PGA Championship Contenders
With Tiger Woods' old caddy Stevie Williams on the bag and a suddenly trusty putter under his chin, Scott has leapt into the conversation for best player in the world right now. His dominant win at the Bridgestone showed that he could win on a tough track against a major-caliber field — exactly what he's facing this week. Still only 31, Scott could finally be poised to deliver on all that promise.
Rory is an all-American golfer who just happens to be Irish. By his own admission, he dislikes the unpredictability of links golf and prefers good old American target golf, where his superior shotmaking can shine brightest. In other words, he's a perfect candidate to win multiple PGA Championships. He almost won this event at Whistling Straits last year. Get ready to see plenty more of Rory stateside in coming years.
Ladies and gentleman, the last American to win a major. That's right - Mickelson's 2010 Masters win was glory's last shot for the Yanks. The drought almost ended at Royal St. Georges, though. For 11 holes on Sunday at the British Open, Lefty was electric, firing at pins and draining putts in vintage Mickelson fashion. Can he harness that magic for four days in the Georgia heat? The last time the PGA visited Atlanta Athletic Club, Mickelson had a win snatched away by David Toms' epic up-and-down on the 72nd hole. Lefty's major window is slowly closing, and he wants this tournament desperately. Maybe too desperately.
It's hard to ignore the No. 1 player in the World Golf Ranking, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I'll say it again: Donald has to prove it on a major Sunday. He's getting closer; his record this season in the elite-field WGC events — a win, a T6 and a T2 — is stellar, and he was in contention at the Masters. The PGA seems like a likely spot for a breakthrough, a la Payne Stewart circa 1989.
The defending PGA Champion has been a disappointment this season. Other than a January win in Abu Dhabi and a brief reign atop the World Golf Ranking, Kaymer has been largely invisible, missing the cut at The Masters and failing to contend at either the U.S. or British Opens. His talent is undeniable, though, and we can only hope that he contends so we can catch a glimpse of world-class WAG Allison Micheletti.
Day has done everything but win this season, finishing T2 at The Masters, second at the U.S. Open and T4 at the Bridgestone and surging to seventh in the World Golf Ranking. He's played his best golf this season south of the Mason-Dixon line, and he'll hold up in the sweltering conditions. Basically, the kid's a major waiting to happen, and it could happen this week.
Speaking of Southern-fried talent, Kuchar is a former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket who'll feel like he's on home turf this week. But after posting eight top-10 finishes through the Memorial, Kuchar has backslid in recent weeks, missing the cut at the British and Canadian Opens, and his major resume doesn't exactly scream contender. But familiar surroundings and a friendly, supportive crowd could carry Kooch to that elusive breakthrough.
Over the last 14 months, DJ has melted down in the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open when it was his tournament to lose; lost a spot in a playoff to a untimely grounded club at the 2010 PGA; and lost the 2011 British on a wayward 2-iron shot lost out of bounds. It's fair to wonder if this insanely talented 27-year-old can handle the big stage. But if Mickelson comparisons are fair — and I think they are — that means that there are majors in this guy's future. Don't be surprised if he's on the leaderboard on Sunday.
Stricker just keeps chugging along, his post-40 renaissance in full bloom. He's won twice this year, including his third straight win at the John Deere Classic. But ever since his runner-up finish to Vijay Singh at the 1998 PGA, he really hasn't come close to winning a major. For now, he's firmly ensconced in Kenny Perry territory — great career, but in history's second tier. A major could change that.
A year ago, this tournament was Watney's to lose, and lose it he did, squandering a three-shot lead with a final-round 81 at Whistling Straits. Watney enters the PGA as the leader in FedExCup points, a nice accomplishment but sorry substitute for major glory. Still, Watney has won twice this year against major-caliber fields, at the WGC-Cadillac and the AT&T. He's as likely a candidate as any to end America's major drought, which is now six tournaments long.
This was supposed to be Westwood's breakthrough season. Hasn't happened. Aside from wins in Korea and Indonesia, Westwood has been MIA for most of this season, aside from an essentially meaningless T3 at the Rory-dominated U.S. Open, and he's still stinging from a stunning missed cut at the British. Still, it's impossible to dismiss Westwood's six top-three finishes in his last eight majors. He'll be lurking this week.
Is Woods really a contender this week? Probably not, but if I didn't include him, he'd go out and win the thing for sure. Woods, whose last Tour win came at the 2009 BMW, continues to shed sponsors and supporters and had to endure the spectacle of his former caddie outshining him at his comeback tournament. He's cornered right now, which means he's dangerous. At least I hope so — a toothless Tiger is no good for anyone.