The fourth and final Major Championship, the PGA Championship, starts this Thursday with Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course playing host to the event dubbed ‘Glory’s Last Start’. It will be the first time Kiawah has hosted a Major Championship having previously played host to the Senior and Club Professional PGA Championships as well as 1991’s Ryder Cup and two editions of the WGC World Cup in 1997 & 2003. For the bulk of the field, Kiawah Island will be a new experience this week, so the practice days in the build up to Thursday’s first round will be crucial.
Whilst we haven’t seen a great deal of The Ocean Course in competitive tournament play we do know a great deal about it, notably it’s bunkers which will be classed as through the green for the duration of tournament, meaning there will be no penalty for grounding a club in the sand. At 7,676 Yards it will be the longest course to host a Major Championship to date and it will be put a premium on length off the tee. The course with its location on the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean can be exposed to strong winds; however the forecast of 10-15 mph winds for the 4 days of the tournament mean it is unlikely the wind will play a major factor.
As is tradition in the PGA Championship, the feature group for opening 2 rounds will be grouping of the year’s 3 Major winners. Bubba Watson, Ernie Els and Webb Simpson form the grouping this year and it is a grouping of real contrasts of swings, you have the unorthodox swing of Bubba, the fluid swing of Els and the mechanical and repetitively rehearsed swing of Simpson. It will be interesting to see how the pace of the grouping works as Els and Watson both like to play at a decent pace, whereas Simpson is known for his slow play, he was put on the clock during the final round of his US Open win in June. For that reason it is hard to know how they will all play, Webb has played very little since his US Open win and might well be rusty, Els might suffer from the bounce factor that has befallen many Open Champions in the next major. Watson with his length off the tee and the performance in 2010’s PGA Championship at the similar track of Whistling Straits will rate as a major threat if he gets his game working, he played well at Firestone last week as well as a good performance at Lytham, but both were set back by two poor rounds which he will want to avoid this week.
At The Open Championship I highlighted 10 players to follow for the tournament, this week I am going to trim it to 5 to follow. First up, Dustin Johnson who recovered from a disappointing opening round 73 to finish tied 9th in The Open Championship, what leads me to believe he will have a big tournament this week is his performances in this championship in 2009 and 2010, particularly 2010 at Whistling Straits where he should have been a playoff but he cost himself that by grounding his club in a sandy area. Whistling Strait is a manufactured links course designed by Pete Dye, so the parallels between it and Kiawah’s Ocean Course are there to see. Johnson sits at 7th in Driving Distance, 48th in Birdie Average, 13th in Scoring Average and 3rd in Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders, quite a compelling case for DJ who at 27 already has 6 PGA Tour wins.
Martin Kaymer won his only major in 2010 at The PGA Championship and as a result is defending the World Ranking points from that win this year, having dropped from his brief stint as World No 1 to his current ranking of 21 he will be hoping to at least sustain some of the ranking points he is defending. 3 Top Ten’s this year do little to inspire confidence but there have glimpses of a return to form for Kaymer in the last few weeks, particularly having shot 3 sub 70 rounds in his last 6 rounds, like Johnson he will be relishing a return to a Pete Dye track and his win in last year’s HSBC WGC Champions event came from nowhere so don’t be surprised to see him in contention this weekend.
Brandt Snedeker’s scorecard looked flawless for the first 36 holes of The Open Championship, arguably more so than his actual play was, but his work in avoiding a bunker and a bogey for the first 2 rounds was something to behold. He struggled over the weekend but he will have learned from this and has solid local area form having won The Heritage at Hilton Head in South Carolina and The Wyndham Championship in North Carolina. Add to that his performance at Whistling Straits where he fought back from an opening 75 to sit at 4 under par and on the edge of the top 10 going to the final round in which he struggled to a 76. He sits 3rd in Birdie Average and also 3rd and 24th in Par 3 & Par 5 performance respectively, it will be interesting to see if he can put together for four rounds as based on the stats he would be right up there if he did.
Matt Kuchar was the early pace setter in 2010 at Whistling Straits and has had his best year in Major’s this year, tied 3rd at The Masters, tied 27th at the US Open and tied 9th at The Open. He also won the Players Championship in May on Pete Dye’s Stadium Course, his swing is extremely unique but he finds a way of making it work, sitting 2nd in Scoring Average stats this season with 8 top ten finishes, and 1st in Par 4 Performance. He can make big waves this week and would be one to look out for early as he is known for early round scoring.
My final player to follow is a dark horse, Brian Davis. Davis is enjoying a great season this year with 4 top ten’s, including 3 ties for 4th at Bay Hill, Redstone & River Highlands. He also boosts a playoff defeat at The Heritage, and has made the cut at his last 2 PGA’s finishing tied for 39th in 2010 and tied for 19th last year, he also have further Pete Dye course form with a 5th place finish at Sawgrass, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him punching above his weight this week.