“Glory’s Last Shot” is right around the corner. The fourth major of the year often gets overlooked for a variety of reasons. It can be because football is about to start, school is about to start or just the odd timing since there was just a major three weeks ago.
Some have even referred to the PGA Championship as just a glorified PGA Tour event. Courses are not usually as daunting as the U.S. Open and British Open. It also lacks the tradition of the Masters.
This year, however, is definitely one to watch. It’s being played at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course. The course was ranked as the most difficult in the U.S. by Golf Digest ahead of such courses like Bethpage Black, Whistling Straits Pebble Beach and Shinnecock.
Set on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, the 7,600-yard layout presents a daunting layout for shorter hitters. Add in the swirling winds off the coast, and this place can be even more difficult for the big hitters who lack accuracy.
In order to prevail at this layout, the golfer needs to be long, accurate and most importantly a grinder. It will be a shock to many if the winning score is way under par.
So just who is the most likely to survive this brutal challenge? Let’s look at the 25 golfers who are best suited for Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.
Frederick Jacobson needs the putter to get hot to have a chance.
Jacobson does the one thing that is a must to win every tournament: putt.
His ability to roll the ball kept him in the mix at the U.S. Open this year where he was in third place heading into the final round.
He also tied for 19th at the Masters this year. A week before the British Open he was 15th at the Scottish Open, which is another links style course. He also had top 20s in both the British Open and U.S. Open last year.
This course will play more like a British Open with the winds off the breeze than a normal PGA Tournament. Jacobson should find a way to get himself in the mix again at the PGA.
Vijay Singh won the 2004 PGA Championship
This pick would have been much more popular ten years ago, but Vijay Singh looks to be rounding into form again. Singh won on Pete Dye’s Whistling Straits course in 2004, and after struggling the last couple seasons, he looks to once again be a contender.
He is coming off back-to-back finishes at the British Open and Canadian Open. Singh is known as an ultimate grinder. His length is not what it once was, but Singh still works tirelessly at his craft.
If Singh is dialed in, he can find a way to grind out pars and survive while the rest of the field collapses behind him. If Singh can get the putter going, he could even contend for his third Wanamaker Trophy.
Phil Mickelson is in search of another PGA Championship
I struggled with putting Phil in here due to his recent spotty performances. He missed the cut at the British Open and at one stretch, had seven rounds over par.
What is going in Phil’s favor is his middle rounds in the 60s at the Scottish Open, which is another links-style course. He also had a good showing at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2010, tying for fourth. He is able to play the kind of golf required to compete here.
Phil will need to keep the ball out of the ocean and in the fairway, in order for him to have a chance. He recently stated his struggles were due to a lack of focus. Hopefully for his sake, he can have laser-like focus and get his short game back to where he needs it. If so he could be considered a “dark horse” candidate.
When McIlroy is twirling the club low scores are bound to follow
A couple months ago it would have been unfathomable to find Rory McIlroy this far down on a top-25 list. After such a promising start to the 2012 season, his game seems to have fallen apart, with him not even being in contention for either the U.S. Open or British Open.
One thing that is undeniable about McIlroy is his talent. He grew up in Northern Ireland, which sees tough winds. McIlroy certainly has the length to compete on any track. He also can dwell on his win in the 2011 U.S. Open for a way to get his game up to par in a major championship.
Hopefully for McIlroy’s sake, he’s ready to get over this slump, and back into contention as a No. 1 type of player in the world.
Brandt Snedeker is hoping to have a repeat of his first two rounds at the British Open
The first two days of the British Open brought out the good side of Brandt Snedeker. Making putts from everywhere got him in contention for the Open championship. Unfortunately it was his ball striking that was his undoing.
He’s currently third on the PGA Tour in strokes gained through putting, and sixth in birdie average. On a course where par is going to be a coveted score, any birdies gained are certainly a bonus and Snedeker knows how to fill it up.
In order for Snedeker to compete here, he will need to improve on his ranking of 92nd in driving accuracy. If he can perfect the swing that his swing coach helped him with right before the Open, he will be right in the mix again.
