It’s been a year of first time major winners with Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson capturing the season’s first 3 majors. This week’s PGA Championship is the last shot for star players such as Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day to claim a major championship and turn an average to good season into a great one.
The PGA Championship will be hosted at Baltusrol, a great championship golf course, designed by A.W. Tillinghast. Baltusrol is a traditional test. Expect tree lined fairways, fast greens and thick rough to challenge players this week. What am I looking for in a player? A strong tee-to-green game with a strong short game (elite players).
Baltusrol hosted the PGA Championship last in 2005, where Phil Mickelson captured the championship, shooting -4 over 72 holes to nip Thomas Bjorn and Steve Elkington by 1 shot. Here’s a look at the 2005 leaderboard and who I like for this year’s PGA!
1. Dustin Johnson
Johnson drives it long and straight and ranks number 1 on tour in wedge proximity. That combination travels to any course. Baltusrol’s challenging setup should yield a score closer to par than last year’s birdie fest at Whistling Straits. This will be a good thing for Johnson who won this year’s U.S. Open at Oakmont.
2. Sergio Garcia
Sergio’s stellar tee-to-green game should fare well at Baltusrol, where he finished t23rd in 2005. The Spaniard has been sizzling this summer with a win and three top 5s in his past four starts. I could see Sergio continuing the trend of first time major winners and ending a career of major championship disappointments.
3. Jason Day
Day has been really close to the winner’s circle in his last 4 starts finishing t14th, t22nd, t3rd and t8th. Day has been plagued by a bad round in each that spoiled his chances to win. Day won last year’s PGA Championship and should fare well with the tough setup due to his strong short game and ability to bomb tee shots.
4. Henrik Stenson
The big Swede put on a ball-striking clinic at the Open Championship, torching the field in a record-setting performance. The putter was hot for Stenson at Troon, and if it stays hot he will be tough to beat. The only reason he isn’t number one on this list is because of the short turnaround between the two major championships.
5. Rory McIlroy
Monday night’s deluge softened up the Baltusrol setup, moving McIlroy up the list. The Irishman feasts on soft tracks, and his world class driving ability make him a strong pick this week. McIlroy has also won the last two even yeared PGA Championships at Valhalla (‘14) and Kiawah (‘12).
6. Phil Mickelson
Fresh off his runner-up at the Open Championship, Phil heads back to the site of his 2005 PGA Championship win. The key for Phil in ‘05 was finding the fairway which set up birdie opportunities at Baltusrol. Though Phil has had a great year, I am not as in love with him this week as others may be. I think his Open Championship performance will be tough to follow up.
7. Matt Kuchar
Another guy who hits a lot of fairways and has been hot recently is Matt Kuchar. Although he never seems to be a threat to win, Kuchar racks up an insane amount of top 10s, with 6 in his last 8 starts.
8. Jordan Spieth
Spieth clocks in number 8 because of his inconsistent driver in 2016. If the driver shows up, I expect Spieth to contend for the title, as few are better at scoring. If the driver doesn’t show up, he will be around the cut line.
9. Zach Johnson
After a tough start to the year with his worst finish t117th, Johnson has hit his stride. ZJ is looking to add the third leg to his quest for the career grand slam, and Baltusrol is an ideal course setup for him with birdies hard to come by and accuracy rather than distance rewarded off the tee. Johnson also had success here in the ‘05 PGA Championship finishing t17th.
10. Adam Scott
On a course that values driving, Adam Scott has to be on everyone’s short list. Scott leads the tour in strokes gained tee-to-green, but hasn’t been able to find the hot putter he had during the Florida Swing.