PGA Championship 2013: The Top Storylines at Oak Hill
Going into the PGA Championship at Oak Hill, they have won three events between them in the last month and are set up for a classic confrontation that hasn't been seen since Jack Nicklaus vs. Arnold Palmer.
But wasn’t this year supposed to be about Tiger and Rory McIlroy, last year’s PGA Championship winner and the pro most likely to steal Tiger’s crown?
Storylines abound at this year's PGA Championship at Oak Hill, the last of the year's majors, but certainly not the least in terms of drama and thrills.
The PGA Championship has a way of making stars out of people we barely know. Think Keegan Bradley (2011), Martin Kaymer (2010) and Y.E. Yang (2009). Who will it be this year?
This major event will be fascinating for all sorts of reasons, some of which we can dream about and some we cannot even imagine.
Let’s take a look at some we can hope for.
Can Lee Westwood Finally Win a Major?
Is Lee Westwood relegated to the title of the best runner-up in major history?
Actually, that title belongs to Jack Nicklaus, who has finished second in majors 19 times.
But Westwood, like some great British crusader, continues his long and valiant quest for the Holy Grail or, as it is known in golfing circles, a major title. He has placed second or third in eight majors since 2008.
He was so, so, so close at the British Open, which would have been the rightful place to win his first one. But he couldn’t stay hot on the last day, allowing Sir Lefty to pass him in one of the greatest comeback dramas in recent majors history.
Westwood just needs to rearrange things a bit and play his best golf on Sunday, not Saturday. His performance at Muirfield was not an anomaly, as he is ranked 183rd in final-round scoring, showing a propensity for bad play at the most crucial time.
Westwood should be considered a contender at Oak Hill. Since 2009, he has finished in the top 10 three times at this tournament, and his desire to gain that one vaunted major could propel him into the weekend’s headlines.
Angel Cabrera Will Contend
Lee Westwood could learn something from Angel Cabrera.
The wily Argentinian has never won a PGA Tour event but holds two major titles (the Masters in 2009 and U.S. Open in 2007).
If it feels like he is always near the top of the leaderboard, that is because he is: He finished in a tie for second at the Masters this year and a tie for 11th at the Open Championship.
More importantly, he has momentum going into Oak Hill, having finished in the top 20 in three of his last five events.
A Very Dark Horse Could Win It
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Three of the last four winners have seemingly come out of nowhere to win the PGA Championship.
Martin Kaymer, who won it in 2010, was at least ranked 13th in the world when he won it. Yet he was definitely a surprise winner.
Keegan Bradley in 2011 and Y.E. Yang in 2009 were not even ranked in the top 100 when they posted their sole major victories in the event.
This year, there are some players moving up the ranks who could surprise the field.
Jordan Spieth became the youngest player in 82 years to win a PGA event and has remained hot all year. His record includes six top-10 finishes and 13 of 17 cuts. He drives the ball straight and has shown a penchant for scoring, as indicated by his rank in scoring average (15th).
Now fifth in the FedEX Cup standings, Billy Horschel has made 19 of 21 cuts and finished in the top 10 seven times. Horschel showed his stuff at Bridgestone with a 66 on the last day.
Graham DeLaet has yet to win on the tour, but he fits the mold for coming from the back of the pack to win at a major like the PGA. Currently ranked first in greens in regulation and total driving, DeLaet would seem to have a shot at Oak Hill.
Snedeker Could Sneak In
If there is one guy not named Phil or Tiger who could and should win at Oak Hill, it’s Brandt Snedeker. Other than last year’s PGA Championship, in which he missed the cut, Snedeker has finished in the top 20 in the last five majors in which he has played.
Snedeker is hot right now, as illustrated by his win at the RBC Canadian Open, and he has two second-place finishes and one third-place finish in 2013 already.
His 10th-place ranking in strokes gained putting speaks for itself, but he is also seventh in scoring average, fourth in birdie average and in the top 40 in GIR.
This would mark Snedeker’s first major title, and he is primed and ready to take it.
Other Top Americans Seeking First Major Title
Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson and Hunter Mahan are among the elite American golfers on the tour, but none of them have secured their first major title.
These guys are seasoned players on the world scene, and each has come very close to winning at this level.
Kuchar, who has played on the tour for 13 years and is currently ranked sixth in the world, has two wins this year, tied for eighth at the Masters and finished tied for 15th at the British Open. He needs to add some fire to his calm and steady approach in order to take charge and finally win a major.
Johnson continues to be his own worst enemy on the course. He was unable to finish strongly at the British Open, where he shot 76-77 on the weekend after a solid opening. Then, in what has become typical for DJ, he could not avoid that one big blowup hole at the RBC Canadian Open, carding a triple bogey down the stretch and thus handing the title to Snedeker.
Of these three American stars, Johnson has the talent to take over an event with his powerful driving ability. But the question remains whether he do it when it counts?
Mahan made headlines when he left the RBC event while leading by two strokes to be with his expectant wife, and it would have been thrilling to watch him duke it out with Snedeker, Kuchar and Johnson. Mahan has played exceedingly well at majors this year, finishing in a tie for ninth at the British Open and a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open in which he played in the final group with ultimate winner Justin Rose.
Mahan may not have the gaudy statistics of his peers, yet he has proven that he can compete at the highest level.
Don’t be surprised if one of these guys wins at Oak Hill.
Which Tiger Will Show Up?
