2014 PGA Championship: Top 10 Storylines at Valhalla

Richard Leivenberg@@richiemarketingContributor IIIAugust 3, 2014

2014 PGA Championship: Top 10 Storylines at Valhalla

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    Can Rory win back-to-back major titles?
    Can Rory win back-to-back major titles?Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    The 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla stands to be one of the year’s most dramatic tournaments as the stresses and strains of an entire season collide to create great conversation and curiosity.

    Up until The Open Championship, it was U.S. Open winner Martin Kaymer who was being heralded as this year’s superstar.

    Then a resurgent Rory McIlroy not only swept the field at the Open Championship but came from behind to win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational elevating himself back into the No. 1 position in the world rankings. 

    Of course, there is the ongoing drama surround Tiger Woods who abruptly withdrew on Sunday due to a back injury. Will he even show up at Valhalla?

    Meanwhile Phil Mickelson may have regained his footing after a fantastic 62 on the final day at Firestone.

    Played at a revamped Valhalla Golf Club, where Tiger won in 2000, the PGA Championship may end up being the perfect climax to what has been a truly exciting year on the tour.

    For more on the top 10 storylines at the 2014 PGA Championship, please check out the following slideshow.

10. Rickie Fowler Has Become a True Contender

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    Rickie Fowler has stepped up his game.
    Rickie Fowler has stepped up his game.Phil Long/Associated Press

    A year ago, the only story about Fowler was about how fast he was fading. He was known more for his many sponsorships and his funny Golf Boys videos than his tour wins. 

    Ranked 42nd in the FedEx Cup standings at the end of 2013 and with only one PGA tour win to his name, the talented 25-year-old Fowler befuddled golf fans with his inability to gain more victories.

    But when he signed with noted coach Butch Harmon earlier this year, his game completely turned around. 

    In the majors alone, he has been nothing less than remarkable, tying for fifth in the Masters and finishing in a tie for second at both the U.S. Open and the British Open.

    He now ranks 18th in the world and has shown that he can hang in there with the best on a Sunday afternoon.

    Is there any question that he is now a prime contender to win the 2014 PGA Championship?

9. Don’t Count Out Sergio Garcia in His Quest for 1st Major

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    It is time for Sergio Garcia to win his first major.
    It is time for Sergio Garcia to win his first major.Scott Heppell/Associated Press

    It would have been easy to count out the 34-year-old Garcia from ever winning a major. 

    He has been a bridesmaid too many times, but almost all of those occurred many years ago. (He tied for second at the 2008 PGA Championship, finished in second place at the 2007 Open Championship and tied for third at the 2005 U.S.Open).

    The last few years have simply been a series of, let’s call it, upscale mediocrity. He had his share of top-10 finishes but has only won once in the last five years, at the 2012 Wyndham Championship.

    You may not realize it, but the spirited Spaniard has compiled 27 wins worldwide. In his last 44 events, he has 22 top-10 finishes, including four victories.

    He just hasn’t won the big one yet. With his tie for second place at the Open Championship and his current No. 1 ranking in scoring on the tour, he is a very strong favorite to win this year’s PGA Championship at Valhalla. 

    Although he is ranked fifth in the world, he is still part of a group of elite players who have yet to win their first majors (including Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson and Lee Westwood).

    But that story could change very quickly at Valhalla.

8. Renovated Valhalla Course Could Lead to Low Scores

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    The Valhalla golf course has a bunch of new greens.
    The Valhalla golf course has a bunch of new greens.John Sommers II/Getty Images

    In order to set up the course to meet the standards of today’s professional golfer, the Valhalla golf course went through a myriad of changes.

    Among other things, the players who played here at the 2000 PGA Championship will find altered greens and bunkers. The greens have been reshaped, and their grass is now a more heat-tolerant bent grass.

    The revamped course is not necessarily more difficult as it is  “user-friendly,” according to course designer Jack Nicklaus.

    “Overall the alterations to the course have helped to modernize the look and playability of the golf course,” said Keith Reese, Valhalla PGA Golf Professional.

    Will the course be tougher than in 2000, when Tiger Woods won here with a finishing score of 18 under par?

    That remains to be seen.

7. Valhalla Will Determine Final Ryder Cup Team

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    Tom Watson most likely will make captain's picks after the PGA Championship.
    Tom Watson most likely will make captain's picks after the PGA Championship.Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    The PGA Championship will most likely determine the final Ryder Cup Team which will play in Scotland in September.

    The top nine earn automatic spots on the team, and Tom Watson has three captain’s picks.

    Already we know that Dustin Johnson, who had made the team on points, has been suspended by the PGA for six months due to cocaine use

    He is currently fourth in the FedEx Cup rankings. 

    In line for those picks are guys like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. If Woods finishes third or better in the WGC-Bridgestone and PGA Championship, he will make the team on his own.

    There is already a ton of debate over whether Tiger even deserves to be on the team based on his ability to recover from back surgery. 

    Positions seven through 15 are separated by less than $450,000, which means that the bottom three picks are up for grabs.

    By the end of the PGA Championship, the team will be set, making for a little bit more drama at the tournament.

6. Can Injured Jason Dufner Defend His Title?

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    Can Jason Dufner shed injury to win PGA Championship again?
    Can Jason Dufner shed injury to win PGA Championship again?USA TODAY Sports

    For last year’s winner of the PGA Championship, defending his title will amount to a big pain the neck.

    Dufner has been nursing two highly painful herniated discs in his neck since the Masters.

    His up-and-down season has included four top-10 finishes, including a tie for second at the Crowne Plaza Invitational in May. But he also missed the cut at the U.S. Open and finished tied for 51st at the Open Championship.

