This year was as dramatic as any Major year so far this century, with so many talking points dominating the sport during the summer. Jordan Spieth’s Grand Slam, Rory McIlory’s injury and failure to defend his Open title, Dustin Johnson’s collapses (could conceivably have won all three Majors this year) or Tiger Woods’s game totally spiralling out of control.
What Nostradamus-esque predictions would I make for our season closer? For me, this will be a chapter with a fairy-tale happy ending, our hero, Johnson, will come through all the adversity he’s faced during the 2015 major storybook to become USPGA Champion, fittingly at the scene of one of his lowest points along the way in his career.
Whistling Straits is a man-made links course, designed by Peter Dye and opened in 1998. It is built on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan, approximately 100 miles north of Chicago. The course holds a staggering 976 bunkers, 96 of which feature on the 18th hole.
It looks like a links course, but being totally artificial it doesn’t really play like one. It is very similar to another artificial links course that featured on our Major rota this season, Chambers Bay. A fact that shouldn’t be ignored when we are sizing up our winner.
An 8000 yards course with quite generous fairways on the scoring holes, this is tailor-made for the big hitters. Despite recent trends of an Open-PGA double (Rory, Harrington, Tiger x2) in the past decade, you can rule out anybody who isn’t averaging 300+ yards off the tee, for example our Open champion, Zach Johnson.
Whistling Straits has a perilous closing four holes, with three of the last four ranking as first, third and fourth highest scoring holes at both previous USPGA’s here.
16th being the respite here, but still a 550yd par 5. The 18th is the most difficult hole on the track, a par 4 that had a scoring average of 4.52 in 2010. If someone comes to the 15th tee with a 3-shot lead on Sunday night, it is still far from over.
The USPGA has been held here on two previous occasions, both decided by playoffs. Vijay Singh won in 2004 with a score of -8 and Martin Kaymer defeated Bubba Watson in 2010 with a score of -11.
2010 is famously remembered for Johnson grounding his club on lying sand on the 18th hole resulting in a two-stroke penalty which destroyed his challenge. Par on 18 would have won him the title, he eventually bogeyed which put him in the playoff but immediate reviews after the round and subsequent penalty ruled him out.
My first and favourite pick is again, Dustin Johnson. I tipped him strongly to win The Open a few weeks ago and was gutted for him (and my bank balance) when he wilted away so limply on Saturday with a 75 in favourable conditions after overpowering the course on the two days previously.
He has issues getting his first Major on the board, but he is not in the same bracket as Sergio Garcia or Lee Westwood who have had similar chances that they couldn’t capitalise on and now seem doomed never to win one.
Sadly, these guys will never be ajor winners but in DJ’s case it really is only a matter of time and if he stays in the frame of mind we’ve seen this year I expect him to be a multiple major winner by the time he retires. Having said that, he does need to take one of his opportunities soon.
The two biggest experiences he can use to his advantage this week are his experiences here in 2010 and his 18th hole 3-putt at Chambers Bay, a remarkably similar course. Comfortably leads the PGA Tour driving stats and I expect the winner to feature highly in this category.
Jason Day: Another possible fairy-tale winner. A staggering nine-time top-10 finishes in his last 20 Majors, his first of which came here in 2010. Like DJ, another nearly man, but has the driving/putting game to win. A matter of time for the Aussie also.
Bubba Watson: Majestic driver who seems to be peaking after an imperious driving performance last week at The Bridgestone, only to leave himself with too much to do. Can sulk with the best of them, but lost in the playoff here last time and the course setup will suit him.
Patrick Reed: Another big hitter who seems to be coming into some form after a poor summer. Wasn’t far off the pace at Chambers Bay and certainly is not afraid to win.
JB Holmes: My final pick is another big hitter, prominent in the PGA winners circle on an annual basis but rarely brings it to the majors. With distance being such a crucial factor and his credintails as a winner when the final 4 hole stretch comes along on Sunday, if he is in contention I don’t expect him to shy away.
A five-horse race this: McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke.
Rory McIlroy: Class act but back too soon, similar injuries take another 2 months to heal properly.
Shane Lowry: Supposedly didn’t have a tipple after his amazing victory at the Bridgestone (I’m skeptical) but either way his seasons work is done and his preparation this week won’t have been ideal.
Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke: McDowell too short off the tee and Clarke has only qualified via exemption, neither will make the cut.
Padraig Harrington: Former winner, major Open contender a few weeks ago before a loose drive midway through his Sunday killed his chances. Playing well, represents value @ 11/1.
McIlroy’s comeback is a little too soon in my opinion, can totally understand him playing but cannot see him contending on Sunday.
Spieth cannot be overlooked however, if anything Rory’s comeback has taken some of the attention off him, which is a plus. I do think Spieth could win this, but he has very little course knowledge and is too short at 6/1 for me.
Dustin Johnson – 4pt win 14/1
Jason Day – 2pt win 14/1
Bubba Watson – 1pt 14/1
Patrick Reed – 0.5pt E/W 60/1
JB Holmes – 0.5pt E/W 125/1
Padraig Harrington – Top Irishman – 11/1 – 1pt win
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