Top 7 Storylines Heading into PGA Championship
Why do we care about watching 156 men do things on a golf course that most of us never will be able to? For most of us, it is because of the drama and intrigue that unfolds over the course of four days.
This week at the 2012 PGA Championship is no exception. There is a reason the PGA Championship, every year, is known as “Glory’s Last Shot.” It’s the last opportunity of the season for a golfer to add a major trophy to their resume. If not successful, they must wait another eight months.
The Wanamaker Trophy isn’t always viewed in the same light as the first three majors of the year. That is not entirely the PGA Championship’s fault. With school about to start, the start of football season and the midst of a baseball pennant race, it’s understandable how the year’s fourth major can be overlooked.
This season, the PGA Championship is anything but an afterthought. Played on one of the country’s toughest courses, there are all the elements present for a classic tournament.
Let’s look at the seven biggest storylines heading into this week’s PGA Championship.
7. Chase for Player of the Year Honors
Tiger's Player of the Year Trophy in 2007
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Tiger Woods enters this week as the favorite for player of the year, as evidenced by his three wins, including two high profile victories at Bay Hill and the Memorial.
One thing holding him back is his lack of a major victory. If either Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson or Ernie Els could capture their second major of the year, they could become a favorite for Player of the Year.
Other players in the mix include Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner who already have two victories to their credit, and a third with a major jumps them to the forefront.
Then there are two players who haven’t been doing as well this summer, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy. Both picked up early season victories, and pairing those victories with a major also jumps them to the front of the pack.
Nonetheless, the award isn’t likely to be decided this week, with the Fed Ex Cup coming up next month. However, a win at Kiawah allows some to control their own fate.
6. Chase for Ryder Cup Spot
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This week is important for another reason. It is the last week of qualifying for the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah for some. The U.S. will take the top eight players after this week. Europe, however, will wait until the Walker Cup at the end of the month to determine its top 10 players.
In the mix for the top eight spots are Phil Mickelson (currently number eight), Hunter Mahan, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker and Bo Van Pelt.
Some may not take this as serious as some because the U.S.A. will get four captain selections to be made by Davis Love III. That would seem to make Mickelson a lock either way. However, it is still nice to know that whatever happens in the next month, a player’s spot is secure on the team.
5. The Weather
Flags can blow strong in Kiawah's winds
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As can be the case with every tournament, the unknown factor this week in determining the winner is the weather. The forecast currently calls for the winds to be relatively calm, but the potential is still there to create havoc usually seen at the British Open.
If the wind does pick up, that seems to favor players like Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen, who each have track records of playing in tough windy conditions. It also hurts players like Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who will need to be able to control their driver in tough conditions, something that is difficult for them to do.
If the wind stays calm, it allows most of the field into play as we saw at the British Open, with the premium going towards the best ball strikers, since the layout at Kiawah is over 7,600 yards.
Stay tuned to The Weather Channel for the best indicators of who will win this week.
4. Phil Mickelson’s Play
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Phil Mickelson tends to show up well at the PGA Championship, winning the 2006 title at Baltusrol. Of late, however, his play has been less than stellar. Mickelson did not contend at the U.S. Open, British Open or World Golf Championship
At one point, he went seven competitive rounds without breaking par before finally accomplishing the feat in the middle two rounds of the Scottish Open.
Mickelson is trying to cling to his prime, much like Vijay Singh did in his 40’s. Mickelson still generates big galleries and a buzz on whatever he does on the course. He is sure to generate much TV coverage on Thursday and Friday. The question for Mickelson, is if he will play well enough to be playing on the weekend.
3. Rory McIlroy’s Play
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Over the last few years, Rory McIlroy has generated as much interest in his play as Tiger Woods. McIlroy blew away the field in the 2011 U.S. Open and is capable of doing the same when his game is on.
Since a strong start to the season, McIlroy hasn’t lived up to his standards for most of the summer. He failed to contend in the U.S. Open or the British Open. He showed some signs of resurgence last weekend at the World Golf Championship at Bridgestone, tying for fifth.
The world dreams of an eventual Woods-McIlroy matchup. The two hottest stars in the game, by themselves, could draw massive ratings. Together, they could set records. McIlroy enters the PGA focused on his own game, and hopes that will be enough to claim his second major.
2. Who Will Be the Darkhorse
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Last month at the British Open saw Ernie Els break a streak of 15 straight first time major championship winners. His win did ,however, keep the streak of 16 consecutive different winners alive.
There are surprise contenders at nearly every major. Likely candidates for this role in this championship are Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Jason Dufner, Jason Day and Francesco Molinari. They aren’t’ necessarily surprise contenders because of their play, but because they haven’t cashed in when the heat has been on in a major.
Keegan Bradley and Y.E. Yang are examples of surprise winners at this event the last few years. With a difficult layout and unpredictable winds, it’s very possible a player can lay under the radar and be ready to cash in on Sunday, much like Webb Simpson did in the U.S. Open.
1. Tiger Woods' Quest for His 15th Major
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Like Mickelson and McIlroy before him, Tiger Woods will have all the attention thrown on him. Whether he is in the final group on Sunday or misses the cut, Woods’ play will be the main headline up until the back nine on Sunday.
In fact, you can count on TV coverage showing every shot of Woods like you see every tournament. He thrives on the spotlight, and swears he is focused in.
On the course, however, Woods’ short game has left a bit to be desired over the last month. He took 33 putts in the first round of the World Golf Championships at Bridgestone. At the British Open, he was off with his wedges and his driver.
In order for Woods to claim his 15th major, he must be on in all facets of his game. The longer he goes without a major, the more scrutiny it will raise about his advancing age, and perhaps losing his ability to close in big time events.