SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – The PGA Championship is often (make that excessively) referred to as “Glory’s Last Shot,” a cliche crime of which I’m now guilty. But for many players, the PGA is Glory’s First Shot. It’s the site of their first major title, even their first PGA Tour victory.
Don’t be surprised if that trend continues this week. The top three players in the world – Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood – each is dealing with his own issues, which makes this week a wide-open race.
As one player manager said Wednesday, “This could be a Shaun Micheel-type week.”
It’s no knock on Micheel, who won the ’03 PGA for his first PGA Tour victory. Tour observers knew he was a solid player, but he wasn’t a name brand for the fans at home. We could see a similar player win this week.
The last two majors have been won by players who entered those events winless on the PGA Tour: Graeme McDowell at the U.S. Open and Louis Oosthuizen at the British Open.
The course setup at Whistling Straits is another reason we could have a surprise winner. Whistling Straits should play relatively soft and forgiving – at least in the early rounds – because of several thunderstorms that hit the course Wednesday. The rough and greens aren’t as challenging as in other majors, either.
“(The rough) will surprise you,” Moore said. “Sometimes it doesn’t look bad, and it’ll really snag the club. Other times you can get a 4-iron out of it. The greens are really reasonable. They’re not crazy undulated here.
“(The PGA) isn’t trying to protect par like other majors. They give us a good, fair test of golf.”
Here’s a handful of players who could conquer Whistling Straits for their first PGA Tour victory.
• Rhys Davies: A bit of a flier, but I’m including him because of similarities to Oosthuizen. Davies is No. 52 in the Official World Golf Ranking. (Oosthuizen was ranked 54th before the British Open.) Davies won the Hassan II Golf Trophy earlier this year, beating Oosthuizen by two shots. The Welshman doesn’t have an impressive record in majors, but neither did Oosthuizen before his Open triumph. Davies’ best finish in a major this year is T-74 at the U.S. Open.
• Brendon de Jonge: The big Zimbabwean has finished 16th or better in five of his past six events. He has six top 10s this season, third-most on Tour.
• Rickie Fowler: Fowler, at No. 17 in the U.S. Ryder Cup rankings, needs a big week if he wants to clinch a spot on the team (the top eight after the PGA automatically qualify for the team). Fowler, one of the game’s promising young stars, has contended a few times this year. He also has major momentum. After an opening 79 at the British Open, he shot 67-71-67 to finish 14th.
• Martin Kaymer: An obvious choice because he’s the highest-ranked player in the world (No. 12) without a PGA Tour victory. After missing the cut at the Masters, the German has finished in the top 10 at the past two majors: T-8 at the U.S. Open and T-7 at the British.
• Jeff Overton: Few players have appeared more on the leaderboard, especially without winning, than Overton. He has finished 12th or better in seven of his past eight starts, including four top 3s in that span (he has five on the year). Overton finished sixth last week at the Bridgestone Invitational.
• Charl Schwartzel: Oosthuizen’s countryman made a name for himself with a runner-up showing at the WGC-CA Championship, and he has performed well in the big events, finishing 30th at the Masters, 16th at the U.S. Open and 14th at the British.