For the third time in 11 years, Wisconsin’s very own Whistling Straits will be the host site for the 97th playing of the PGA Championship. Located on the shoreline of Lake Michigan in Kohler, WI, Pete Dye has created a course that tests all facets of a player’s game. While I expect the four round winning total to be at around nine or ten under par, the Straits will pose a huge challenge to players as over 1,000 bunkers and 14 water hazards surround the winding holes. Perhaps the most challenging part of the course, however, is the fan-like wind system that is constantly changing directions and makes for holes that will play plus or minus one hundred yards of its true distance. In order to have a chance at winning the fourth and final major of the year, players will need to strike the ball to perfection and putt lights out. With that being said, here as a look at who I believe should be in contention this week.
Jordan Spieth: After missing out on the opportunity to capture his third major in a row with a very respectable fourth place finish at the Open Championship, Spieth will look not only to win his first PGA Championship, but also take over the #1 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings from Rory McIlroy. With six top 10 finishes in his last seven tour starts, the world’s #2 golfer is rightfully the odds on favorite to win this week. The big question is how Spieth will fare on a venue that he has no major tournament experience playing at. One thing that bears very well for the now 22 year old is that there is a very strong resemblance between the Straits course and Chambers Bay – the site where he won the U.S. Open at just two months ago. Spieth has the hottest hand on tour this year and should be a fan favorite to capture his third major on American soil, or what has been coined as the “American Slam”.
Rory McIlroy: The announcement golf fans had been hoping for has finally come. In the first two rounds of the PGA Championship, the world’s #1 and #2 golfers, McIlroy and Spieth, will tee it off together alongside The Open Champion Zach Johnson. This pairing could foreshadow years to come as analysts are already comparing a McIlroy versus Spieth competition to the likes of Phil against Tiger in their prime. A high finish for McIlroy will dictate that he is 100% following a gruesome ankle injury that has sidelined him since the US Open, while an average performance could lead to Spieth’s ascent to the top. It is all a pretty big mystery for now, but if McIlroy’s past success at Whistling Straits (3rd in 2010) reflects on his game this week, then McIlroy is sure to do well here and possibly defend his championship. One thing to watch for is how McIlroy’s ankle holds up as the rounds progress. Speaking from experience, Whistling Straits has some severe slope changes which can make for some very awkward stances.
Dustin Johnson: This guy can never seem to catch a break, and the most memorable of his final round collapses happened the last time Whistling Straits hosted the PGA back in 2010. All he needed was a par on the final hole to seal up his first major victory, but after Johnson suffered a two-stroke, unintentional grounding penalty in a waste bunker on the 72nd hole, his hopes of winning were crushed. He finished in a tie for fifth place, and is still fighting to win his first major championship. If there was any tournament to turn around his legacy, this would be it. Johnson is the best driver on tour, and with his distance, he should have a significant advantage on the par 5s. His recent form is fairly inconsistent with four rounds in the 70s in his last two tournaments, but I believe that this could be the week he gets his maiden major victory. I will certainly be pulling for him, and it would make a hell of a story.
Bubba Watson: The long hitting lefty is not by any stretch a perfect model of consistency when it is broken down to a week by week basis; however, over the long run Bubba is simply a machine. If there is a course that suits his eye, he is the number one player on tour, and Whistling Straits seems to have been built just for him. It requires length, success scrambling and an ability to gain strokes on the field – all of which Bubba ranks very highly in. Coming off of two second place finishes in a row and a second place finish here in 2010, Bubba has a great chance to capture his 3rd major.
Brooks Koepka: As part of virtually all of my articles of guys to watch out for, I’m not sure how much longer I can keep Koepka in my mid-tier rankings; but, until then, I’m going to stay on the Koepka bandwagon and for a good reason. In his first year as a member on tour, Koepka has made 16/18 cuts and has carded an impressive 11 top 25 finishes. With the shape Koepka’s game is in and his ranking in the top 20 in driving distance, greens in regulation, and strokes gained putting, I see no reason why he wouldn’t be in contention this weekend.
Zach Johnson: Why a two-time major winner is considered a sleeper, I am not sure. But, he continues to surprise everyone with his recent form. Most people would count him out this week because of his lack of distance; but, at this course, distance does not necessarily equate to the lowest score. Keeping the ball in the fairway does, and Johnson does this the best of anyone on tour. He has a superb wedge game and ranks 4th on tour in driving accuracy. What will help Johnson the most, however, is his consistency. He does not have to worry as much as the big hitters about gaining strokes on the par 5s because he gains his strokes on the par 4s, where he ranks 10th. Johnson just missed out on the playoff here last time, so look for him to make a strong run.
Tony Finau: He and Brooks Koepka have had quite the start to their PGA tour careers. They seem to be in contention every week; the only difference is that Finau has not had a victory on tour yet. He has the game to win on tour, it’s just a matter of when he will finally break through. The course matches up decently well with his game, so why not now? If he can keep his drives safe, he has as good of a shot as anyone.
Jason Day: Similar to Dustin Johnson, Jason Day seems to be prime to win his first major. With a win at the Canadian Open three weeks ago, and two top 10 finishes in the past two majors, Day’s game is certainly where he wants it to be. He finished in 10th place the PGA in 2010, and if it wasn’t for three bogeys on the last five holes, he definitely could have been in the playoff. With no glaring weaknesses in any aspect of the Aussie’s game, Day is my pick to come out victorious.
Draft Kings Lineup (50,000 budget)
Jason Day ($10,800)
Zach Johnson ($8,400)
Hideki Matsuyama ($8,000)
Brooks Koepka ($7,800)
Patrick Reed ($7,600)
Jason Dufner ($7,300)