The Biggest Concerns for Golf's Top Stars at the 2014 PGA Championship

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2014

The Biggest Concerns for Golf's Top Stars at the 2014 PGA Championship

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    Entering the 2014 PGA Championship, even the guy pictured above has concerns. 

    If you were the inappropriate-joke type, you might say, "Rory McIlroy has fewer concerns now that he's single," but that's neither here nor there (nor is it likely true).

    His real worries have to do with probability, as you'll see. 

    The rest of golf's brightest stars have a lot on their minds as they prepare for the first round of the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla. Some, assuredly, are much more carefree than others. 

    Who is worried about what? 

    Click through to see. 

Tiger Woods

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    In a nightmare scenario for the former world No. 1, his main concern entering the final major of the year is the same as it was entering the first: his back. And as of Tuesday evening, Tiger Woods has not been ruled out of the PGA Championship. 

    While it's unclear exactly what Woods did to his back at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and how it relates to the surgery he had prior to the Masters, it is clear that he was in bad shape as he hobbled off Firestone's south course. 

    Bob Harig of quoted Woods as saying the following about the injury: "It happened on the second hole when I hit my second shot, I fell back into the bunker. I just jarred it, and it's been spasming ever since."

    With no other reports about his condition at this point, we're left to wonder whether Woods will be able to tee it up in Kentucky. 

Phil Mickelson

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    Entering the PGA Championship, Phil Mickelson's biggest concern is that he really hasn't done anything this season to indicate he's likely to win the tournament.

    Ranking 84th in the current FedEx Cup standings, Mickelson doesn't have a top-10 finish this season. Lefty tied for 28th at the U.S. Open and 23rd at The Open Championship.

    Decent showings? Sure.

    Suggestions he's ready to win the season's final major? Not at all. 

    It took a blistering final-round 62 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational to move Mickelson into a tie for 15th for the tournament. And while the final round was impressive, the Bridgestone was yet another tournament in which Mickelson failed to finish inside the top 10, let alone win. 

    Mickelson simply isn't making birdies this year. He led the tour in birdies last year and is 39th this year. With his go-for-broke style, he needs a lot of birdies to make up for the big number he routinely cards. Absent birdies in bunches, Mickelson is an above-average—but not elite—golfer. 

Rory McIlroy

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    Rory McIlroy's chief concern entering the PGA Championship is probability. With wins in his last two starts, it's statistically unlikely that he'll win a third tournament in a row.

    Yes, McIlroy has been brilliant his last two times out. Yes, he is the favorite as the tour heads to Kentucky. We can talk all day about how he's firing on all cylinders, how well suited his game is for Valhalla, how he's in the best headspace of his career. Still, the fact remains: Winning three tournaments in a row (two of them majors) is exceedingly difficult. 

    Further, no golfer has won two majors in a row since 2008 (Padraig Harrington). The feat has only been accomplished by two golfers since 2000. Thus, recent history is firmly against McIlroy raising the Wanamaker. 

Bubba Watson

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    Bubba Watson's primary concern entering the fourth major of the year has to be the fact that he missed the cut at the second and third majors of the year (even after winning the first). 

    Got all that?

    In other words, Watson played poorly in the U.S. Open and The Open Championship, missing the cut in both events. He also missed the cut at the PGA Championship last year. Therefore, he's missed the cut in three of the last four major championships. 

    Recent major performances (minus the Masters win) don't suggest Watson will play well at Valhalla. 

Adam Scott

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    It's difficult to come up with any significant areas of concern for the second-ranked golfer in the world, Adam Scott. 

    He's finished inside the top 10 in four of the last five majors. He's made 12 of 12 cuts on the PGA Tour this season, with eight top-10 finishes and a win at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. Since that win, Scott hasn't finished outside the top 10, and he tied for eighth at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week. 

    The only concern for Scott is that he's due for a poor performance, having finished inside the top 10 at the last two majors. On paper, it doesn't look like it will happen. However, the game of golf isn't played on paper. 

Justin Rose

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    As it always seems to be, putting is the biggest concern for Justin Rose entering the final major of the year.

    Rose putted well in his two consecutive victories last month, and he was 34th in the field in strokes gained-putting at Firestone in his last start. If he duplicates those performances, he'll be well-positioned come Sunday at Valhalla.

    However, if he putts like the 73rd-best putter on tour (which he is statistically), it's difficult to imagine him lifting the Wanamaker. 

Sergio Garcia

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    Sergio Garcia's main concern at Valhalla is the same as his concern entering every other major: He seems pathologically incapable of winning one of golf's four most significant tournaments.  

    We don't need to talk about Garcia's four career second-place finishes in majors or his declaration at the 2012 Masters that he's not capable of winning a major. Those things are as much a part of the Spaniard's story as his prodigious ball-striking ability.

    Even after his inspired play at Hoylake, where he gave everything he had to give in the final round and finished two strokes behind Rory McIlroy, it still seems the golf gods are conspiring against the Spaniard. 

    Garcia, at age 34, is looking very much like a Colin Montgomerie figure: destined to never taste major glory. 

Rickie Fowler

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    In a similar vein to Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler's only concern entering the PGA Championship is that he has been playing incredibly well in majors. 

    I know, I know. It's a good concern to have. Better than, say, Dustin Johnson's recent concerns. 

    As Kyle Porter of indicated, Fowler is 18 under through the first three majors of the year. The next best golfer, Rory McIlroy, is 11 under.  

    Fowler tied for 19th at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill last year. With ties for second in the last two majors, it seems like the Oklahoma State graduate should improve upon that finish. He's also gotten a front row seat to the process of winning a major on Sunday courtesy of Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer.

    Even so, the question remains: Can Fowler, with his recently retooled swing, finish inside the top five in all four majors? 

    To do so would be a Woodsian accomplishment. We'll see if the 25-year-old is up to the task.