even take notice when Tiger obliterates the field at Firestone.
I equate Tiger’s dominance in his “pet” events–Bay Hill, Torrey Pines, Memorial, Firestone, etc to the NBA Dunk contest. No matter what you see, you will eventually get bored with it over time, and for the most part we are bored with Tiger’s regular tour conquests. The only way Tiger will recapture our attention is by translating his dominance back to the majors. When Tiger makes the putts and holds up on a major Sunday we will finally know that he is “back,” though we still may not be impressed.
Phil is lucky to not face such an overwhelming burden of proof. He’s already done the unexpected this year, and so while he enters the event as the favorite, or co-favorite, the expectation for him doesn’t carry as much weight. Phil’s great year has already been sealed, while Tiger has been searching for his own since 2009. So, we’re back to Phil vs. Tiger, but the stakes for each player are vastly different.
Other stories of Note:
The Defending Champion–It was a year ago that Rory McIlroy cruised to his second major championship runaway. In the interim, he’s switched to Nike equipment and seen some rust on his game develop into a legitimate mental rut. I don’t know anyone who expects Rory to salvage his year this week and if it weren’t for Tiger and Phil, we’d probably still be digesting a lot of “what is wrong with Rory,” stories. I still think Rory is a streak player, a better one with higher peaks than we’ve possibly seen, but streaky nonetheless. I don’t think we’re going to see his best golf for the remainder of this year, and beyond that, I’m not sure where his career is heading.
The First Time Major Winner–The PGA has always been associated with the 1st time major winner. Deep fields, perhaps the choice of courses, has allowed for some unexpected champions. Some have gone on to great careers, others have just been a blip on the screen. The last time the PGA was at Oak Hill, Shaun Micheel hit one of the great 7-iron shots ever, but he’s rarely been heard from since. In recent years, the event has been the domain of the young gun. Kaymer, Bradley and McIlroy all in their 20s, two world #1s and close calls for other rising stars like Jason Dufner, Dustin Johnson and Nick Watney. Will the PGA be someone’s first major this week? Will it be a young player, or will someone’s career finally get that signature moment like Azinger in ’93, Love in ’97, or Toms in ’01?
The Course–Oak Hill is a brute. Only three players (Micheel, Chad Campbell and Tim Clark) broke par in ’03, and the course is known as an exacting test of ball-striking and precision. The players will need to be accurate, and length plus accuracy could be a real advantage. I’d expect the great drivers of the ball (Dustin Johnson, Mahan, Sergio, Keegan Bradley, Rose, Stenson) to populate the leaderboards this week. Of course, most majors eventually come down to the greens–just listen to Tiger–so it should be noted that it was a pretty harsh summer for Oak Hill. Tiger was critical of the greens on a pre-tournament visit, but apparently they are in better shape as we get ready to start things off tomorrow. If the greens aren’t up to speed, or are especially bumpy, this is even better news for the ball-strikers.
The Five Best Pairings:
5. Mickelson/Rose/Scott–The traditional PGA pairing of the year’s 1st three major winners. Doesn’t show a lot of creativity, but all three of these players could contend. We saw Mickelson harness the energy of a disappointment at Merion, how will he handle coming off a win? I think he runs out of steam.
4. Beem/Brooks/Micheel–A bit cruel, but amusing enough to make the list. Here the PGA groups three guys who “accidentally” won the tournament. Why tarnish three groups when you can just lump them together?
3. Dustin Johnson/Charl Schwartzel/Henrik Stenson–If I could pick one group the winner might come out of, this would likely be my pick. A lot of talk about Oak Hill being tailor-made for DJ, but he’s yet to show he can close a major. Will his talent eventually allow him to win one by accident?
2. Tiger/Davis Love III/Keegan Bradley–I’m not sure how Davis got in this group, but Tiger and Keegan finished 1/2 last week and are both serious contenders. For Tiger, away from the friendly confines of Firestone, it’ll be about his putting. The first time he complains about getting the speed the down, you can probably write him off. Bradley needs a win to cap what’s been a very consistent year.
1. Dufner/Stricker/Matsuyama–Wait, what? Allow me to explain….
The Definitive (No-Longer Arbitrary after nailing the Open) Top-10:
- Jason Dufner
- Henrik Stenson
- Dustin Johnson
- TIger Woods
- Zach Johnson
- Brandt Snedeker
- Gary Woodland
- Sergio Garcia
- Angel Cabrera
- Martin Laird