Jason Dufner wants his first PGA Championship after missing out last year
No one has been hotter this summer than Jason Dufner. He ranks third in all-around stats, averaging driving, putting and iron play. He’s ninth in total driving which combines both distance and accuracy. Both are premiums at this long wind-swept course.
Dufner showed the ability to compete in major championships at last year’s PGA (second), and this year’s U.S. Open (T-4th).
The concern has been his lack of play the last two months. His only appearance since mid-June was the British Open where he tied for 31st. Perhaps if his game is back into the form that saw him win twice on tour this year, he will hoist his first major championship.
Ian Poulter would like to be known for more than his wardrobe
Ian Poulter has been quiet this year, save for his seventh-place finish at the Masters, and his tie-for-ninth at the British Open. His only other top-10 on the PGA Tour was a third-place finish at Bay Hill.
Poulter is ninth in greens in regulation on the European Tour, where the winds are often similar to the conditions that will be faced at Kiawah.
He ranks 16th in the Race to Dubai, helped by a fourth-place finish at the French Open.
If he can get into the final group on Sunday, he would have an advantage as evidenced by his great record in match play. He won the 2011 Volvo Match Play, the WGC Match Play in 2010 and tied for ninth at the Volvo Match Play in May of this year.
Sergio Garcia looks to revert to his form that got him in contention for the 2008 PGA title
Four years ago it seemed like Sergio was about to break through for his first major. He came up just short at the British Open and PGA Championship, before being knocked off by Padraig Harrington both times.
He then took time away from the game to clear his head. While he has played better since, it is his lack of confidence that prevents him from winning his first major. This year he stated, according to The Associated Press, “I’ve been trying for 13 years and don’t feel capable of winning a major.”
Garcia has had his best putting year yet, with just 1.72 putts per green in regulation, ranking sixth on the European Tour. That has been his one problem to getting over the hurdle. If he can get the flat stick going, he may finally break through.
Justin Rose is trying to translate great stats into his first major
Much like Luke Donald, Justin Rose has also been a bit of an underachiever in big events, despite his high ranking. He did win the World Golf Championship at Doral this year, which was his only top-five finish on the PGA Tour this season.
He didn’t fare well in his last two majors: T-21 at the U.S. Open, and missing the cut at the British Open in his home country.
He is in the top 10 in stroke average, on both the PGA Tour (ninth) and European Tour (fourth).
On the PGA Tour he is fifth in all-around stats ranking. He will need to put all parts of his game together to compete on this track.
Ernie Els captured the Claret Jug two weeks ago
Els finally completed his comeback at the British Open last month. He says it has renewed his hunger, rather than soothing it.
He has a record of competing on difficult tracks, finishing third at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Els has finished in the top 10 in both majors he’s competed in, placing ninth at the U.S. Open after not qualifying for the Masters.
His stats do not look pretty, but he is 13th in scoring average, so he is finding a way to get the ball in the hole. At majors, it doesn’t matter how you get the job done, as long as it gets done.
Luke Donald needs a major victory to validate his No. 1 world ranking
Luke Donald may be the No. 1 player in the world, but we have yet to see him perform when it counts in majors.
He did tie for fifth in the British Open, which is a start in the right direction. That piggybacks his win at the BMW PGA Championship, a high-profile European Tour event, done in May.
The stats do look favorable in Donald’s behalf. He’s ninth on the European Tour in stroke average and 11th in putts-per-green in regulation. He’s had a strong season, ranking 10th in the Race to Dubai, previously known as the Order of Merit.
Donald has been considered to be the best player to never win a major. The longer he goes without winning a major, the more questions will arise not only about him, but also about the World Golf Ranking system for having a No. 1 player who hasn’t contended at a major.
Ben Curtis won the 2003 British Open
Majors are all about finding the fairway and getting the ball in the hole. Ben Curtis may be the most underrated in his ability to do that.
The 2003 British Open champion has shown an ability to play in heavy winds, which he will face at Kiawah. He ranks fifth on the PGA Tour this year in both putting and driving accuracy. He gives himself many chances at birdies, as evidenced by his 13th best greens-in-regulation percentage.
