The PGA Championship is the last chance that PGA Tour players have of lifting a major championship trophy every season. Players leave it all on the line, and it is usually one of the most hotly contested tournaments of the season. This season, the site of the PGA Championship will be familiar to some of the players, as the Lower Course at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, NJ will host the event for the first time since 2005.
Phil Mickelson won the event in ’05, and if you missed his performance in the British Open a few weeks ago (not bad for a 46-year old) he should be in contention again at a place that will bring back good memories for him.
Henrik Stenson, who unbelievably outdueled Phil Mickelson on that historic Sunday at Royal Troon, the site of the British Open, could be another favorite, but after winning his first major championship I’m expecting a bit of a hangover.
Baltusrol is a 7,462-yard par 70, and is certainly a stern test. There is only one hole with water in play, but the rough is long and the fairways are narrow throughout the course so accuracy will be crucial for whoever wants to win the 98th edition of the PGA Championship.
The hole layout is also one of the most interesting that the players will see all season. A par 70 means that birdie chances are scarce, and at Baltusrol the two par-5s that players could take advantage of and birdie are the last two holes. Holes 17 and 18 will make or break a player’s round if they are able to capitalize on them. On Sunday, it should set up for an interesting finish with all the potential scoring chances taking place down the stretch.
Another major storyline is that Tiger Woods officially pulled out of the 2016 PGA Championship as well as the rest of the 2016 season, but let’s focus on the golfers that are playing this week, who has the best chance to win, as well as the role they’ll play this week.
Dustin Johnson – 2016 U.S. Open Champion (2016 Player of the Year?)
As we discussed earlier, Baltusrol Golf Club is a long course, and driving it long and straight is probably on the top of the To-Do List for those who want to win this week. Exhibit A is Dustin Johnson. In this new age of merging science and statistics, Dustin Johnson is a freak in the nicest way possible. He ranks 2nd on the tour in strokes gained tee to green, strokes gained off the tee and driving distance, all good things.
He is hitting the fairway only 57% of the time, but that is the least of his worries as he was won two of the biggest tournaments of the PGA season thus far, and if he can bump that number up to the 65-70% range for this week he’ll be unbeatable. The putter will have to come along as well but on his best days Johnson hits it long off the tee and close to the pin, a la 18 at Oakmont.
Jason Day – 2015 PGA Champion (Repeat Has a Nice Ring to it)
The defending champ will want to have something to say about the final major of the year as well. Jason Day had the best year of his career in 2015, and with all the expectations of continuing that success, 2016 has been a solid season, but for some reason Day hasn’t found that same magic in the majors. He hasn’t finished higher than tied for 8th in the three majors this season, and although that sounds good he hasn’t made that Sunday charge up the leaderboard and put himself in a position to win.
He has won three tournaments this season, including the 2016 Players Championship, a prolific tournament as far as non-majors are concerned, and still comes in ranked No. 1 in the world so if you doubt Jason Day’s chances to win this week, do so at your own risk.
Rory McIlroy – 4-time Major Champion (International Man of Mystery)
Next on our list is the enigma that is Rory McIlroy. The kid from Northern Ireland who loved the game and was ready to take Tiger’s throne has turned into a disgruntled golfer that is rarely near the top of the leaderboards in 2016. He has won the PGA Championship in 2012 and 2014, and lapped the field at the U.S. Open in 2011, winning by 8 strokes, but we haven’t seen that McIlroy in a while. Now we are accustomed to the man who had some disrespectful remarks concerning golf in the Olympics and someone who throws fits reminiscent of an amateur when things aren’t going his way. McIlroy is one of the most physically talented players in the world, there is little debate when it comes to that, but mastering the mental aspect of the game is more important, and it seems he has lost that skill for most of this season. Only time will tell which McIlroy will show up this week.
Phil Mickelson – 5-time Major Champion (Fan Favorite)
Mickelson might not have enough left in the tank after his heroics came up just short at the British Open, but the fact that he won at this course in 2005 might just be the spark he needs. Mickelson’s last win came in 2013 at the British Open, so many were writing him off after a lackluster couple of years, but it seems Lefty is saving his best golf for when it matters most. Driving the ball straight four days in a row has become more and more of a problem for Phil, but knowing the course gives him a slight advantage over most of the newcomers who haven’t seen this course yet.
Mickelson will definitely have the fans behind him, as he has a been crowd pleaser for the past two decades. Mickelson’s mental sharpness is at an all-time high as no one has more experience than him in the field. With experience comes wear and tear so we’ll have to wait and see if Phil can hold it together after a monumental effort overseas.
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