2013 USPGA Championship Preview


The trophy they will be all be dreaming of lifting come Sunday evening.

The trophy they will be all be dreaming of lifting come Sunday evening.

Oak Hill plays host to this years PGA Championship th,e final major of the year. It will be the third PGA Championship held at Oak Hill and seventh major championship held at the course, ninth if you include the Senior’s U.S. Open and PGA Championships held there. The course has also hosted two U.S. Amateur Championships and a Ryder Cup in 1995, no other course in America can boast such a range of past championships. In modern terms, its yardage of 7,134 yards is moderate but as Merion showed, shorter courses are not a push over. Oak Hill has shown its teeth in the past seven majors held there, only seven players in total have finished those championships with scores under par. After three bruising major championships, Oak Hill is unlikely to provide any respite this week, keeping the ball in play will be paramount and in my opinion, any score under par will have a good chance of winning come Sunday evening.

Rory McIlroy - Happy but distant memories of his success last August. His game is still a work in progress.

Rory McIlroy – Happy but distant memories of his success last August. His game is still a work in progress.

Rory McIlroy will be defending his PGA Championship earned in spectacular fashion last August when he lapped the field on route to an eight stroke winning margin. That victory on a rain softened Kiwiah Island was the beginning of a purple patch for Rory which lasted until the end of 2012 and encompassed a further three wins. McIlroy goes into his defence at a low point in his form and he rates as outsider in my book in terms of winning the tournament, a realistic aim for Rory would be to make the cut, something he failed to do when defended his U.S. Open title last June. His visit to Firestone last week did little to inspire confidence that a successful defence this week is likely when you consider that he had finished under par at Firestone after 72 holes in all appearances there aside from his debut appearance in 2009 before last week. As has been the case all season, his inconsistency with his short irons and wedges was prominent in his play last week. He has never been amongst the best putters so is generally reliant on being close to the hole to make his birdies, the difference in proximity to the hole between 2012 and 2013 of four foot may seem small but it is proving a big factor in his struggles.

Tiger Woods - He once again showed why he is still the best in the business but Oak Hill doesn't look his type of course.

Tiger Woods – He once again showed why he is still the best in the business but Oak Hill doesn’t look his type of course.

All eyes will, of course, be on Tiger Woods this week as he seeks to win his fifteenth major championship, despite struggling to land a blow when Oak Hill hosted the PGA Championship in 2003, he does rate as a worthy favourite. He looked in ominous form when running away his eighth victory at Firestone this past week but the majors have proved to be a different matter and he is respected but overlooked this week. Firestone does produce an interesting insight into this week though as since 1999, twelve of the fourteen PGA Championship winners had finished inside the top twenty five at Firestone the previous week. The two exceptions were Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh, who had won three and four times that calendar year, another statistic is that Shaun Micheel is the only winner of the last thirteen not to have won a tournament in the calendar year. Such trends are there to be broken but they are worth considering when looking for a winner this week. Here are the ten players I think will be worth considering for a run at Oak Hill.

Bill Haas - He has won in each of the last four seasons. Oak Hill should be to his liking.

Bill Haas – He has won in each of the last four seasons. Oak Hill should be to his liking.

A winner last month at Congressional in tough conditions and Haas has put together a string of five top tens finishes in his last seven starts. He has shown his ability around tree lined courses with victories at East Lake, Riveria and the abovementioned victory at Congressional in the last three seasons. His best PGA Championship finish is a tie for twelfth in 2011 at Atlanta Athletic Club which increases the appeal as it a similar course to Oak Hill. He has nine top finishes to his name this season which is his best since joining the PGA Tour, he looks well placed to launch a serious bid for his first major this week.

Henrik Stenson - His runner up finish at Firestone was his third of the year, a win seems around the corner.

Henrik Stenson – His runner up finish at Firestone was his third of the year, a win seems around the corner.

In my opinion Stenson is amongst the top five players in the world at the moment and he is enjoying a stellar season following his late season victory in South Africa last November. After falling away at Sawgrass and Merion when firmly in contention after being picked by me, his performance at Muirfield convinced me to highlight his chances this week. He is accurate off the tee which is a vital attribute around Oak Hill and ranks 2nd in Ball Striking on the PGA Tour, his second runner up finish in as many starts at Firestone sets up nicely for this week.

Ian Poulter - The matchplay king will be hoping to find some the same buzz he had at Muirfield in round four.

Ian Poulter – The matchplay king will be hoping to find some the same buzz he had at Muirfield in round four.

Poults made an early charge on Sunday at Muirfield getting to five under par for his round through twelve holes but a late bogey on sixteen killed any momentum going into his final two holes. Ultimately he would have been in vain as Mickelson’s brilliance would have surpassed his score even without the bogey but it was a clear sign that Poulter was spurred on by Rose’s success at Merion. There was very much a Ryder Cup feel to Poulter’s attitude and approach to his round that day and it clearly worked for him. If he can feed off the likely boisterous crowds this week then he could turn another high major finish

Steve Stricker - His light campaign this year has produced consistent results. He has come close in this event before.

