They say that in golf, it's just you against the course.
Well when that course is Whistling Straits, another quote seems appropriate—it sucks to be you.
The rolling terrain of this brutally difficult golf course spans more than 7500 yards and features multiple par-4s over 500 yards and par-5s over 600. Eight holes hug the shoreline of Lake Michigan while the huge undulating and severely elevated greens hang along the edge of the bluffs. Fescue fairways are strategically lined with pot bunkers and when the swirling winds start 'whistling,' start praying your ball stays in bounds.
If only that were the end of it.
The PGA Championship is not only the final major championship of the year, but represents the last chance for one professional golfer to have his name etched into golf's history books along the with the greatest that ever lived.
Unlike a Super Bowl, World Series, or NBA Championship, a Major Championship in golf isn't just agonizingly difficult because of the pressure associated with the success. Instead, the battle between that intense, stomach-in-your-throat pressure fused with the alarmingly difficult conditions of the course produce four days of mind and body consuming strain.
Who will rise to the occasion?
Will the golf world be struck by near heart failure once again as a surprise winner like Louis Oosthuizen conquers the field? Can a veteran like Ernie Els reignite his exceptional play from the beginning of the season?
Or, will a young gun like Rory McIlroy or even Rickie Fowler play the best rounds of his life at the PGA Championship?
Els has incredible length off the tee, an array of shots in his repertoire to counter the 'whistling' winds, and the experience in Major Championships to win this year's PGA Championship.
But his success will undoubtedly be a question of whether or not he finds a consistent rhythm with his putter.
Realistically, Els lost the US Open at Pebble Beach this year because his putter went chillingly cold in his final round when he needed it most. He currently ranks 84th in putting average (1.79) and 69th in putts per round (29.12).
Also, don't forget that when the PGA Championship was held at this venue in 2004, Els finished second, just one stroke behind winner Vijay Singh.
The public is quick to assume that Steve Stricker has the upper-hand at Whistling Straits because of his Wisconsin roots.
Sure, course knowledge will benefit him just as it did Rory McIlroy, who shot a Major Championship record 9-under par 63 in his opening round at St. Andrews. But remember, Rory's disastrous second round when the weather turned the course upside down?
No player is immune to the grueling conditions of the Whistling Straits Golf Course, which will only be intensified if the weather does not cooperate.
However, Steve Stricker boasts a trio of talents that brand him a contender this week.
First, he has a knack for minimizing his errors on the golf course, meaning he rarely hurts his rounds with bogeys. Second, he's accurate off the tee and from the fairway because he understands the significance of positioning himself to be aggressive. Finally, he's by far one of the best putters on Tour (ranked sixth in putting average, ninth in putts per round), and maybe one of the greatest putters of all-time.
Similar to a player like Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson is a versatile, aggressive and mature player who has earned countless wins on Tour and four Major Championships.
There is only problem: his game is as unpredictable as John Daly's golf attire.
Though you could prove this point by unveiling numerous mistakes and erratic play throughout his career, just consider this past Sunday's typical Phil implosion at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. On a day where he began the day just four shots back of the leader, Phil fell apart and shot an 8-over par 78.
A top-four finish would've granted Lefty the long-awaited No.1 World Ranking, but knowing the kind of down-to-earth personality of Phil, it was all about trying to put together a solid round of golf and come out on top. However, Mickelson even failed at that.
Whether or not Phil choked is not the issue.
It's Mickelson's volatile game that makes him a risky bet this week. He definitely has the length, the ability to knock it close, and unrivaled touch on and around the greens, but the mystery of his game produces both intrigue as well as concern.
Finally, not to add insult to injury, but Whistling Straits is as close to a links golf course as it gets on this side of the pond and Phil has become notorious for his terrible play on links-like courses.
On a course like Whistling Straits, a player's success truly depends on his versatility of shots and confidence under pressure.
Paul Casey is a template for both traits.
With five top-10s on the year, most notably his T-3 at the British Open, Paul Casey has established himself as one of the most gifted players on Tour. Though he received a great deal of criticism for 'choking' in the final round of the Open Championship, face the facts—Paul Casey didn't play a poor final round, Louis Oosthiuzen just played better.
What makes Casey a potential winner is the consistency in all aspects of his game. He's no Dustin Johnson, but he still ranks 24th in Driving Distance on Tour, averaging 296-yards off the tee. He's 42nd in Greens in Regulation and 43rd in Putting Average, but when the various elements of his game blend together, he ranks 14th in Scoring Average (70.01).
The Englishman understands links golf, which will undoubtedly be a crucial ingredient to his success.
