Our last Pick-6 game of the 2013-14 season is here! Sign up now for glory's last shot at $1,000 with the PGA Championship Pick-6 game.
As I've been thinking about the upcoming PGA Championship the last several days, I keep having flashbacks to the 2001 Masters. Woods, Duval, Mickelson. 1-2-3. Final leaderboard. Great charges on Sunday on a course that yielded birdies to well-played approaches. Risk-reward golf. The best in the world eventually finishing on top, spoiling the majors dreams of his world-class pursuers. Ultimately it was the No. 1 player's event as the others faded away, just as most expected.
And that's how I see it playing out this Sunday at Valhalla. There's a clear Top 3 in the world right now: Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia, which, somewhat ironically since it rarely works out that way, is where they sit in the Official World Golf Rankings. But they deserve it: between the three of them, over the last two years they have collectively captured eight wins around the world (two majors), eight 2nds, six 3rds and 55 top 10s.
In practice, however, it appears Rory McIlroy is playing a different game than the rest of the field. He's breaking par on 26.14% of the holes he plays. That's the highest percentage since Tiger Woods in 2006, when he won eight times. That year, Tiger went T3 (Masters), MC (US Open), Win (Open Championship) and… wait for it… Win (PGA Championship, by five shots). Rory has gone T8, T23, 1 in the first three versions of those events in 2014. Let's just say there are some similarities there.
He's heading to a course that historically favors right-to-left players, on which length has proven a big advantage with generous landing areas, and high iron approaches are needed to get to segmented areas of greens, carry over rock walls, and navigate deep bunkers. Yes, the course has been toughened somewhat since 2000 (by Rees Jones), the last time it hosted the PGA Championship. But toughened in a way that favors Rory's game, with the ability to tuck more pins and carry more trouble. And if you think a Jack Nicklaus design like Valhalla favors a left-to-right player, it's not how it's played out in big events: from Mark Brooks and Kenny Perry (2006) to Tiger and Bob May (2000) to Tom Watson (2011 Senior PGA), the right-to-left shot plays here. Just don't miss it too far left (more on that below).
So while I hope for another one of those classic, big-name leaderboards come Sunday, most things point to a runaway win for the king of the draw, Rory. But that's the great thing about this game -- anything can, and usually does, happen. And it's worth noting that the last two PGA's here, and even the last Senior PGA in 2011, went to a playoff.
Let's get to the picks. In honor of the Bluegrass state, let's handicap it Kentucky Derby-style with my Top 6, the same I'll play in golfmanna's PGA Championship Pick-6 game. We hope you'll sign up and have some fun with us, and you'll be playing for $1,000. Good luck and thanks for your support.
THE THOROUGHBREDS. A trifecta to box. Or maybe an exacta to hit. No one would be surprised if this is the final order come Sunday.
1. Rory McIlroy. Like last week at Firestone, he comes in hot to a course that favors his ridiculously beefy tee-to-green game. He could run away and hide on Friday -- he tees off early that day, so if he has a decent round on Thursday this is a real possibility. If there's rain that softens the course (chance of storms every day this time of year in the South), it only plays into his hand.
2. Adam Scott. I'm starting to get that Ernie Els/Tiger Woods feeling with the Aussie. Els would have potentially won three or four additional majors if it weren't for Tiger's dominance. It seems to be setting up that way, but Scott is just entering his prime. Has been in the top 15 in 10 of the last 11 majors but has only come away with one win. Maybe he's more like the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s.
3. Sergio Garcia. Has three 2nds and two 3rds in his last seven events. I think his best shot at a win is to be five or six shots back on Sunday, go out a couple of hours ahead of the leaders and shoot a 66. He still seems to have too many mental demons to pull out a victory as a frontrunner or in a pressure position. Unless it's the Ryder Cup, of course.
THE CONTENDERS. These horses have the firepower to challenge, and win.
4. Rickie Fowler. Masters: T5. US Open: T2. Open Championship: T2. My biggest fear is that his stats will eventually catch up with him, as he sits 126th in Driving Accuracy, 127th in GIR%, and 112th in Strokes Gained-Putting. He just seems to put it all together in the big events this year, and I'm riding the hot hand.
5. Bubba Watson. A country venue for a country boy. Valhalla screams 'grip it and rip it,' and if there's a major setup outside of Augusta, Ga., that favors his game, it's this one. He loves to play it right-to-left and will be hitting different clubs into these greens than most of the field. I never feel comfortable having the enigmatic Watson on my squad, but he's got the game to win here.
THE CALCULATED LONGSHOT. Unproven? Weaknesses in certain areas? Maybe so. But this colt could put it all together at the right time.
6. Marc Leishman. He's certainly more of a left-to-right player, but his other attributes -- length, towering irons, great putting from inside of 5 feet, 15-20 feet and lack of three-putts -- overcome that. The last three events he's played on 'long' courses -- Congressional, Royal Liverpool and Firestone -- he's finished T8, 5th and 3rd, respectively. Last year, he posted a T4 at The Masters, T8 at The PLAYERS, and T12 at the PGA Championship. He's building a nice resume in big events, and actually seemed like the most realistic threat to Rory last week at the WGC Bridgestone. Another stat: he's 8th on Tour in Left Tendency, meaning he generally takes that side of the course out of play -- and this Jack Nicklaus design punishes misses to the left especially.
Toughest Omissions: Jim Furyk, Keegan Bradley, Justin Rose. Not everyone can make the list, and it sure was hard to pare down my Top 6 and leave these guys off. Furyk has been a staple in the top 5 the last two months, Rose has been almost as consistent and has won twice in that span, and Keegan is close to finding the winner's circle again and hits cloud-scraping irons.
Others Who Fit The Bill: Jimmy Walker, Gary Woodland, Harris English, Henrik Stenson, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Hideki Matsuyama, Graham DeLaet, Bill Haas, and Paul Casey. Wouldn't be shocked to see a couple of these guys near the top come Sunday.
Darkhorse: Brooks Koepka. He's a bomber who ranks 11th on Tour in Birdie Conversion %, and with relatively wide fairways he should hit more greens than he normally does. He finished T4 at Pinehurst earlier this summer and ranks 20th on Tour in putts from 15-20 feet, which he should have plenty of this week.
Not Quite A Darkhorse: Chris Kirk. He's a Southerner who ranks in the top-third on Tour in SG-P, Birdie Average, Scoring Average, All-Around, Scrambling, Par-5 Performance, and Putting From 15-25 Feet. He's looking to secure a Ryder Cup spot and is approximately 250 points behind Zach Johnson, who holds down the last locked position.
Sentimental Tug: JB Holmes. I was tempted to put JB in the mix, being a Kentucky native and all… but his record in the majors just isn't there, as he's only played in three of them the last four years. He'll have a big following out there, and it's hard not to root for a guy who had brain surgery and injured himself rollerblading (OK, maybe just the former... A rollerblading Kentuckian?).
Ruling Out For Whatever Reason: Tiger (it's questionable whether he can finish a round right now), Jason Day (injury/form), Matt Kuchar (top 25 is likely, but hasn't been in serious contention for awhile), Mickelson (great record here, but even for him his game is inconsistent right now), Zach Johnson (not his kind of course, although he does have some Bob May in him), Graeme McDowell (see Johnson, Zach), Jason Dufner (back injury), Ryan Moore (has been very consistent, but a major is a different story), Jordan Spieth (game is slightly off right now), Martin Kaymer (I don't see him recovering from that display at Firestone last week -- too much to work on).
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Photo: USA Today Sports Images