07/25/2016

“Glory’s Final Shot,” they call it. Actually, when you’ve won the PGA Championship, you’ve beaten the strongest field in major championship golf. The only field potentially stronger would be the PLAYERS Championship–not a major. So this one’s got the strongest field in major golf. It’s our last chance for another 9 months. Where has the time gone?

For a moment though, I have to spend a moment boasting. This is perhaps my proudest achievement in my golf writing career. This PGA Championship holds a place of relevance for me– it’s dear to my heart. I’ve selected three straight PGA Championship winners correctly, each of the past three years. Need proof? Here are the links:

2013 PGA Championship Preview

2014 PGA Championship Preview

2015 PGA Championship Preview

This one counts! I’m excited. Let’s dive in to the preview:

Course: Baltusrol

To New Jersey we go for the first time in 11 years. Baltustrol is a classic championship design, featuring the foothills of New Jersey lined with mature trees, challenging hazards, lush roughs, and fast greens. It’s a stout test of golf.

Baltusrol’s Lower Course was originally an A.W. Tillinghast design opened in 1922. Since, Rees Jones has come in to help re-design bunkering to challenge the players of today’s game. Over 130 bunkers have been altered in some way by Jones, all in the way Tillinghast would have desired given his respect for land.

Baltusrol features a distinction as a National Historic Landmarkone of only 4 golf courses to hold the honor (along with Merion, Oakmont, and Pinehurst). 

To gain a familiarity again with the feel of the venue, here’s a video:

Last 5 Champs

2015: Jason Day Breaks Through (Recap here)

2014: Rory McIlroy in the dark over Phil and Rickie (Recap here)

2013: Jason Dufner Dips His Way at Oak Hill (Recap here)

2012: Rory McIlroy Wins on the Coast of South Carolina

2011: Keegan Bradley, Surprise Major Winner 2011

Full Field

Click here to check out the entire 2016 PGA Championship field.

Five from the Fairway (Contenders)

Dustin Johnson

I’m not even going to consider omitting Dustin Johnson from another preview of mine. If you’ve been watching lately, you know this nuclear-weapons threat dressed as a PGA Tour golfer has been in career form.

Outside of the play, Johnson has the game to be a fantastic fit for Baltusrol. Lately, his driver has been as straight as it has been long, as even though he leads the Tour in Driving Distance every week, he was still T5 in fairways hit at last week’s Canadian Open.

Johnson’s a no-brainer this week. He’ll play well and be in the hunt for a second major championship on the 2016 campaign.

Phil Mickelson 

His play at the Open Championship should be proof enough that the 46-year old’s play is still relevant among the youngsters. Highlighted by the fact that he’s had one of best seasons in recent memory in 2016, Mickelson is a player to take a deep look at this week at Baltustrol. He’s the only player in the field to have won at this venue before.

Bubba Watson

The course is simply too perfect of a set-up for him.  Big, long, difficult, straight-forward. It’s funny, for a guy so creative, he doesn’t like deception or courses with non-traditional approaches. He’s made a career out of playing great golf on historically great, big, long golf courses. Once Bubba likes a venue, he likes a venue. He’ll continue to play great golf there.

No missed cuts in recent memory for Bubba and a guy that I like this week.

Jhonattan Vegas

 

Probably a player to consider in the “sleeper” category instead, but I think Vegas is a player to do some research on. On one-hand, he’s coming off a win and could be destined for a letdown. On the other hand, he’s a player with back-to-back top-5s and a player with a fresh perspective on the game and the frailty of a career on Tour.

He knows now, after an extreme career drought, the importance of playing well each and every week. Given the status of his current form and his renewed mindset, I’d look Vegas’ way this week.

Steve Stricker

He played great at the Open Championship a few weeks ago and has been a super-star performer in PGA Championships past.

He’s one of my all-time favorite players and nothing would make me happier than to watch Stricker make it happen at this year’s event at Baltusrol.

One from The Rough (Sleeper)

Lee Westwood

Guy played great at the U.S. Open for a while before an absolute and utter-Sunday collapse alongside Shane Lowry. But that taste of major championship contention yet again, along with his T22 at Royal Troon last week, along with his T17 last time at Baltusrol, makes him a player to give some consideration to this week.

His last seven weeks of play have been very good and I expect Westwood to continue the solid form this week.

BONUS: Andy Sullivan 

The Man with the Trophy

Jordan Spieth

This is a non-statistical selection made based on a gut feeling. I just couldn’t get out of my head, that Spieth was going to come out triumphant in New Jersey at this weekend’s final major.

The case:

Despite a “down year” he’s led the PGA Tour in birdies-or-better percentage and he’s third in adjusted scoring (based on venue). This course, with the long rough, isn’t typically a course to fit his game with his driving weakness, but he played so well at last year’s PGA with similar conditions, there’s reason to suspect he may contend this week. I’m taking it a notch further this week.

On Tour, Spieth is ranked T2 in par-4 scoring on a golf course which doesn’t feature par-5s until the final two holes, 17 & 18. This means while most players feel the need to grind through a difficult stretch, Spieth will be playing a segment of holes which fit his strength. A subtle factor, but one to note.

Back to that “down year.” Consider some of the media spotlight he’s endured and criticism for his Master collapse. Spieth is still 4th in the FedEx Cup ranking for 2016. A final round 68 at the Open lend optimism.

Statistically, on and around the greens have been Spieth’s bread-and-butter. A course like Baltusrol will increase demand around the greens. Phil won it with his short game in 2005, Spieth will do the same in 2016.