PGA Championship 2011 Odds: The 10 Safest Bets to Win at Highlands Course
It's hard to identify a truly elite class of players today.
The big names of the late 1990s and 2000s are not as sharp as they used to be. One of them could win (like Darren Clarke did at the British), but identifying one of them as the favorite would be going too far.
Conversely, no player from the young crop has really stepped out. Rory McIlroy would be the possible exception to that, but even he is still a little unproven to identify as a lock or anything close to it.
Still, if we're looking to take 10 golfers and say that one will win, the task becomes a little easier.
That's what we're doing here, as this list is in no particular order.
But before we go there, let's quickly look at a few big name guys who are not likely to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy.
Adam Scott: This one may come back to bite me, as he looked tremendous in his win at Firestone. But no player has won the week before a major and then won the following major since Phil Mickelson won the BellSouth Classic and the Masters in 2006.
Scott's won before, so he wouldn't be likely to be bothered by the normal barrage of distractions that come the week after a win, but this win wasn't quite normal.
For one, this tournament is an elite event, so the distractions are likely to be greater from winning it than they are from any other tournament.
Two, his win has a tie to Tiger Woods, as Woods' long-time caddy Steve Williams is now Scott's caddy. That will add to Scott's distractions.
If Williams and Scott becomes a long-term partnership, look for Scott to win a major. Just don't expect it to be this one.
Tiger Woods: Woods made steps in the right direction at Firestone, but he is still too far off to be identified as a favorite at a major championship.
The remainder of 2011 will be far more important for Woods and the rest of his career than the PGA Championship.
Charl Schwartzel & Darren Clarke: It's hard to win two majors in a season. It's just not done very often, and when it is, it's almost always done by one of the best players in the world. Schwartzel and Clarke are great players, but they aren't proven at that level yet.
Yes, I am aware that three majors have been played. We'll hear more about the other guy later on.
On that note, let's look at the 10 safest bets to win the PGA Championship.
Identifying a true solo favorite is tough, but McIlroy is the most logical choice for that role.
Also, while Charl Schwartzel and Darren Clarke are fine players, Rory McIlroy is a cut above them, which explains his inclusion here, although a win would be his second major of 2011.
Although he's not American, McIlroy has said that he plays better on the American courses than he plays on courses around the world.
We can look at the US Open to point out how dominant he was there and say that's why he's the favorite. Truthfully, that's only a part of the reason.
Look at how he's played in the tournament since then. No, he hasn't won, but he also hasn't been on point in his game. Still, he's played reasonably well and even contended for a lot of those weeks.
That's also indicative of how great he really is.
Phil Mickelson's best days are behind him, but he's not completely done. The PGA Championship has been good to Mickelson, who won it in 2005 and has seven other top-10 performances.
One of those came in 2001, where he carded four rounds in the 60's on his way to a second place finish. The significance of that performance is that it came on the same course that will host this week's tournament.
Mickelson is also playing reasonably well, although his performance at the Bridgestone was less than impressive. Lefty tied for second place at the British Open in July, this was only his second top-10 performance at that tournament.
Sure, Mickelson's best days may be behind him, but he's still too good to not be seen as a real threat to win this week.
With the exception of the Masters where he's never made the cut (still inexplicable to me, but that's not the point here), Kaymer has enjoyed a lot of success in the majors.
His best major has been the PGA Championship, which has produced his two best finishes. In 2009, Kaymer finished a tie for sixth and last year. 2010 was better for Kaymer, as he won what is to date his only major.
What works against Kaymer is the fact that with the exception of Tiger Woods, no player has won consecutive PGA Championships since it became a stroke play event in 1958.
Adam Scott was kept off of the list for a similar reason, but there are a few differences.
One, the distractions for Scott will be much more dominant, especially given Stevie Williams' comments.
Two, as good as Scott is, Kaymer is a better golfer.
No, he's not as dominant as Tiger was in 1999, 2000, 2006 and 2007, but omitting Kaymer from a list like this would be foolish.
Honestly, I just don't see a win from Donald. He doesn't have a good track record at majors, but facts are facts.