With his dominating win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Tiger now has five victories this season, more than anyone on the tour, and is staring down that elusive 15th major title.
But questions remain.
Can Tiger play this way in a major? More importantly, can he play this way on the weekend at a major?
How frustrating it would be for him should he be able to dominate a world-class field like he did at Firestone but not win the PGA Championship.
It seems like we have said this all year, whether it was at the Masters, where he finished tied for fourth; the U.S. Open, where he never quite got on track; or the British Open, where he finished tied for sixth. Prior to each event, Tiger, the No. 1 player in the world, was rightly favored to win. But each time, he was unable to complete the job.
It's those Sunday performances that seem to get in his way. He still ranks 143rd in final-round scoring average. Yet even with that stat, he has won five times, and his performance at Firestone, which included a 61 in the second round, was reminiscent of an aggressive, young Tiger who would sink his teeth into a course and never let go.
Which Tiger will show up at Oak Hill?
Can Either Adam Scott or Justin Rose Make It Two in One Year?
Both Justin Rose and Adam Scott broke a “major” barrier this year with wins at the Masters and U.S. Open, respectively.
The two 33-year-olds, ranked fourth and fifth in the world, respectively, have staked their claims to a second major title, and neither looks as if he is backing down.
Not since Padraig Harrington won the British Open and the PGA Championship in 2008 has a male pro golfer won two majors in a year.
Both Rose and Scott are on their games. Scott finished in a tie for third at Muirfield and is currently ranked third in scoring average. His putting has been exceptional, and he is playing with a vigor that befits a major titleholder.
While Rose missed the cut at the British Open, he possesses the kind of ball-striking and scoring ability (ranked second in scoring average) that will give him an edge at Oak Hill.
Getting over the major hump has provided the self-confidence necessary for each of these stellar players to win again.
Rory Is Still the Story
Rory McIlroy won the PGA Championship last year. Remember?
He went on to win two more times in 2012, and it looked like no one and nothing would stop this youthful juggernaut.
But something did stop him, and he has yet to win in 2013 due to newsworthy meltdowns and self-questioning that have led to a mediocre run.
McIlroy’s ability to rebound is being tested on the world stage, and it hasn’t been pretty. His fall from grace has been at once swift and confounding, and there doesn’t seem to be a positive change at hand.
In his last three events, he has finished tied for 57th at the Memorial, tied for 41st at the U.S. Open and then missed the cut at the British Open. Although he scored decently at the Bridgestone Invitational and finished tied for 27th, it is too early to say he has found his game again.
Or is it? A man with this much talent cannot be underestimated, and it is possible that McIlroy may marshal the inner strength to save his pride and win again.
At the very least, it is a heck of a story.
Henrik Stenson’s Hot Streak
Don't look now, but here comes Henrik Stenson. He has been on a hot streak, although probably no one saw it coming.
Last year, the 37-year-old Swede virtually disappeared from the top ranks with only one top-10 finish to his name. In fact, you have to go all the way back to 2009, when he won the Players Championship, to see any sign of competitive life.
But this year, Stenson has been a contender in all three majors, most recently at the British Open, where he finished in sole possession of second place. It was not an anomaly, as he was coming off of a tie for 21st at the U.S. Open and three finishes in the top five during the year.
Stenson continued his rampage at the Bridgestone Invitational, where he ultimately finished in yet another tie for second, and he looks like a heady contender going into Oak Hill.
Phil vs. Tiger: A Renewed Rivalry
Since the U.S. Open, it’s looked like Phil Mickelson would have things all his own way. Now, with a crushing win at Firestone, Tiger Woods has emerged wagging his finger and admonishing his longtime rival, “Not so fast.”
Both Phil and Tiger are reminding us what it is like to watch the greatest compete against each other, and we may be in for the ultimate thrill when they meet up at Oak Hill.
First, Phil just missed a win at the U.S. Open, then won back-to-back tourneys at the Scottish Open and British Open in the most dramatic fashion.
Tiger followed a lackluster performance at the U.S. Open with a promising opening two rounds at the British Open. Unfortunately, he continues to fight his weekend demons and came up empty while managing his second top-10 finish in a major this season.
Then came Firestone, which could be renamed Fire and Brimstone, as he torched the field in a way only Tiger could do. All he did was shoot a 61 in the third round, go seven up after the third round and cruise to his fifth victory of the year and eighth career victory at Firestone.
Now, it appears the only person who can stand in Tiger’s way is his rival from the other side of the tee—Phil, the best lefty to ever play the game.
Phil has been remarkable in the majors over the last few years, between winning the Masters in 2010, his recent Open Championship victory and a trio of top-five finishes at the majors sandwiched between. His resilience under pressure and consistency on golf’s biggest stages have made him a worthy adversary of perhaps golf’s greatest champion, Tiger Woods.
Tiger, however, has been doing his best version of Jekyll and Hyde at the majors. He’s been a constant contender Thursdays and Fridays at majors over the last few seasons only to succumb to mental mistakes and poor execution on the weekends, prolonging his major drought to five long, dreadful years.
Can you imagine the TV ratings if the two of them were paired on the final day, competing head-to-head as they go after the final major of the year?
For Phil, it would mean winning a consecutive major and likely propelling him to his first world No. 1 ranking.
For Tiger, it would mean silencing the naysayers and ending the five-year drought en route to his ultimate goal of besting Jack Nicklaus’ major title record of 18.
For us, it would be the story of the year.