For many golf fans, this edition of the PGA Championship represents the final piece of serious business in 2015, while in this time 12 months, the Rio Olympics and the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine will be remain circled in golfing calendars.
Considering that this is the last major outing of the year, one can expect a high degree of competition for the purse of $10m and the pursuit of the Wanamaker Trophy.
Rodman Wanamaker, the successful entrepreneur and key visionary behind the creation of the PGA of America and the name upon which the tournament’s silverware is honoured with, could be regarded as a person of multiple talents amongst his peers.
The same can be said for world number one Rory McIlroy, golfer turned footballer, who has confirmed that he will be participating at this year’s tournament.
The Northern Irishman is still recovering from a ligament injury sustained in early July while playing football with friends. McIlroy dropped several hints on social media late last week as to his inclusion however, by posting a videos of him training and hitting balls with what appears to be relevant comfort.
He also played a practice round on the Straits on Saturday, and has been placed in a mouth-watering pairing with Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson. Between the three golfers, they preside over a Grand Slam.
Given the recovery that McIlroy has made, in addition to his proven pedigree at this tournament, it is doubted that the two-time PGA Championship winner will relinquish the opportunity to participate at Whistling Straits this week in order to retain his status as PGA Championship winner and world number one.
Another event that McIlroy has been unable to defend this week however is the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Akron, Ohio. Irishman Shane Lowry emerged victorious from the tournament, narrowing out second place Bubba Watson by two strokes. The 500-mile journey to Kohler certainly became a lot more tolerable for the 28 year-old.
Jordan Spieth, fresh from a T10 finish in Ohio, makes the trip to Wisconsin as the bookmaker’s favourite, having already secured the Masters and US Open, in addition to finishing one tantalising stroke away from a play-off at St. Andrews in the Open Championship after succumbing, as many have before him, to Road Hole no. 17.
If the Texan were to win the tournament, Spieth would be the first golfer since Tiger Woods in 2000 to win three majors in one year. Spieth’s PGA Championship career is yet to catch fire however, as he is yet to make the cut after two previous efforts. The recently turned 22 year-old will be hoping that last week’s practice at The Straits will help him make it third time lucky.
Sculpted on a course that hugs two miles of Lake Michigan shores, The Straits Course at Whistling Straits hosts the PGA Championship for the third time, where Martin Kaymer (2010) and Vijay Singh (2004) finished victorious, on each occasion after play-offs. Opened in July 1998, the course was designed by Pete and Alice Dye to replicate links courses of Scotland and Ireland.
The course, which has been selected as the host for the 2020 Ryder Cup, is characterised by winds sweeping from the lake, deep pot bunkers, large undulating greens, and grass topped dunes. The course holds in excess of 1,000 bunkers in addition to fourteen water hazards. The course plays as a par 72, with a total yardage of 7,514 this week.
The Straits Course at Whistling Straits takes its name from an experience of Herbert V. Kohler, Jr., Executive Chairman of Kohler Co., while walking the terrain during construction on a particularly windy day. The former US Army antiaircraft training facility is also home to a flock of Scottish blackface sheep to truly add to the Celtic countryside experience.
The course certainly serves a ball-strikers course. Drivers and heavy irons will be order of the week, as the field is likely to grapple with three par five holes in excess of 590 yards, four par fours north of 490 yards, in addition to a 223 yard par three at number seventeen “Pinched Nerve”.
Nerves of steel tend to be required at Whistling Straits and at PGA Championships, with thirteen stroke-play events requiring play-offs to determine a winner, including in 2004 and 2010 in the Badger State. Winning scores at PGA Championships here include -11 (2010; Kaymer) and -8 (2004; Singh). At the Senior Open in 2007, American Brad Bryant shot a six-under 282 on his way to victory. Weather conditions have played a critical role here previously, with swirling winds and foggy conditions each playing havoc with play on a number of occasions.
Thankfully, the promising weather for the week ahead looks like the players won’t have to grapple with any extremity that Mother Nature could possibly throw at them.
This is effectively the third links outing in the majors this year, after the world’s best golfers did battle at Chamber’s Bay in June for the US Open, and at St. Andrews for The Open Championship. Though we may have come accustomed to watching players doing battle in a links environment, the challenge in picking a winner is not getting any easier.
With 15 former champions in the field, seven different winners in the past eight years (only repeat champion is McIlory), and four winners in the last six events not having previously won a major, predicting who will lift the Wanamaker Trophy aloft on Sunday evening is an unenviable task.
In selecting potential contenders for this year’s tournament, one could not be blamed for concluding that perhaps five years is not a very long time in golf. One can expect the leader board to read similar to how it read here in 2010.
Accordingly, in addition to the younger American acts outlined below in Five to watch, we can expect similar finishes from reigning Straits champion Martin Kaymer, the American Watson, Open Champion Zach Johnson, reigning PGA Championship winner McIlroy, 2013 PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner, heartbreak kid Dustin Johnson, and a two-pronged Australia attack from Jason Day (T10 in 2010) and Steve Elkington (will not compete, but one can expect a compatriot of his to hit high on the leader board – see Five to watch). In 2010, it came as no surprise that the leader board was dominated by big hitters. Expect little different in 2015.
In an event that is so often dominated by Americans (13 champions of the last 20 events have hailed from the USA), I am going to go against the grain and tip an Australian victory, potentially the first at a PGA Championship for twenty years since Steve Elkington in 1995.
While Aussies Jason Day and Adam Scott have fared well on tour over the last number of years, one would not be blamed for ruling out of them from contention at this the final major of 2015, as a result of their recent inabilities to close out majors and, in the case of Scott, recent putting meltdowns.
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge