The PGA Championship preview with Skeeter McGillicuddy
The fourth and final major kicks of this week just two weeks after the sensational Open Championship completing in an unseemly time the year’s premier events. The WGC’s are worth a bundle and attract high quality fields and the Ryder Cup is a fabulous contest to come but lets not kid ourselves – none of these matter when a player hangs up his clubs – unless said player is not in possession of a major.
Stenson’s win was instructive in that it highlighted the vagaries of big field stroke play golf. We wrote him off at the US Open because of his attitude and even his coach called into question his resolve (in typically understated fashion). Stenson brushed over that barb and headed to Castle Stuart where he was, again according to his coach, Pete Cowan, blown away. No chance then at Troon? Not unless you lucked out on the draw. Not to detract from his play, phenomenal as it was, but you can’t help feeling that with any sort of typical Open conditions on the weekend he gets found out. Having witnessed Milky Phil play links golf in the wind first hand, to be fair after years of doing it badly, I’m inclined to think with any decent wind he’d have won.
So what of Stensons’ chances at Baltusrol? Again Cowan thinks he has no chance as he’s too focused on the Olympics. Could be a cheap trick he’s pulling to lower everyone’s expectations but really? The Olympics!
Ask the top 1000 golfers: The US PGA Championship or a medal at the Olympics? No contest.
The quality of the PGA will no doubt be called into question because of the number of club professionals in the field (20). The Masters is an invitation event and both Opens feature amateurs. These elements matter not a jot.
Baltusrol is an AW Tillinghurst design and he likes em tough (Bethpage, Winged Foot etc). The set up will be brutal at 7,428 yards par 70, proper rough, steaming heat and a rowdy New York crowd all adding up to a stern test. Oh and the only two par fives are 17 and 18.
The three major winners are off together and while Willet has gone off the boil somewhat they’ll feel they can play with an air of celebration having a major in the bag. Johnson is of course flying and was hardly disgraced at the Open Championship and followed that with a tied 2nd at the Canadian Open.
Last year’s winner Jason Day seems to be showing and articulating the pressure of being world number one in some bizarre post round interviews with UK broadcaster Sky. He’s played just 4 times in the 3 months since his last win, never playing on consecutive weeks, and although his performances are commendable with two top 10’s he’s looking a spent emotional force more than anything.
Mickelson, as we mentioned in the Open preview, is not one to trust these days but that being said has never been afraid to back up a result. True he didn’t win at Troon but you’d be hard pressed to find a player one off the lead heading into the last round in any major who then shoots 65 and loses. So sensational form and a previous winner here in 2005 where he shot 67/65 then two 72s for minus four – indicating the test that awaits the field – all points to a player you couldn’t rule out. But at the price?
That result in 2005 tells us a lot. It was typical of the many major events played at Baltusrol in that it was low scoring to Par. Prior to 2005 the winning score at the 1993 US Open won by Lee Janzen was 272 (minus 8), the 1980 US Open won by Nicklaus also at 272 and the 1967 US Open, again won by Nicklaus with 275 (minus 5). Given this history you can’t see the PGA allowing a score anywhere near Day’s crazy 20 under last year.
Rory is paired with Day and Milky and needs to find something with the putter. He switched back to his conventional grip after he won the Irish Open with the view that you can’t win tournaments with 123 putts. Seems you can Rory if you play sensational tee to green golf. Since then he’s had three top fives and a MC.
His driving at Troon was awesome and if he brings that form to Baltusrol look out. What’s noticeable though is the sheer amount of putts he misses. Clearly he didn’t feel comfortable with the grip change made for the Masters but whatever he turns up with if he has even a reasonable week on the greens he will be right in the mix.
Spieth, now world number three with the rise of Dustbin, has his own problems but in his case they are tee to green and on them. It was always going to be difficult to back up his 2015 season on the greens and so it has proved. Still a freak from 10-20 feet it’s the shorter putts that are now sliding by and he has issues left and right off the tee – which at Troon you could get away with to an extent. Here with the killer rough and baked greens you better hit some fairways and if you miss, miss long and bring some vertical approaches with you. Again though because he is Jordan and you simply can’t rule him out.
I’m inclined to think the winner will emerge from the top four in the market but splitting them is no easy task. In keeping with our strategy of looking for value we’ll once again leave all these top ranking players alone and look to those we believe can break through.
Patrick Reed: What’s to say? Nearly leading at Troon on day one from the wrong side of the draw Reed finished a creditable 12th. Nothing we’ve seen from fat Pat has changed our view that he’s in that category of player that will emerge with a major.
Brooks Koepka: Withdrew from the last WGC and the Open Championship much like Reed nothing he’s done suggests he isn’t a player to be reckoned with. Long at over 303 off the tee, reasonably accurate at 58% and hits 67% of green plus has a positive 0.355 strokes gained putting. Runners up at the Byron Nelson and St Jude Classic preceded the US Open where he finished 13th after a less than stellar opening round. These impressive performances are further underpinned with an examination of his major’s record over the first tow full PGA Tour seasons. A tied 18th and 13th at the US Opens and a 5th in this event last year suggest he has the game and temperament to tackle tough, tight, fast green courses surely a product of prodigious length and the ability to hit high soft landing approach shots. Koepka runs a light schedule anyway so while the injury may well be a factor he’ll come here fresh and has the game plus his price looks to be a reflection of the time taken out. We’ll take a chance.