Golf remains a star-driven game. With the 2014 PGA Championship less than a week away, most of the talk surrounds how well a small cadre of top golfers will perform.
Everybody loves a good upset story, but when it comes to a major tournament, you at least want to see a few recognizable names in contention by the time Sunday rolls around. It's hard to get emotionally invested in golfers whom you don't follow or care about.
The four golfers below will undoubtedly be among the most discussed between now and next Thursday.
As good as Tiger Woods has been in the past, he's reached the point where until he proves otherwise, he shouldn't be considered a contender at a major tournament. He finished 69th at the Open Championship, and through three rounds of the Bridgestone Invitational, he's in a tie for 36th at one over.
His third-round stats were brutal. Woods hit 55.56 percent of greens in regulation with a 42.86 percent driving accuracy, according to PGATour.com. Both are below the Tour averages. Woods also lost strokes with his putting (minus-0.375).
None of that is really uncommon for Tiger,either. According to PGATour.com, his GIR is 59.03 percent, while his driving accuracy is 56.7 percent. In 2008—the last time Woods won a major—those figures were 71.39 percent and 57.86 percent, respectively.
You expect some natural regression as Woods gets older, but put that together with his recent back surgery, and you get a toxic combination.
The last golfer to win back-to-back majors was Padraig Harrington at the 2008 Open Championship and '08 PGA Championship. According to PGA.com, only a dozen have done so since World War I. That's how tough it is to win one major tournament and then turn right around and do it again.
Rory McIlroy is the best golfer on the planet right now and playing consistently well at every tournament. In 12 PGA Tour events so far in 2014, he has seven top-10 finishes and a win at the Open Championship. That's likely to become eight in 13.
Through three rounds of the Bridgestone Invitational, he's in second place, three strokes behind Sergio Garcia.
With every major win, McIlroy takes one step closer to Jack Nicklaus' hallowed record. He said before this weekend that he's not looking down the line, only focusing on the present, per The Guardian:
It's not something I ever thought about or dreamed of," McIlroy told a pre-tournament press conference on the eve of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio. "The next number in my head is four.
"I've won three and would like to win my fourth and just try and keep going like that, one after the other and whatever number it adds up to at the end of my career is great. I don't want to put that pressure on myself, that burden of a number to try and attain.
Going back-to-back is so difficult, though, that McIlroy shouldn't be considered a lock at Valhalla. He'll likely remain right in the thick of things, but a fourth major victory may be out of the question for right now.
Prediction: Top 10
The sooner 2014's over, the better for Phil Mickelson. Heading into the Bridgestone Invitational, he was without a win or a top-10 finish throughout the year. People keep expecting Lefty to turn things around, but he remains stuck in neutral.
"I thought I was closer than I am," said Mickelson of his performance through three days at the Bridgestone Invitational, per USA Today's Steve DiMeglio. "My first two rounds showed me I'm not as close as I thought I was."
He added, per GolfChannel.com's Jason Sobel:
I've got a little work to do on my game. It's been a long time since I've played well, and it's been more of a struggle than I thought it would be. I thought it would come back a little bit quicker. I felt really close at the British and Scottish. I thought it was going to click. And then the first two rounds here were disappointing.
The 44-year-old is in a tie for 44th at three under.
Even the best golfers in the world have a crisis of confidence at times, and it would appear that Mickelson is stuck right in the middle of one.
You can't count him out completely because his reputation speaks for itself, and he's not dealing with massive health issues like Woods. But don't expect much from him in Louisville.
So Sergio Garcia's playing pretty well right now. Sobel tweeted out that it's like we're living in some sort of alternate universe where Garcia and Woods have switched bodies:
How much have things changed in the last few years? Tiger can't get it in play off the tee and Sergio can't miss a putt.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) August 2, 2014
Between his runner-up finish at the Open Championship and three-stroke lead through three rounds at the Bridgestone Invitational, Garcia is building a ton of momentum heading into the PGA Championship. He's certainly going to be one of the top contenders.
It's not some sort of fluke either. PGATour.com's Brian Wacker tracked how much Garcia's putting has improved over the last three years:
Sergio's putting: From 2008-11 he ranked outside top 100 on #pgatour. Last three years? Inside top 30.— Brian Wacker (@pgatour_brianw) August 2, 2014
I'm not gonna be the guy to predict Garcia ending his major drought. Too many have already been burned going down that route. He should, however, make a good account of himself.