Curtis owns three top-five finishes this year, with a win at the Valero Open and a runner-up finish at The Players Championship.
Curtis is silently making himself a force to be reckoned with again.
Nicolas Colsaerts is one of the longest guys on tour
One of the up-and-coming players on the European Tour is Nicolas Colsaerts. He currently ranks fifth in the Race to Dubai.
Colsaerts is seventh in scoring average and first in driving distance. At a layout of 7,600 yards, a long hitter will be needed to get around the course. One downfall could be his driving accuracy of 84th. He has shown an ability to get out of trouble, ranking 13th in greens in regulation.
This year he tied for seventh at the British Open. He has eight top-ten finishes, including a victory at the Volvo Match Play. At the U.S. Open he came into Sunday tied for fourth, before a final round 76 derailed his chances.
Padraig Harrington won the 2008 PGA Championship
After going through swing changes the last couple years, Padraig Harrington is ready to make a resurgence up the leaderboard. The owner of three major championships, Harrington has the pedigree to challenge on difficult tracks.
This year at the U.S. Open he made a final-round move up the leaderboard. He shot a final-round 68 to tie for fourth.
Harrington ranks sixth in scoring average on the PGA Tour, and has three top-10 finishes. In majors, players must take advantage of their wedge opportunities.
Who ranks first in proximity to the hole from 50-125 yards out?
Harrington does at 13’4’’. That will be critical on a long course, which leaves many shots of that distance into the green with players not able to reach the green in two.
Steve Stricker has been very consistent the last few years
Steve Stricker has been consistent this year, with five top-10 finishes. Two of his top-10 finishes came in World Golf Championships to start the year.
He won the first tournament of the year in Hawaii, and has since set a strong pace for himself. His only missed cut in his 13 events game at The Players Championship.
Stricker ranks sixth on the PGA Tour in scoring average. He’s been great in the first two rounds of events this year, ranking fourth in scoring before the cut. If he can hold it together on the weekend, Stricker could be in play for the trophy on Sunday.
Zach Johnson has the bulldog mentality necessary to win the PGA
Aside from Jason Dufner, the hottest player on tour this summer has been Zach Johnson. Johnson has won two events along with being a runner up twice. Johnson also tied for ninth at the British Open and had an opportunity to win before a final round 75.
One of his runner-up finishes was at the Players Championship. TPC Sawgrass was designed by Pete Dye, the same man who has designed Kiawah’s Ocean Course.
Johnson has been the best putter on tour this year. That skill is the primary ingredient to win on a course the difficulty level of Kiawah.
Johnson has won at Augusta and knows how to compete down the stretch with the heat on him.
This bunker ended Dustin Johnson's chances at the 2010 PGA
In 2010, Dustin Johnson was in contention at another long-links-style course: Pebble Beach at the U.S. Open. He then nearly got the job done a month later at Pete Dye’s Whistling Straits, or would have, if it hadn't been for those sand traps.
Good news for Johnson is that there are no bunkers at Kiawah; there are only waste areas. Johnson can ground his club as much as he wants without the risk of penalty.
Since coming back from a neck injury, Johnson captured the St. Jude’s classic. He ranks seventh on tour in driving distance.
This season Johnson has five top-10 finishes, ranking eighth in that category. Fully healthy, Johnson should be ready to compete at Kiawah.
Francesco Molinari is making a name for himself for other reasons than having a brother on tour
Francesco Molinari has been a standout on the European Tour this year. Known previously because of his pairing with his brother Eduardo, Molinari has started to distinguish himself.
Molinari ranks third in the Race to Dubai and has moved up to the 23rd player in the world. This season he has one win and seven top-10 finishes
He is currently third in stroke average and second in greens-in-regulation on the European Tour, which is a must in major championships. The only thing separating him from being a fixture among the elite is being in contention at a major. His previous best finish is a tie for 13th at the 2009 British Open.
Jim Furyk had a chance to win the 2012 U.S. Open
This course requires a grinder’s mentality. Furyk is the prototype for that kind of game in difficult conditions. He nearly captured the U.S. Open, one of four top-10 finishes this year.
