Three down, one to go.
The PGA Tour has celebrated three different major champions at the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open this year heading into the 2013 PGA Championship.
Scheduled to commence on Thursday at the East Course of the Oak Hill Country Club, Tiger Woods headlines a group of golfers in New York who are all vying to win to the fourth and final major of the 2013 tour season.
Oak Hill will host the event for the second time in course history, the last being Shaun Micheel's victory in 2003. The Ryder Cup (1995) and U.S. Open (three different times) have also found their ways to the East Course over the years.
Woods, searching for major championship No. 15 and his first since 2008, has seen himself compared to golf legend Jack Nicklaus more than a few times in his career. As noted by ESPN's Justin Ray, those comparisons are back:
While the No. 1 golfer in the world will garner the most attention, there's more than just the Tiger story to follow at Oak Hill.
The three current major championship winners (Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson) will be paired together for the first two days of the tournament, and an inspired list of up-and-comers (Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker, Lee Westwood) are still looking for their first taste of a major triumph.
According to Westwood, via Sky Sports, golfers who can consistently excel off the tee box are going to be in the hunt at Oak Hill. For some, staying in the fairway and avoiding the rough will take precedence over other aspects of the game.
For others, the putter will still be the key.
According to PGATour.com's Brian Wacker, Woods falls into the latter category. After knocking on the door at the Masters and Open Championship, Tiger needs to carry his putting momentum over from Firestone to Oak Hill if he wants to contend—and win—on Sunday.
It should be an outstanding week of golf in Rochester.
After Sunday's final round is completed, we'll have to wait until 2014 for another major championship winner. Seeing that you won't want to miss any of the opening-round action, here's a complete look at pairings and predictions for Thursday.
Thursday Pairings, Tee Times
Courtesy of PGA.com.
Predictions for Round 1
Davis Love III, Keegan Bradley, Tiger Woods
The 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup captain will play with two of his selections from last summer's tournament, but it's the young stars who will command most of the attention.
Love, who won the PGA Championship in 1997, didn't fare so well last time the tournament was played at Oak Hill. He missed the cut in New York in 2003, and he has only one top-10 finish at the final major of the year since then.
That being said, he hasn't played in any of the previous three majors. His tournament resume this year is paltry at best—a tied-for-ninth finish at Greenbrier being the highlight—but you really never know with a guy like Love. Playing with Bradley and Woods could keep him fresh early on.
Bradley has had an inconsistent season so far, but he's peaking at the right time. In finishing tied for second at the Bridgestone Invitational, Bradley ensured only one man would have more momentum than him after the results at Firestone.
Unfortunately, that man is Tiger Woods.
Woods has been rigorously preparing for the final major of the year, and many believe he's ready to claim his first major since the 2008 season. After winning the Bridgestone Invitational last week, Woods quickly made his way to New York to beef up on his Oak Hill knowledge.
The Ryder Cup reunion at the opening tee will be nice, but this grouping is all about Woods. Don't sleep on Bradley, though, who is one of the longest drivers on the PGA Tour.
Predictions: Love III 74 (+4), Bradley 69 (-1), Woods 67 (-3)
Tim Clark, Lee Westwood, Bubba Watson
One of the more underrated groupings of the first two days will consist of Clark, Westwood and Watson.
Clark has only three top-10 finishes in majors during his PGA Tour career, but he's played quite well at the PGA Championship over the years, earning a third-place finish at—you guessed it—Oak Hill in 2003. His 2013 season hasn't been great, but he did finish tied for 11th at the Masters. He is a deep sleeper to watch.
Elsewhere, Watson and Westwood will carry this group.
Still looking for his first major victory at the age of 40, Westwood has been consistently knocking on the door at majors to no avail since 2010. Since 2010 (15 major events), Westwood has eight top-10 finishes and has finished inside the top three in five of those events.
With strong play off the tee box and a solid short game, Westwood is a golfer who profiles well to the Oak Hill East Course. It is worth mentioning he missed the cut at the course in 2003.
Watson has been doing his best to stay light in preparation for the tournament. As you can see from this Bleacher Report tweet, Bubba isn't going to stop being Bubba:
The 2012 Masters winner hasn't had a flashy season, but he has also missed only two cuts all year. This grouping won't be expected to produce contenders, but I have a feeling it will surprise some folks by the end of the day.
Predictions: Clark 73 (+3), Westwood -2 (68), Watson E (70)
Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson
As noted by ABC Grandstand on Twitter, it's a tradition for the first three major winners of the year to play together at the PGA Championship:
This year, that lot has been cast for Scott (Masters), Rose (U.S. Open) and Mickelson (British Open).
Aside from the pairing featuring Woods, this group will garner the most attention during the opening two rounds. Scott and Rose both struggled in their next majors after winning major No. 1, but both should be refocused for the final showing of the year.
Elsewhere, it would be hard to argue Mickelson isn't a lock to be in the conversation throughout the four days of competition.
Since finishing tied for 54th at Augusta, Lefty has been on a tear. He had four top-three finishes in his next six PGA Tour events and added a victory at the Scottish Open just for good measure. His victory at the Open Championship was the first such victory of his career.
Scott and Rose are safe bets to perform well during the tournament this year, but Mickelson is having a great season and already has a PGA Championship victory (2005) under his belt to use as added ammunition on the course.
Predictions: Scott E (70), Rose 71 (+1), Mickelson 69 (-1)
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.
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