PGA Championship 2014: Golfers with Games Ideally Suited for Valhalla

Ben AlberstadtFeatured ColumnistJuly 29, 2014

PGA Championship 2014: Golfers with Games Ideally Suited for Valhalla

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    Tiger Woods emerged victorious from an epic final-round duel with the unheralded Bob May at the PGA Championship at Valhalla in 2000. 

    Entering the fourth major of the 2000 season, Tiger Woods was in the midst of one of the best stretches of play in golf history. Now, 14 years later, a very different Woods is poised to again tee it up in a PGA Championship at Valhalla.

    Woods' 18-under winning tally is tied for the lowest in relation to par since 2000. Thus, the winner at Valhalla this year will likely need to make a lot of birdies. Any time a ton of tweeters are necessary, driving distance and putting from inside 20 feet are key metrics.

    Is Woods still ideally suited to win at the home of the gods?

    Who else should contend in the final major of the year?

    Keep reading to see.

     

    All stats via PGATOUR.com.

Rory McIlroy

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    The guy who won the third major of the year often looks like a solid bet to win the fourth.

    Presently third on tour in driving distance, Rory McIlroy is plenty long off the tee. He's seventh on tour in putts from 15-20 feet, which is a critical range for birdie conversion. 

    With an average of 4.53 birdies per round, McIlroy is the leader in the statistical category. And coming off a convincing major victory at The Open Championship, no golfer has the combination of surging momentum and solid stats the young Ulsterman does. 

     

     

Tiger Woods

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    Woods had an ideally suited golf game for Valhalla. This year, nobody really knows what the former world No. 1 will do at the beautiful Jack Nicklaus-designed Kentucky course.

    At The Open Championship, Woods was, in a word, bad. His opening-round 69 suggested that contending for the Claret Jug might be a possibility. However, an unfortunate second-round 77 dashed those hopes. Woods struggled to make the cut, eventually finishing 69th. 

    There's no need to belabor the fact that Woods has the tools to win at Valhalla. No doubt that in teeing it up, he'll awaken the ghosts of good memories too. Still, the sharpness of those tools, and what memory can inspire in the emotionally and psychologically battered 38-year-old, remains to be seen. 

Bubba Watson

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    Averaging more than 313 yards off the tee this year, Bubba Watson has more than enough firepower to dominate Valhalla with his pink Ping G30 driver.

    Now that he's won the Masters twice, the Bagdad, Florida, native has to be considered a golfer who enters a major expecting to win. 

    His missed cut at The Open Championship can be easily dismissed: Watson simply doesn't play links courses well right now and is more comfortable with American-style tracks. And it isn't like Watson had a lot of momentum entering the Masters in April, as he'd withdrawn in his previous start, so the lack of that element shouldn't be a concern.

    When evaluating Watson's chances this week, look at the fact that he'll bomb the ball at the least penal major layout of the year and his new reality as a winner of multiple majors.

Dustin Johnson

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    Another golfer with an abundance of distance off the tee and the ability to pour in birdie putts with regularity, Dustin Johnson is well-suited to take on Valhalla.

    Although he was disappointing his last time out at the RBC Canadian Open, it's tough to be too harsh on a player who competes in a major championship in England and flies to Canada to tee it up the next week. Expecting a great result is a bit too hopeful. 

    Thus, if we look at Johnson's tie for 12th at The Open Championship and his tie for fourth at the U.S. Open, we're presented with a big hitter who is learning how to manage his golf ball at major venues. Expect him to put those skills to use in Kentucky. 

Phil Mickelson

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    Phil Mickelson finished tied for ninth at the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla. Although his total to par (nine under) was only half of Woods' 18-under tally, Mickelson will surely head to Kentucky with confidence having played well at a past PGA Championship at Valhalla. 

    While Mickelson isn't having his best season, it's important to remember he led the tour in birdie average (4.22) last year. Additionally, his driving and iron play were solid at Hoylake, suggesting his game is rounding into form for the season's stretch run. 

Adam Scott

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    When you're the No. 1 golfer in the world, your game is pretty well-suited to any course. Thus, it's no surprise Adam Scott has been solid in major championships this year.

    Looking at Scott's statistics, there's no doubt he should contend at Valhalla:

    • Driving distance: 300.4 (20th)
    • Greens in regulation: 68.5 (13th)
    • Strokes gained putting .47 (14th)
    • Birdie average 4.2 (3rd)
    • Scoring average: 69.4 (4th)

Justin Rose

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    Already a major champion, Justin Rose has the tools to win at Valhalla. He entered The Open Championship as one of the hottest golfers on the planet and carded a respectable T23 finish.

    Thus, he's finished inside the top 25 in the season's first three majors. Rose is a man who, at this point in his career, is up to the task of first-rate play in major championships. 

    Statistically, Rose averages 3.73 birdies per round and is 13th on tour in scoring average (69.91). The story for Rose entering Valhalla is the same as it is entering every tournament: He'll be good enough from tee to green to win, but his streaky putting will be the determining factor in whether he raises a trophy. 

Henrik Stenson

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    Henrik Stenson, like many of the golfers on this list, has the raw materials of a multiple-major champion. The fact that he hasn't won one of golf's most coveted trophies is something of a shock. Like at the Masters, the U.S. Open and The Open Championship, Stenson enters the PGA Championship looking like he's well-suited to win. 

    His putting has held him back this year. Last year, when he won twice, the Swede gained .008 strokes with the putter. This year, he's losing .31. That adds up. 

    Still, Stenson hits 67.65 percent of greens in regulation, so he'll have the opportunity to make birdie putts in what's sure to be a race to a winning total of 15- to 20-under at Valhalla.