Well, guys, we’ve made it to the last major of the year, the PGA Championship. Per usual with a major tournament, there is a ton to be excited about. Bellerive Country Club is an absolutely stunning golf course, and when you match that with a stacked field and some potential weather issues, things could get really exciting real quick.
As I mentioned before, this year’s PGA Championship is being hosted by the Bellerive (Bella-reeve) Country Club in St. Louis, Missouri. There are four par 3’s, two par 5’s, and twelve par 4’s with yardage totaling approximately 7,380 yards. The majority of the holes will shape from right to left, which makes it favorable for right-handed players who play a draw, or left-handed players who play a fade. The par 4’s play an average of 444.25 yards, with two of them being under 400 yards, and two more playing over 500 yards. The par 5 eighth and seventeenth are 610 and 597 yards, respectively. The par 3’s play right around 200 yards on average, with the third being the shortest at 148 yards, and the sixteenth being the longest at 237 yards. Overall, the course plays pretty fair, if not just slightly long, but shouldn’t be a problem for bombers and still scoreable for those who don’t hit the ball as far but are more accurate. The rough is, well, rough, and there is water in play on almost a third of the holes, so accuracy might become more important than distance.
The forecast is looking rain-free for the tournament. There was some concern earlier in the week about some possible thunderstorms on the weekend, and even though it looks like they’ve cleared out now, you can never rule a pop-up thunderstorm or rain shower out in the summertime. With all of that being said, there was a lot of rain earlier this week. There was so much rain on Tuesday that the majority of players, including Tiger Woods, didn’t get to play one of their practice rounds. On top of missing a day of seeing the course, the overwhelming amount of rain coupled with the heat and humidity will make the greens play slower than they usually would for a major championship. They slowed down so much so that the PGA of America Rules Committee posted a notice in the locker room stating, “Due to the expected high temperatures and high humidity over the next couple of days, greens will remain slower than they are planned for Championship Rounds.” This will almost certainly cause players to miss putts short, which could lead to frustration, so the players will be required to keep their mental game in check this year.
The field this week holds 156 players where the top 70 and ties will make the cut. 20 of those 156 are PGA pros, not tour pros, but pros that you would find in your local pro shop. This is unique to the PGA Championship, and these pros qualified by finishing in the top 20 in the PGA Pro Championship. Being a major championship, the field is stacked with the best players in the world which includes world number 3, Justin Rose, who withdrew last week with back spasms. While he did say in a press conference that he felt fine, I did also hear that he appeared to be “taking it easy” Wednesday and that he was acting kind of timid with it.
Last week didn’t go so well for two of the three picks. Tiger fell apart on the weekend after having a pretty good day Thursday, and Kevin Chappell just never could get it together on the back nine. However, Tony Finau did secure a top-10 finish with a score of seven under par to be the only pick to hold up to the expectations. And this week doesn’t get any easier. Majors are difficult to pick players from because anything could happen, and someone you wouldn’t have ever expected has just as much of a chance to win as someone who is top-10 in the World Golf Rankings.
Speaking of players who are in the top-10 of the World Golf Rankings, my top-tier pick comes in at number five on that list, and his name is Rory McIlroy. Almost everything about the golf course this week matches up with Rory. Rory is a right-handed player that favors a draw so, as I mentioned earlier, this course plays to his strengths. Since the rain made the course soft and by result won’t allow the ball to run out as much, the long drivers don’t have much of an advantage off the tee this week. However, Rory has been (with the exception of this past Sunday at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational) spectacular with his iron game recently. He also said that he feels as if he has been putting really well, they just haven’t been falling. So if his putts can find the bottom of the cup we could see some really low scores for Rors considering the soft greens and his aggressive nature. The only thing that could bring Rory down would be his inability to hit fairways, which will be important this week with the rough being so wet and sticky. Whoever wins will take advantage of the conditions and attack the course, according to many of the players, and I feel like this is a great spot for Rory to do just that.
In the middle-tier, I’m going with Xander Schauffele. The 2016-2017 Rookie of the Year has a pretty good major championship record so far. Xander finished T-6 in the U.S. Open this year when the course was playing “unfair” according to many players and critics. Xander also finished T-2 at The Open Championship, regardless of not bringing his best stuff on Sunday and specifically the back nine. If we look back at last year, his rookie year, he finished T-5 and T-20 in the U.S. Open and The Open, respectively. Outside of the majors, Xander also has three other top-10 finishes this year, so needless to say that he’s developing into a great golfer and has been in great form except for the missed cut last week. Xander has proven himself a worthy mention when it comes to big tournaments such as this one, and I see him finishing in the top-20 for sure, and probably find his way into the top-10 as well.
In the lower-tier, I’m taking Thorbjørn Olesen. Olesen gained his recognition this year on the European Tour by winning the Italian Open. Since then, he’s finished top-10 in three of the six tournaments he’s played, and top-15 in four which included a twelfth place finish in The Open Championship. Olesen has proven to be an accurate iron player approaching the green, and also a decent putter. Having played the majority of his time on the European Tour, there isn’t much to go by to try to predict how he’ll play on the PGA Tour, so I’m pretty much just going off of what I’ve seen from him and his recent form. He has been on a hot streak since his win, and he’s coming off of a third-place finish in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, and I believe he will be able to carry that momentum into the PGA Championship this week and finish in the top-20.
The truth of the matter is, this is anyone’s tournament. Dustin Johnson has had a phenomenal year but has yet to win a major this year. Justin Thomas, coming off of an emotional win at the Bridgestone Invitational, is in a groove and looking to defend his title. But regardless of all of this, I think we will be seeing these three guys atop the leaderboards come Sunday night.