PGA Tour Championship: 5 Relative Outsiders to Look out for
The Tour Championship commences this week at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta and is the final playoff event of golf's richest prize—the FedEx Cup.
The field of 125 players that teed-off at The Barclays Tournament in late August has been whittled down to just the 30 finest players in the world.
Those 30 will contest the decisive event at East Lake, a course that has become significantly tougher since its switch to Bermudagrass greens prior to 2008. It's also a demanding layout from the tee, ranked among the hardest 10 courses on tour in which to find the fairway.
A recipe of fairways, greens in regulation and precise putting will be required for victory.
So which players have the game to step up and claim the Tour Championship?
After consecutive wins at the Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship, Rory McIlroy is widely expected to continue his streak and cruise to a third consecutive victory. The other usual suspects, namely Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, are also expected to seriously challenge.
But no so fast. This isn't a three-man event.
There are a host of other players that many consider outsiders, capable of toppling the favorites on their way to claiming victory.
Here are five of them.
5. Jason Dufner
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Despite sitting at No.6 in the World Golf Rankings, Dufner is rarely mentioned as a genuine threat in major events. Whether it be the little fuss in which he goes about his game or the lack of highlight-reel moments he produces, Dufner is always overlooked as a contender.
However at the Tour Championship this week, Dufner has a genuine chance to win. Not only has he won twice on tour this year, but his game stacks up nicely to East Lake's challenges.
Rob Bolton of pgatour.com presented an interesting statistical analysis of the players competing this week in Atlanta.
The analysis picked out driving accuracy, greens in regulation, strokes gained-putting and par breakers as the four most important criteria at East Lake. Bolton then ranked all 30 players from 1-30 in each category based on their season statistics to produce a combined ranking order.
After the four categories were combined, Dufner came out on top.
Of the field of 30, Dufner ranks fifth in driving accuracy, fourth in greens in regulation, 18th in strokes gained-putting and fourth in par breakers. Of course, statistical exercises like this have their weaknesses in not accounting for form, confidence and the relative importance of each category.
But even so, it does demonstrate that Dufner has the game on paper to tackle East Lake.
If the casual American is able to put it together and draw on his experience from last year's PGA Championship in which he was just pipped in a playoff, then Dufner has a great chance to take home the trophy on Sunday.
4. Adam Scott
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Adam Scott's season could have easily unraveled after his collapse at The Open Championship this year. Instead, he has rebounded with impressive play to continue his rise up the World Rankings to sit at No.5.
An 11th place finish at the PGA Championship has been backed up by consecutive top-10 finishes at the Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship.
The Australian is widely regarded as one of the finest ball-strikers on the PGA Tour, and should be well suited to make a genuine charge at East Lake.
Scott's drive at the last two playoff events has been impressive, ranking in the top-16 for both driving accuracy and driving distance in both events. Given his impeccable ball-striking, it's no surprise that Scott was ranked fourth in greens in regulation at the Deutsche Bank Championship as well.
The main perceived weakness in the Australian's game is putting.
Scott ranks 136th on tour for strokes gained-putting, but interestingly sits second among all players in putting from beyond 25 feet. It suggests that Scott's putting can be hit or miss—capable of holing the odd-bomb, but susceptible to the short miss.
However, as he's shown all year, and particularly at The Open Championship, when he's in full flight he is comfortably one of the world's best. If the broomstick putter he uses is able to roll in a few putts, then Scott will be well in the hunt come Sunday afternoon.
3. Louis Oosthuizen
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Put simply, Louis Oosthuizen should have won the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston.
The sweet-swinging South African put together a simply incredible third-round 63 that included a stretch of six consecutive birdies to give him the lead heading into the final day. But a double-bogey six at the par-4 fifth let McIlroy back in, and eventually saw Oosthuizen finish second with a final round 71.
However, the 2010 Open Champion will be a huge threat this week.
Along with Adam Scott, Oosthuizen is one of the game's finest ball-strikers with a textbook swing in motion.
More so than most, Oosthuizen is capable of going on a tear, as made evident by his scorching 29-shot front-nine in his third-round 63 in Boston. Seven birdies in eight holes, which included six consecutive, highlighted the scoring ability of Oosthuizen.
Combine his total driving ranking (No.7 on tour) with his recent play from the fairway, and it's clear that the South African will be near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday. At both The Barclays Tournament and the Deutsche Bank Championship, the 29-year-old was ranked first in greens in regulation, while at the BMW Championship he was ranked fourth.
Given that it's likely he'll hit a lot of fairways and greens, Oosthuizen's ability to win may be determined by his putter.
If he gets hot on the greens like he did during that third round in Boston, then it's likely we'll see Oosthuizen well in the running.
2. Jim Furyk
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Jim Furyk hasn't had a great season, compared to his usual high standards.
However, the veteran has shown his form is turning around as the season draws towards a close. Furyk tied for fourth at this year's US Open before finishing second at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.
Add another top-10 at last week's BMW Championship and it's clear that Furyk is trending upwards.
East Lake should also suit the renowned straight hitter well, with only two par-5's on the course to expose his lack of length off the tee. The veteran is ranked third on tour for fairways hit, and it's reasonable to assume that he'll be playing from the short grass on the majority of the holes this week.
With that being the case, his form on the fairway should make him a major threat.
In his ninth-place finish at the BMW Championship last week, Furyk was ranked fourth in greens in regulation and first in strokes gained-putting, consistent with his play all season.
He may not have the length and power to set up some easy approaches for himself like others in the field, but Furyk will play the percentages and use his experience and ultimate control to steer his way up the leaderboard. Given that he's ranked fourth on tour in both scrambling and scoring average, it's fair to say that he'll comfortably deal with any problems that may arise.
While some players may wilt in the pressure on Sunday, it's unquestionable that the 2010 champion will be comfortable as the tournament reaches its climax.
1. Keegan Bradley
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Keegan Bradley is one player who has made a rapid rise in the last 12 months. Bradley remarkably won the 2011 PGA Championship despite being ranked outside the top-100 and, since, has soared into the world's top-20.
The American picked up another victory this year with an impressive showing at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational before a third-place finish when defending his PGA Championship crown.
East Lake should hold no fear for Bradley, who surprisingly holds the number one ranking in an extremely important statistic—all-around ranking. When the driving distance, driving accuracy, greens in regulation, strokes gained-putting, eagles, birdie average, scoring average and sand saves rankings are combined, Bradley comes out as No.1.
Not even the rampant Rory McIlroy holds an edge over Bradley in this regard.
With this impressive endorsement of his all-around game, it is not surprising that Bradley has rocketed up the World Rankings and is now considered one of the game's elite players.
East Lake should be the sort of environment that Bradley excels in.
In his short time on the world stage, the 26-year-old has demonstrated that he relishes the pressure situations and loves going head-to-head with players who are often seen as his superiors.
If his all-around game is on display like it has been the last 12 months, then don't be surprised if this is the man holding up the trophy on Sunday.