PGA Championship 2014: The Biggest Takeaways from Valhalla

Mike DudurichContributor IAugust 11, 2014

PGA Championship 2014: The Biggest Takeaways from Valhalla

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    Rory McIlroy with another Wanamaker Trophy.
    Rory McIlroy with another Wanamaker Trophy.Associated Press

    OK, that's a wrap on major championships for 2014.

    Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy and Rory McIlroy.

    Tiger Woods didn't win one...and neither did Phil Mickelson.

    So what do we take away from the soggy conditions of Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky and the year's final major?

    Rickie Fowler is good, really good. There's nobody in the game capable of doing what he's doing right now.

    There's nothing wrong with watching and enjoying players making birdies in a major championship.

    A healthy, happy and efficient Mickelson is good for the game and Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson's blood pressure.

    Check out the following list of the most poignant impressions from the week in Kentucky.

United States Ryder Cup Team Is in Trouble

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    United States Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson faces difficult decisions in the next seven weeks.
    United States Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson faces difficult decisions in the next seven weeks.Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Yes, the Ryder Cup doesn't come up on the schedule for seven weeks, but once the final putt dropped in the PGA Championship on Sunday, nine of the 12 members of the United States team had locked up spots.

    That's the good news for captain Tom Watson.

    The bad news might be worse than the good of the good news.

    Three players in the points list's Top 10 either won't be playing or very likely won't be playing at Gleneagles.

    Dustin Johnson, who is fifth, is either on a leave of absence or a suspension, depending on whom you believe.

    Jason Dufner played 10 holes on Thursday, shot a 48 and withdrew because of continuing problems with bulging discs in his neck.

    Matt Kuchar didn't hit a shot at Valhalla, bailing Thursday morning with back issues.

    Phil Mickelson earning a spot on the team helped, but Watson will have to make his captain's choices very carefully.

Birdies Aren't Bad

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    It wasn't Valhalla's fault heavy rains rendered the course nearly defenseless.
    It wasn't Valhalla's fault heavy rains rendered the course nearly defenseless.Mike Groll/Associated Press

    No doubt there will be plenty written and said about how Valhalla Golf Club did not play up to championship-caliber as a result of the winning score being 16-under par.

    It's happened before, most recently 2011, when Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, was hammered by rain the week of the U.S. Open, and Rory McIlroy won by eight shots. Birdies were being made everywhere, and lots of players finished under par.

    A similar situation played out this week, and once again, the red numbers made will come into question. But guess what? The first three majors of 2014 were grueling, grinding tests with birdies being much more difficult to come by.

    It was fun watching all the birdies this week, and McIlroy's title is not diminished a bit by the wet conditions and the birdie-fest.

Rory McIlroy Is the Man

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    There were many fist pumps by Rory McIlroy on Sunday.
    There were many fist pumps by Rory McIlroy on Sunday.Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    McIlroy won each of his first two majors by eight shots.

    His third was a superb battle that eventually resulted in a two-shot victory in July.

    His fourth, coming in the fast-fading light near Louisville, Kentucky, saw him three shots out of the lead on a rainy, soggy afternoon. But he rallied, overcame that deficit and brought a two-shot lead to the 18th hole.

    ''I didn't think in my wildest dreams I'd have a summer like this,'' McIlroy said, according to The Associated Press, via ''I played the best golf of my life. I really gutted it out today.''

    With McIlroy a four-time major champion at the age of 25, the question going forward is: What can't this supremely talented man do? Three straight wins, two straight majors. Nobody in the game is playing better.

    When do the discussions begin about this kid from Northern Ireland being considered a serious threat in the Jack Nicklaus chase?

    The game has a new leader, and that much can't be debated.

Valhalla Provides Nice Send-Offs

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    Kenny Perry makes the walk across the bridge one last time.
    Kenny Perry makes the walk across the bridge one last time.Associated Press

    Valhalla Golf Club has gained a reputation for being a strong test of championship golf, but for the second time, the big, brawny layout has shown a softer side. And that doesn't refer to the soft conditions on the course.

    Back in 2000, in the second round of the PGA Championship, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus were paired. Woods would go on to win in a playoff over Bob May, but Nicklaus was struggling to make the cut in his final PGA start.

    They came to the 18th hole with Nicklaus needing an eagle to play the weekend, but he missed his chip by inches. In the grand scheme of things, Nicklaus missing the cut, and Woods going on to win was a passing of the torch from Nicklaus to Woods.

    Sunday afternoon, another send-off took place. Kentucky native Kenny Perry, playing on a special exemption from the PGA of America, participated in what will most likely be his final PGA Championship.

    He justified that exemption quite nicely, shooting three rounds in the 60s to finish six under par. To top it off, Perry knocked his approach on the final hole stiff and made birdie.

Rickie Fowler Was the Majors' Best Player

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    Rickie Fowler played the final round with Phil Mickelson.
    Rickie Fowler played the final round with Phil Mickelson.USA TODAY Sports

    Rickie Fowler didn't win a major championship in 2014.

    But without a doubt, he was absolutely the best player in major championships.

    For starters, he was 32 under par in golf's four biggest events. (The guy who won two majors, McIlroy, finished 27 under par.)

    Fowler made 71 birdies in those four events, a very lofty number.

    How about his finishes? T5, T2, T2 and T3.

    “I really felt I could win this one,” Fowler said in a story by Jay Coffin. “Disappointed to come up short, but like I said to look back on the full year and all four majors, definitely something to be proud of.”

    Bottom line? In 2014, Fowler has grown into a superstar on the verge of rivaling a guy like McIlroy. Butch Harmon taking him under his wing certainly has something to do with that, as does his maturation as a man.

    It's going to be a lot of fun watching him chase McIlory the next several years.

Is Phil Mickelson Really Back?

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    Phil Mickelson anxiously watches a putt Sunday.
    Phil Mickelson anxiously watches a putt Sunday.Mike Groll/Associated Press

    Phil Mickelson posted four rounds in the 60s in the PGA Championship, topped off by a final-round 66.

    He broke his year-long streak of finishes outside the top 10 with a second-place finish at Valhalla.

    And while he didn't win, Mickelson was back in contention for the first time in a long time.

    "Well, it's good for me to get back in the thick of it; to get back in contention, to compete in big tournaments,'' Mickelson said in a Bob Harig column on "And it's fun. It's just fun."

    Somebody who was smiling even more broadly was United States Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson. Mickelson's finish earned him a spot on the Ryder Cup team, eliminating the necessity of Watson having to use one of his three captain's choices on him.

    And if Mickelson is able to sustain his good play, he could be a real leader for a U.S. team that will be challenged next month at Gleneagles.

Who Will Be Hot for FedEx Cup Playoffs?

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    Bubba Watson was not so happy-go-lucky at the PGA Championship.
    Bubba Watson was not so happy-go-lucky at the PGA Championship.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The FedEx Cup playoffs begin in a couple of weeks, and Jimmy Walker and Bubba Watson have been tightly jammed at the top of the points rankings for months now. Walker won three times early on, while Watson picked up two victories, including the Masters.

    Walker has played consistently well throughout the summer, although he hasn't won since early February.

    Watson has done very little, including missing the cut in two of the four majors this year.

    It will be interesting to see how much attention is paid to those two when McIlroy, Fowler, Mickelson, et al, show up at The Barclays.