The 95th PGA Championship begins Thursday at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, NY. Golf often proves itself to be the most impossible of sports to predict, I mean, who EVER thought Phil Mickelson would win the British Open? All that aside, I’m willing to put my five picks out on the record, surely to be laughed at come Sunday afternoon.
1) Brandt Snedeker – My last chance to have one of my pre-season major picks validated. But that’s not the reason I’m picking Sneds. He is among the best putters in the world, and that NEVER hurts down the stretch in a major championship. Snedeker is in good form with his recent win at the Canadian Open. His ballstriking has held the form he had on the West Coast as well, 36th on Tour in Greens in Regulation after finishing 132nd in 2012. The key for Snedeker will be his ability to hit greens and give that putting stroke a chance to make birdies.
2) Henrik Stenson – If Tiger Woods hadn’t won the previous tournament by seven Henrik Stenson might be called the hottest player in the world. The Swede finished second to Mickelson at Muirfield and second to Woods at last week’s Bridgestone Invitational. Stenson is among the best ball strikers on the PGA Tour this year, hitting 71% of his greens in regulation and 70% of fairways. That sort of tee-to-green game is perfectly suited for Oak Hill. A last note on Stenson: the last player to finish runner-up in consecutive weeks to Tiger and Phil was Brandt Snedeker earlier in 2013. He won his next start, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
3) Jason Day – A third at The Masters and a runner-up at the US Open in 2013 only serve as further proof that the (still) young Australian is on the cusp of breaking through to super-stardom in golf. Day’s statistics do not suggest he will fair very well at Oak Hill. Only his play in the majors this season leads me to believe he can contend. Not to mention that Day has battled a wrist injury lately, but beware of the injured golfer.
4) Sergio Garcia – You’ll never guess who is leading the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained-Putting in 2013. Nope, not Snedeker. Wrong again if you guessed Woods. It’s not Luke Donald, either. Perhaps the only thing as surprising as back-to-back links course wins for Phil Mickelson is that Sergio Garcia leads the tour in this category. Coupled with Garcia’s preeminent ballstriking, particularly off the tee, makes him an excellent choice for Oak Hill.
5) Tiger Woods – Of course. He’s won 5 times this year. He shot 61 and won for the eighth time at Firestone Country Club last week. There is nothing about Woods’ game that suggests he cannot dominate the field at Oak Hill. Woods has favored a fade both off the tee and on to the green. This is a key to success at Oak Hill. Trevino (’68 US Open), Nicklaus (’80 PGA) and Hogan (course record 64) have all had great success as faders of the ball. The question for Woods is can he overcome the struggles he’s had on the weekends in the majors over the last two years. A win would tie Woods with Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus for most PGA Championship wins with five.