    "The worst was at the U.S. Open. I didn't sleep Thursday night going into Friday. Zero hours of sleep doesn't work for golf,'' he said.  

    To his credit, the 38-year-old Dufner continues to play through the pain, and it looks like he will be on hand to defend his major victory at Valhalla.

5. Can Adam Scott Regain the No. 1 Ranking?

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    No. 1 player in the world Adam Scott has a good shot at his second major title.
    No. 1 player in the world Adam Scott has a good shot at his second major title.USA TODAY Sports

    Adam Scott lost his No. 1 ranking to Rory McIlroy after McIlroy's win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

    But don't count out the Australian at Valhalla.

    Scott has been overshadowed by the otherworldly play of Rory McIlroy at the Open Championship and at Firestone and the equally amazing win by Martin Kaymer at the U.S. Open. 

    But it is Scott who is listed second by oddsmakers at 12-1 to take the PGA Championship.

    And rightly so. In 12 tournaments so far, he has made 12 cuts, won once and finished in the top 10 eight times.

    At the Masters, he finished tied for 14th; at the U.S. Open, he tied for ninth; and at the Open Championship, he tied for fifth.

    He has also made some leaps statistically—from 102nd in strokes gained putting in 2013 to 14th this year and from 14th in total driving last year to second this year. And he currently is No. 1 in the all-around ranking category.

    Amid the hubbub surrounding McIlroy, Kaymer and Woods, don’t forget about Scott.

4. Can Martin Kaymer Live Up to His Renewed High Status?

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    Which Martin Kaymer will show up at Valhalla?
    Which Martin Kaymer will show up at Valhalla?Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Martin Kaymer won the PGA Championship in 2010. He became the No. 1 player in the world in 2011.

    Then he took a bit of an unplanned hiatus and dropped to 32nd in the world. Then he came out of nowhere to win the 2014 Players Championship.

    He followed that with one of the most stunning victories ever at the U.S. Open.

    Still, it has been an up-and-down adventure for Kaymer this year. In four of the events in which he has played, he has finished over 50th. He was 70th at the recent Open Championship.

    A telling stat representing Kaymer’s wayward status may be regarding his putting. He currently ranks 114th in strokes gained putting on the tour, and we all know that major titles are won on the greens.

    Kaymer, who won the Players in a wire-to-wire victory and dominated at Pinehurst to win the U.S. Open, is a streak shooter. When he gets hot, he can be as unyielding as anyone in the field.

    So which Kaymer will show up at Valhalla? The one who pummeled the field at the U.S. Open or the one who barely showed up at the British Open?

3. What Are We Going to Get out of Tiger Woods?

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    Will Tiger be able to tee it up at Valhalla after newest injury?
    Will Tiger be able to tee it up at Valhalla after newest injury?Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    First question, first.  Will Tiger even show up at Valhalla?

    After withdrawing from the WGC-Firestone after tweaking his back, it appears as if he may not even get a chance at his 15th major title.

    That is a real shame because, although he wasn't playing great, he would surely be the biggest curiosity piece at the event.

    Knowing Tiger, he may dip himself in an ice bath and find his way to the tee box come Thursday.

    Among his major titles, Tiger has won the PGA Championship four times (1999, 2000, 2006, 2007). He won at Valhalla in 2000.

    Will Tiger play? You can bet that he will do everything in his power to do so.  That is just the Tiger way, right or wrong.

2. Can Phil Continue Momentum at Valhalla?

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    Does Phil Mickelson have a chance at the PGA Championship title?
    Does Phil Mickelson have a chance at the PGA Championship title?USA TODAY Sports

    It seemingly too forever, but Mickelson finally regained his game on the last day at the WGC-Bridgestone where he shot a 62, his lowest round of the year.

    It was the lowest score ever on the difficult Firestone course.

    But this year has been fraught with disappointment for Mickelson. No top-10 finishes. No wins, no seconds, no thirds. That is his record so far this year.

    Compare that to 2013 when he won twice and had seven top 10’s and 11 top 25 finishes in 21 events.

    Is this the same guy who won the Open Championship last year and almost won his first U.S. Open?

    Obviously not.  But we can never count him out when it comes to a major. Remember, he came from behind on the last day of the British Open to skunk the field and win that title for the first time.

    Statistically, his year has been a mess. He ranks 144th in driving accuracy, 76th in distance off the tee and a measly 36th in scoring average.

    For Mickelson to live up to his legacy and to the expectations of the oddsmakers (who have him as the fourth-most-likely player to win, at 20-1), he will have to regroup at Valhalla and regain the magic of 2013.

1. Rory McIlroy's Chance at Three in a Row

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    McIlroy is back as the No. 1 ranked player of the year after winning back-to-back tournaments at The Open Championship and the WGC- Bridgestone.

    Few players have gone through such amazing ups and downs as McIlroy.

    Fewer players possess his talent, which makes him the favorite to win at Valhalla and to continue his fantastic resurgence.

    In May, after a come-from-behind win at the BMW PGA Championship and his breakup from fiancée Carolyn Wozniacki, he made the following prescient statement:

    I think this victory, against one of the best fields of the year, shows that I am on the right track again.

    Hopefully it won't be long before I am contending in majors and having a chance to win those again.

    He, of course, went on to win The Open Championship and the WGC-Bridgestone and position himself for a win at Valhalla.

    His game has been as good or better as when he won the PGA Championship in 2012 and became the No. 1 player in the world.

    Just a year ago, McIlroy was fiddling with new clubs and couldn’t seem to find a fairway, let alone a win on the tour.

    Now, he is ranked first in the world and taking his rightful place as the most feared golfer on tour.