The 2010 PGA Tour season has revealed a mature, constantly competitive Luke Donald, who has earned five top-10 finishes, in addition to a 11th place finish at the British Open.
Luke's experience on links golf courses instantly give him an advantage over the field. But more importantly, Donald has learned how to maintain his form throughout his rounds, which accounts for his No. 12 ranking in Scoring Average on Tour (69.97).
Donald also is favorite because his comfort and expertise with the flat stick. If you watch him on the greens he is truly meticulous.
He analyzes his putt from any and every angle, then hones his focus to his pre-putt routine. Even when Donald misses putts, he never leaves himself a tough putt coming back. On the slick, undulating greens of Whistling Straits, that skill will truly benefit him.
Finally, just in case Donald finds his way into one of the countless bunkers on the golf course, never fear because he ranks No. 1 in Sand Saves on Tour.
Rory McIlroy is just 21 years old and he earned a T-3 at this year's British Open.
Oh, and by the way, that includes a horrendous second round 80.
If that weren't enough, the Northern Irishman has claimed four top-10 finishes in eight appearances this season. This young gun absolutely pummels the golf ball off the tee and ranks 11th in Driving Distance (299-yards on average). That length will give him an advantage of the 7500+ yards of Whistling Straits.
The only aspect of Rory's game that may hinder him from his first Major Championship remains his putting. Ranked 171st in Putting Average and 102nd in Putts Per Round, McIlroy will need to sharpen his skills on the greens if he hopes to take home the trophy.
Retief Goosen is still as explosive off the tee and as clutch of a putter as he was when he won the US Open in 2001 and 2004.
This past Sunday, after a final round 5-under par 65, Goosen took home a T-3 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, officially carding his eighth top-10 finish of the season. Goosen is one of the best all-around players in the game today and has had a resurgence this season. He's averaging just over 290-yards off the tee, a little over three birdies per round, and ranks third in scoring average on Tour (69.70).
His putting stroke has ultimately been what distinguishes him from the field. Both fluid and aggressive, Goosen rarely misreads a putt's break or speed. The 41-year-old still has exceptional touch on the greens, which may elevate him above his peers at Whistling Straits.
At this year's British Open, Goosen finished in solo sixth, never posting a round over par. His comfort on links courses paired with the momentum he has from this past week brand him a favorite at the PGA Championship.
Having a picture-perfect swing doesn't mean a thing if you don't have the skills and confidence to back it up.
Thankfully, Hunter Mahan does not suffer from this condition.
After posting a blistering 6-under par 64 Sunday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational this past week, Hunter Mahan captured his second victory of the season and third as a professional on Tour.
Mahan has gained a reputation as one of the best drivers of the golf ball on Tour, combining both distance and accuracy consistently. This season's success, which easily makes him not only a contender for the PGA Championship, but also for the PGA Tour Player of the Year, has been due to blending his skills off the tee with seriously clutch putting over the weekend.
Last year he ranked 59th in scoring average before the cut (70.51), 49th in third-round scoring average (70.04) and fifth in final-round scoring average (69.45). This past weekend confirms his weekend success as he posted descending scores of 71-67-66-64.
His accuracy off the tee will be helpful on the narrow, sloping fairways of Whistling Straits. Mahan just needs to continue to be aggressive, especially on the greens, and he will find himself once more hoisting the trophy come Sunday.
If Sean O'Hair had made a few more putts this past weekend at Firestone, he would have held the trophy instead of his childhood friend Hunter Mahan.
But an erratic, cold putter has obstructed O'Hair's success since he joined the Tour.
The 28-year-old American ranks 152nd in Putting Average and 140th in Putts Per Round. The fact that he has earned three top-10's this season, two of which have come in the last month (a T-7 at the British Open and T-3 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational) reflects how the rest of his talents can still make him a contender.
O'Hair's swing is almost flawless. He coils then unravels like a diver unfolds from a spinning tuck in mid-air. But will his game from tee to green hold up at Whistling Straits?
Jeff Overton has done almost everything right this season, but has yet to win a tournament.
In 14 events, he's finished in the top 25 10 times, and the top 10 six times. His statistics are through the roof amazing; 19th in Driving Distance, 20th in Greens in Regulation, 12th in Putting Average, 8th in Birdie Average, and 13th in Scoring Average.
Overton has not missed a cut since June nor has he finished outside of 11th place.
Now that is momentum.
His game is incredibly solid on all fronts right now. After an exceptional four rounds at St. Andrews, leading to an 11th place finish, Overton's comfort on the links conditions of Whistling Straits will suit him well.