Donald is the No. 1 ranked player in the world for a reason. He's coming off of a good showing at Firestone, so his game is clearly sharp.
Donald will need to be good with the driver. He has the oddly bad combination of being crooked off of the tee, while also not especially long.
More than anything, that explains his lack of production in majors (he's only recorded five top-10 performances). If he can keep his driver under control, the rest of Donald's game is good enough to win any major.
A lot of what was said about Donald applies to Westwood, who is the No. 2 ranked player in the world.
Westwood has been in contention more than Donald, but he's never closed the door at a major.
The PGA Championship has been his least successful major. In 2009, Westwood finished in a tie for third place, but that's his only top-10.
Unlike most other players listed, Westwood played in the 2001 PGA. While he made the cut, he didn't do much better, finishing in a tie for 44th place.
Still, Westwood is the current No. 2 ranked player in the world and has been No. 1 at various points over the last two years.
The baggage is there, but so is the game.
Dustin Johnson has all of the firepower he needs to win a major, any major.
The problem is that he's been there before and has routinely failed to close the door. Johnson is still too young to have the kind of baggage that Westwood has, but that's a mental hurdle that he will need to jump.
The scene of his most famous (or infamous) failure came at the 2010 PGA Championship, where he unknowingly grounded his club in a bunker and missed a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.
The past failures hurt his chances, but his talent is just too much to ignore. If Johnson finds a way to make putts and limit the bad holes, he is a legitimate threat.
If this ends up being a low scoring PGA Championship like it was in 2001, it's hard to imagine Johnson not being in the thick of things on Sunday.
If it wasn't for Rory McIlroy's dominance, Jason Day would have won the US Open in record fashion. While he's never won a major, his game is raised at them.
At his first PGA Championship, Masters and US Open, Day recorded a top-10 finish. The Masters and US Open showings were runner-up performances.
Day is a player who will be making lists like this at all of the majors for years to come.
He's not unlike a pre-US Open McIlroy. He's only won once but has received plenty of hype. McIlroy had an identical track record before Congressional.
At some point, Day should be like a post-US Open McIlroy. When he wins a major, it will get everyone's attention.
Steve Stricker is one of four guys listed here who played in the 2001 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
Like Westwood, he made the cut but didn't do much more, finishing in a tie for 66th.
Stricker is one of the most consistent players in the world and has been for a long time. The same could be said about Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.
Another thing that Stricker has in common with them is that he's never won a major.
Stricker's notched two top-10 performances at the PGA, although the most recent of those came in 2006. With his consistency and strong putting, don't be surprised to see him in contention on Sunday.
Again, these players aren't listed in any particular order. Still, while McIlroy is the unofficial No. 1 man, Johnson was the last man in.
There are plenty of players ahead of him in the world rankings that aren't included here. So why is he included?
Well, three of his career wins (including the 2007 Masters) came in Georgia. That does suggest a certain amount of comfort in the conditions common to the Southern United States.
More than that, Johnson is a consistently strong player. Good putting goes a long way at major championships, and Johnson is a great putter.
Although Johnson missed the cut at the PGA Championship in 2006, 2007 and 2008, he came back with a tie for 10th in 2009 and a tie for third in 2010.
So while guys like Graeme McDowell, Matt Kuchar, Nick Watney, Bubba Watson, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter are all fine players, Johnson gets the nod.
During the Bridgestone Invitational, Nick Faldo said that he liked the direction that David Toms' game was going in.
His performance at Firestone was solid, as Toms opened with three 68's and finished with a 67 to record a tie for ninth place. He's already won this year, so he's clearly not too old to contend for four rounds.
In addition to all of that, he won the 2001 PGA Championship at this course.
No, what happened 10 years ago doesn't mean a lot when we're looking at this week, but it's not irrelevant. Toms is playing well and likes the course.
In addition to that, Toms plays well in the South, which makes sense as he's from Louisiana.
He's only finished in the top 10 at the PGA once since his 2001 win, but he's also made the cut in all but one of those years.
Toms is a few years past his prime, so I wouldn't bet too much money on him or anything. Still, I wouldn't discount Toms as a legitimate threat.