Who's Hot and Who's Not as PGA Championship Approaches

Richard Leivenberg@@richiemarketingContributor IIIAugust 1, 2013

Who's Hot and Who's Not as PGA Championship Approaches

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    While some may consider it last in majors’ significance as well as timing, the upcoming PGA Championship is of primary importance for a wide variety of reasons to every golfer in the field.

    For some, it may also be a last gasp. (Tiger Woods) For others, it represents redemption. (Rory McIlroy)  For still others, it may be their one big chance at a major title.

    With so much at stake, does it matter who has the hottest stick going into Oak Hill or will someone who seemed to have cooled off suddenly rise to the occasion?

    Right now there are many who are playing their best and some who just cannot seem to get things going. Let’s take a look at who’s hot and who’s not.

Hot: Hideki Matsuyama

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    Matsuyama may be one of the hottest golfers in the world right now.

    He wasn’t even ranked in the top 50 in May, but he has shot up to 33rd after his stellar play in the last few events.

    Included in this run is his tie for sixth at the British Open, a tie for 10th at the U. S. Open and a tie for 16th at the RBC Canadian Open. In other words, it doesn’t seem to matter which course or in which country he is playing; he just plays very well.

Not: Sergio Garcia

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    Always a threat to do something spectacular, Sergio has faded a bit after a second-quarter surge.

    At one point in the season, he had finished in the top 10 in four out of six events, including a tie for eighth at the Masters.

    Yet since the Players Championship in which he lost to Tiger after their public feud, he has posted anemic finishes, including a tie for 45th at Merion and a tie for 21st at Muirfield.  

    Unless he can pull a rabbit out of his hat, Sergio may go home early at Oak Hill.

Hot: Brandt Snedeker

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    With his win at the RBC Canadian Open last week, Snedeker has come full circle. He began his year with four top-five finishes in his first five events, including a win at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

    He has played very well in majors. He finished tied for sixth at the Masters, tied for 17th at the U.S. Open and tied for 11th at the Open Championship.

    Statistically, he remains one of the game’s best putters and is currently ranked 10th in strokes gained-putting and seventh in scoring average.

    Snedeker’s year has been punctuated by a few missed cuts, but it is safe to say he really hasn’t cooled off. He looks primed to be a top contender at Oak Hill.

Not: Luke Donald

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    For fun, it would be nice to say that Donald isn’t cold but actually “Lukewarm,” but in reality that has just not been the case.

    It would one of the best stories of the year if somehow Donald was able to pull off a win at Oak Hill, which really shouldn’t be far-fetched for the one-time No. 1 player in the world.

    Yet based on this season’s up-and-down play which at best can be considered mediocre, Donald has a ways to go before he can be considered a true contender. (It should be noted that Donald shot a four-under on the first day of the Bridgestone International.)

    It actually looked like he had returned to form at the U.S. Open. He marched into Sunday within breathing distance of the leader, only to shoot himself out of the tournament with a 75.

    Then he never got on track at the British Open and missed the weekend and another chance at the first major title.

    One look at his third- and fourth-round scoring, where he ranks 105th and 98th respectively, tells you he is having issues closing when it counts most.

Hot: Henrik Stenson

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    Stenson ranks one-two in driving accuracy and greens in regulation (GIR) percentage, two categories that can only help a player on the narrow fairways of a major. Always a long hitter, he also ranks third in total driving.

    The 37-year-old Swede made a great run while in Great Britain, first finishing in a tie for third at the Scottish Open and then in second place at the British Open. He then posted a five-under on the first day of the Bridgestone International, which occurs the week before the PGA Championship.

    For Stenson, a win at Oak Hill would be a nice capper to a steady climb back into contention.

Not: Keegan Bradley

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    The winner of the 2011 PGA Championship, Bradley is having one of those years when you just don’t know how he will perform from event to event.

    In his last nine events, he has missed three cuts, finished 50th or lower and scored a second place at the Byron Nelson.

    In terms of majors, he tied for 15th at the British Open, tied for 54th at the Masters and missed the cut entirely at the U.S. Open.

    While he is driving the heck out of ball and ranks eighth in distance off the tee and fourth in total driving, his putting has lagged, placing him 60th in total strokes gained on the green. That is, when he gets to the green—he ranks 87th in GIR percentage.

    Not quite hot enough going into the PGA Championship.

Hot: Jason Day

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    Day should be a solid pick for any of the next dozen majors, let alone the PGA Championship.

    Even though he has only won once on the PGA Tour, the young Aussie has lately been a majors magnet, finishing tied for second at the U.S. Open and third at the Masters.

    Currently ranked 20th in the world and 10th in the FedEx Cup standings, Day has shown repeatedly that he rises to the occasion when the competition is the toughest.

Not: Graeme McDowell

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    McDowell is slumping as he nears the PGA Championship.

    Beginning the year with five top-10 finishes, including a win at the RBC Heritage, it looked like the No. 8 player in the world would climb the ranks.

    But as the year progressed, McDowell’s performance sagged. In his last four events, he has missed two cuts and finished in a tie for 58th at the Open Championship and 74th at the RBC Canadian Open.

    Most notable and highly unusual for one of the game’s most consistent players has been McDowell’s inability to hit greens in regulation, a category in which he currently ranks 160th. This stat is obviously wreaking havoc with his scoring as well; he now ranks 40th in scoring average.

    It will be interesting to see if he can regain the form that placed him in a tie for 11th in last year’s PGA Championship.

Hot: Tiger Woods

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    Tiger, are you hot or are you not? Up until the Memorial, when he sustained an elbow injury, he was on fire, amassing four wins in 2013 and the No. 1 ranking.

    A tie for sixth in the British may be a sign of heat for most players, but it seemed like a comedown for Tiger, whose ongoing quest for his 15th major title is a bit unnerving.

    Ranked first in scoring and fourth in strokes gained-putting, Tiger has been a bit of a mixed bag, usually taking an early lead in tournaments but declining at the end. He leads the field in scoring before the cut but is 143rd on Sundays.

    We all know the importance of this final major of the year, so all eyes will be trained on Tiger to see if he can turn the heat up and end his five-year drought in majors.

Not: Rory McIlroy

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    Until he shows us something different, Rory may remain cold through the year.

    He certainly hasn’t shown much in the way of sustained solid play this year, especially in the majors, where he has virtually disappeared entirely. He actually missed the cut at the British Open and finished tied for 25th at the Masters and tied for 41st at the U.S. Open.

    It would be simple to blame his issues on his new Nike clubs provided by his new sponsor of the same name. It would be just as easy to say his increased celebrity has made it difficult for him to focus on his game or that his new girlfriend has muddled his brain.

    Whatever the case, his scoring average has soared from 68.8 in 2012, when he was ranked first, to his current place of 35th with an average of 70.4. His ranking of 128th in driving accuracy coupled with his rank of 132nd in strokes gained-putting has led to his poorer scoring average.

Hot: Phil Mickelson

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    We hate to be so obvious, but the hottest player on the planet right now is definitely Lefty.

    He could shoot 400 at the Bridgestone and still be the No. 1 favorite at Oak Hill.

    That’s what happens when you win back-to-back tournaments, one of which is the British Open, in which he shot a 66 to come from behind and scorch the field.

    Phil is having magical year and could easily have two majors under his belt going into the PGA Championship, so don’t be surprised if he gives it a good run.