The game of golf is far from cookie cutter.
This is not the Daytona 500 where cars whiz around an oval track again and again. This is raw terrain. And, the Ocean Course at Kiawah is the most stark kind of playing course the world's best players have seen this side of the Atlantic. Add sand waste areas, gnarly bunkers, wind and water. When Pete Dye designed the Kiawah Ocean course he knew that wind direction was going to be tricky. Banking on the prevailing wind off the ocean is a lot like expecting to receive a Ferrari for your birthday - it can just flat be disappointing.
Expecting this years champion to be another experienced player adding to their loot is just plain silly. Fourteen of the last fifteen major winners were first timers. Ernie Els broke the rookie major winner streak dating back to when Padraig Harrington rolled in that putt at Oakland Hills in 2008.
The winner at Kiawah will be someone that has never won a major. The winner at the 2012 PGA Championship will be long off the tee and someone that can adjust to the ever changing wind conditions hole to hole. Pete Dye wanted it that way and that is the reason it became the venue for the 1991 Ryder Cup.
Taking a closer look at the players that can best persevere through the angles that Kiawah presents, is kind of like looking through the fog as the South Carolina sun burns it into the atmosphere. Let's take a look at the 10 players (that have never won a major) that figure to be getting into red numbers at Kiawah.
One will be holding the Wanamaker on Sunday.
Long and straight off the tee.
It would have been cool if Harry Potter, Jr. won the Greenbrier Classic. And, if he earned over a millions galleons for his win. But, that would have been like crying over spilled potion.
Instead, the winner was Ted Potter, Jr. He did not go to Hogwarts, in fact, he did not go to any college. Instead, he eschewed every higher up institution for the bloody battlefield of the PGA Tour.
But, first he had to get there. That was the hard part. But, hold your hippogriffs, this may be the beginning of a phenomenal career. Because, in the world of wizardry, far removed from the world of the PGA Tour, nothing can be explained.
He can strike the ball like he will need to into the teeth of the wind at Kiawah. And, he comes in with an impressive couple of weeks after his first win on the PGA Tour.
Ready to make a run.
He showed a guts and determination earlier this year after losing at Torrey Pines. That is the kind of heart that will be needed at Kiawah. Even though he is from the Pacific Northwest, he went to Clemson and knows how to play in the conditions that will be present at the PGA Championship.
If he can make it to the weekend, Stanley is the kind of ball striker that can navigate the dangers at Kiawah. Not to be forgotten, he is one of the young guns that is going to make a lot of noise. He tied for 19th at the John Deere Classic and then made the cut at the Open Championship.
Stanley had a tough May after a successful start to 2012. He is rebounding with some solid play of late. Watch out for the kid from Gig Harbor; his first major win could be the PGA Championship at Kiawah.
He knows wind and he knows how to bomb it.
Gary Woodland is not on any golf doppler right now. He was an up and coming player last year. Known for his penchant to bomb the golf ball will serve him well at Kiawah. But, what about his short game? This will be the difference between whether or not he will stay on the leaderboard.
He lacks the experience, but if he lets his physical ability to take over, the Wanamaker may be headed back to Kansas. Woodland's comfort in getting into contention may rely on his pairing. Keep an eye on Woodland's playing partners for the first two days—this is key.
Expectations for Rickie Fowler have ebbed from can't miss to disappointing. The human creamsicle may find the course at Kiawah to be the perfect fit for his length and short game. The wind may remind him of his college days at Oklahoma State. Fowler is sneaky long and it will be interesting on the risk-reward par fives at Kiawah. The players that can take advantage of the scoring par-fives will be tough to beat.
He has failed to dominate in some of the under the bar PGA Tour events. Can he take center stage on the big stage? It may be too early in his career, but he is starting to get used to the orange spotlight. Remember on Sunday, it's Cowboy orange, not Clemson orange.
Bring on the cheese heads.
Okay, so he didn't win the John Deere Classic for the eighteenth time. Steve Stricker knows how to grind out birdies and pars. And, this will bode well in a major championship. The one aspect of his game that seems to be underscored - is his ability to roll the rock. These greens, and some of the accessible pin placements will be green light for the Wisconsin native.
He looks mechanical in his ball striking, but as long as he puts himself into position on the greens, this major could be better than a Packers pre-season game.
Stricker is due and he has the guts the grind through the weekend.
Simple one of the best all around players.
He is precision personified. He might lack some of the competitive instincts, but have you seen him play ping-pong? If he carries the metal from the table tennis arena, to the sand, grass and wind of Kiawah—look out. Has a lot of the same characteristics of Webb Simpson. He is genrally likable, he thinks his way around a golf course well and he has a grounded aspect to his personality when the heat and humidity is at an all-time high.
While he cracked the top-five, he is the dark-horse to hoist the Wanamaker. He has played enough rounds in this region of country to feel comfortable. He would love to drag some hardware away from the Clemson players on the PGA Tour, just ask him.
Caddie is back, he is back. Everything is aligned.
Can the world number one player be any more under the radar than he is at this very moment? The London Olympics provide a great parallel storyline. He finally has his caddie back from a brief respite for the birth of their child. He is a supreme ball striker, which into this southerly wind, could prove important.
Add up everything and Luke Donald might find away to get the BPNTWAM (best player never to win a major) label off his back like a sponsor.
Can a player that went to school at Northwestern and has the ability to draw a beautiful seascape water color mural of the Kiawah shore also win a golf tournament? We will find out.
He just flat out has ice in his veins.
An overall talent with an unassuming personality and the ball striking to grab the championship. This is going to sound like hyperbole, but if he wins at Kiawah, he would get votes for the Player of the Year. Three wins, a second at the Colonial and he got married; one nice little summer.
Dufner gained experience at Royal Lytham where the wind was supposed to blow. If it does, Dufner will be ready; there must be memories from what happened to Dufner at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
He smells a major.
First there was Ed Sneed. He slipped one arm into the green jacket. Then, Scott Hoch had a short putt for a Masters, too. Then, Greg Norman almost celebrated, until he had to play the back nine. Nick was called FOLD-O before he was called Faldo. And, do you remember the kid from Northern Ireland who covered his visage in shame when his tee ball west astray in the cottages at the tenth at Augusta? Yeah, he was the same player that blitzed the field in Bethesda, Maryland two-months later.
Adam Scott is not going anywhere, except back on the leaderboard. He deserves a standing ovation for class. And, if he bounced back from a courtship with Kate Hudson and a popular win by Ernie Els, this should be like a spot of cream in his coffee. Done.
Long, talented and ready.
It is a combination of a lot of things that make this Dustin Johnson week at the PGA Championship. The PGA announced that it will be playing the sandy areas through the green. Meaning: they will allow the players to ground their clubs in this waste areas, unlike the debacle that unfolded at Whistling Straits two-years ago.
The victim that year was Dustin Johnson. The protagonist this year will be Dustin Johnson. He can flat out slam the ball into positions on the par fives to bring the Pete Dye design down a peg. He went to Coastal Carolina—no, not a golfing power—but just up the road and is a course he's used to, Myrtle Beach. This is Myrtle Beach golf on a bigger stage.