Steve Stricker – His light campaign this year has produced consistent results. He has come close in this event before.

There is little doubt that Stricker’s light campaign is paying dividends for his enjoyment of the game and for his all round performances,  he hasn’t won this year but he has only played eight events and has two runner up finishes to his name. He has been in contention going into the final round of big events this season on a number of occasions and despite his second place finish at Doral, a legitimate concern would be his Sunday performances since then. Having shot himself out of contention at Augusta & Merion, it has been encouraging to see him shot decent final rounds in his last two starts and he looks a solid shout to be in contention this week.

Jason Dufner - 2013 has been a slow burner for him but he is trending in the right direction. This event owes him one after 2011.

Jason Dufner – 2013 has been a slow burner for him but he is trending in the right direction. This event owes him one after 2011.

Dufner hasn’t had a season to match his two win 2012 season but he has showed real signs over the past six weeks that he is very much returning to form and he will rightfully feel this event owes him one. His performance at Atlanta Athletic Club could well be a big clue for this week in regard to Dufner given the previously mentioned similarities with Oak Hill. Both Dufner’s top five finishes in 2013 have come in his last four starts so he is clearly hitting form and he has shown that he plays tough courses very well. He has finished in a tie for fourth in the last two U.S. Opens and also at Firestone last week. He’s an interesting contender this week.

Jim Furyk - 2012 was pretty cruel on Furyk, playoff loses, snap hooks in majors and Ryder Cup losses. Has looked good in recent weeks

Jim Furyk – 2012 was pretty cruel on Furyk, playoff loses, snap hooks in majors and Ryder Cup losses. Has looked good in recent weeks

Much like Dufner, Furyk has not had the season he would have hoped for this year. Perhaps it is a hangover from his near misses of 2012 when he fell agonisingly short on a number of occasions, most notably at the U.S. Open. He also let a 2 hole lead slip in his Ryder Cup singles match against Sergio, so it is easy to see why Furyk may have felt jaded when took his post season break. Despite his relatively average season, he has started to return to form, back to back top tens in his last two starts are eye catching and he finished inside the top twenty at Oak Hill in 2003. He is definitely not one to write off just yet.

Chris Wood - Two wins in the last year and he is starting to show he belongs in the top events.

Chris Wood – Two wins in the last year and he is starting to show he belongs in the top events.

It seems that Chris Wood is finally starting to fulfil his early promise shown as when posting successive top five finishes at The Open Championship in 2008 and 2009. Interestingly, he will have found memories of this weekend twelve months as, while Rory was mopping his second major, Wood had secured his first professional win in the Thailand Open. He has since won his first European Tour event in Qatar this past January and after having a six week break due to injury niggles, he looks to have felt his way back into with his seventh place finish at Firestone. He has very strong greens in regulation stats and if he can continue the improvements with his putter from last week then he has a big week in him.

Richard Sterne - He has always been highly regarded in his native South Africa. He is having a standout year and is a big threat this week

Richard Sterne – He has always been highly regarded in his native South Africa. He is having a standout year and is a big threat this week

It has been a season that Sterne has deserved following a torrid time with injuries. He performed consistently in all events bar his first event of the season. He has a win and two runner finishes to his name and has finished inside the top twenty five in  ten of his fourteen starts this season, definitely Mr Consistent. He sits second in the European Tour’s stroke average and was ranked fifth in driving accuracy and greens in regulation when finishing ninth at Firestone last week. He has always been regarded as a top player and having been injury free for a long spell now he will hope to follow in the footsteps of Charl and Louis and bag his first major this week.

Harris English - He was amongst a crop of hugely talented amateurs and his first tour win has sparked a increased confidence in Harris.

Harris English – He was amongst a crop of hugely talented amateurs and his first tour win has sparked a increased confidence in Harris.

Harris was always highly regarded as an amateur and he has been a player I have watched with a great deal of interest over the past eighteen months. His first season on tour was a steady affair, he was a safe accumulator of money without threatening at the business end of the leaderboard on may occasions, tied fifth at Colonial was his best finish. However in 2013, he got himself in contention at Copperhead and TPC Louisiana before breaking through impressively at TPC Southwind where he had to battle back from a number of setbacks. He has since finished inside the top fifteen in both his first major and WGC events and could well be a surprise package this week.

Tim Clark - Third here in 2003 and it could have been much better. He is a stronger player now and could return to form this week in a big way.

Tim Clark – Third here in 2003 and it could have been much better. He is a stronger player now and could return to form this week in a big way.

My final selection is a bit of gamble given his recent downturn in form following a solid opening to 2013. But I am going to show faith in Clark who, despite his poor recent form, is still ranked second in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour. On the whole, Clark has been playing well in his last few events but it has been a single round that has set him back, Merion being a good example where he found himself level par and in contention after the opening round only to shot nine over in his second round and miss the cut as well. He will certainly have fond memories of Oak Hill from his last visit here in 2003 when he finished third and was actually tied for the lead through sixty three holes but a run of three bogies on his next three holes put paid to his challenge. Hopefully these memories will spark a return to form for Clark

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