Furyk ranks fourth on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy. He should be able to handle the wind better than most. Due to his ability to stay out of trouble, Furyk ranks fifth on tour in scoring average.
If Furyk is closer to the 70 percent driving accuracy rate he’s been throughout the year, rather than the 44 percent he showed at the U.S. Open, he has another good chance to contend.
Hunter Mahan is no stranger to being around the hunt for a title
Hunter Mahan is another player having a breakout season. He has two wins this year and is in the mix for Player of the Year award.
What makes Mahan so special is his ability to put the ball in play. He currently ranks eighth in driving accuracy and third in total driving. Mahan has been the definition of long and straight.
When a player can get the ball in the center of the fairway they have a good chance to avoid bogeys. Mahan ranks 17th in scoring average, despite being just 48th in birdie average. That means Mahan is a par machine which will be needed on the Ocean Course.
Louis Oosthuizen ran away with the 2010 British Open
Looking at the stats, there is no better player on the European Tour this year than Louis Oosthuizen. Wanting to prove his 2010 British Open win was not a fluke, Oosthuizen has had a great year in 2012.
He currently ranks first in stroke average and greens-in-regulation. He’s been great with the putter, ranking third in putts-per-green in regulation, making him an ideal candidate at Kiawah where the goal is to get the ball safely on the green.
Oosthuizen’s stats have led to him being ranked seventh in the Race to Dubai. He has two wins this year and finished second at Augusta. Glory’s Last Shot may be the perfect time for Oosthuizen to break out again.
Lee Westwood is bound to break through for his first major
Yet another in the group of grinders is Lee Westwood. No matter what the course, it seems Westwood has a knack for putting himself in the hunt on Sunday of a major.
This year, he’s had two close calls, He finished third at Augusta and 10th at the U.S. Open. Westwood currently ranks eighth in the Race to Dubai and is holding steady at fourth in the Official World Golf Rankings.
He’s eighth in stroke average o the European Tour and tenth in putts-per-green in regulation. The time is going to be soon for Westwood, who’s becoming the European version of Phil Mickelson until 2004, with all his runner-up chances. Will the PGA be the week he breaks through?
All eyes will be on this man to start the PGA Championship
He was the betting favorite entering the week. Tiger Woods will likely be in the hunt at Kiawah. He has three wins to date, and is always in the hunt on the weekends.
In his last two majors, Woods hardly had his “A” game on the weekend, yet still was able to be a contender.
The concern for Woods will be his driver. At the British Open he rarely took it out of the bag, and when he did he didn’t control it well. On a course that plays 7,600 yards, he can’t afford to be that conservative. He ranks first in scoring average and is 19th in greens-in-regulation. If Woods keeps the ball in play, he may add another major to his resume.
Graeme McDowell has been in the hunt at the last two majors
Long course, heavy winds, and most difficult course in the U.S. Is there anyone else to pick but Graeme McDowell?
McDowell’s game is not flashy, but like Westwood, he always seems to be around.
He’s been in the final pairing on Sunday the last two majors, before his ball striking left him. McDowell won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2010, so winning on a difficult course is not a roadblock to him.
For McDowell’s sake, it would be nice for him to grab the lead heading into Sunday, rather than have to chase from behind. I tend to think the third time will be the charm if McDowell is last to play on Sunday at Kiawah.
Matt Kuchar is hoping to hoist his first major championship at Kiawah
The ultimate ball striker, Matt Kuchar should be a favorite to win his first major at the PGA Championship. He has one win to go along with seven top-10 finishes this year. Kuchar’s seven top-10 finishes are the most by any player on the PGA Tour this season.
Kuchar’s win this season came at another Pete Dye Course in a major type atmosphere: The Players Championship. He also tied for third at the Masters and tied for ninth at the Open Championship.
He is a shoe-in to be in contention on the weekend as evidenced by his 23 consecutive cuts streak, the longest active streak on Tour this season.
Kuchar ranks second in scoring average and ninth in all around ranking. He’s currently sixth on both the Fed Ex Cup Points list and the PGA Tour Money list.
A PGA Championship victory will vault Kuchar into the next level of elite golfers, and spur him on to many major titles.