Expect long-ball hitters to contend at Kiawah

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

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4:28:16 AM ET. 04/21/2014




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KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Two years ago in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, winner Martin Kaymer, runner-up Bubba Watson and ill-fated Dustin Johnson, who would have been in the playoff if not for a 72nd-hole penalty, had one thing in common: All were long-ball hitters.

In the case of Watson and Johnson, very long.

Watson was second in driving distance on the PGA Tour in 2010, at 309.8 yards, and Johnson was third (308.5).

Kaymer, a German whose home tour is in Europe, didn’t play enough in the U.S. to have a ranking that year, but he was 29th on the European Tour, at 294.2 yards.

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island will play 7,676 yards for this week's PGA Championship, 169 yards longer than Whistling Straits. Look for length to play a big part of who holds the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday.

This week, six of he top 10 in driving distance on the PGA Tour are in the field: Watson (1), Robert Garrigus (3), Rory McIlroy (6), Dustin Johnson (7), Kyle Stanley (8) and Jason Day (9).

It's not a major leap to say that the winner easily could come from that group.

Furyk tinkers with driver: Jim Furyk comes into the final major of the 2012 season knowing that he let a U.S. Open and WGC championship slip out of his grasp on the final day.

After arriving at the Ocean Course on Monday, Furyk worked with the Callaway guys to change the weight distribution in his driver. The fact that he was ranked No. 1 in fairways hit last week, at 73 percent at a difficult driving golf course such as Firestone Country Club's South Course, was not enough.

The tweaks will allow Furyk to turn the ball a little easier left to right, which could improve his driving accuracy.

BLOW, BABY, BLOW: Robert Garrigus has always been long, so this week at Kiawah looks like an ideal setup.

Garrigus, who averages 310.4 yards off the tee this year, made his first trip to the Ocean Course just before the Masters in April. “It was blowing 40 mph, and I loved it,” said Garrigus, whose lone Tour victory game in the 2010 Children's Miracle Network Classic. “I just hope it blows that hard all four days.”

While this week's forecast calls for wind, it’s going to be 15-20 mph, not the gales that Garrigus encountered in the spring.

Regardless, Garrigus should have an advantage – until he gets to the greens.

Using a long putter, Garrigus has tried to control the ball better on the greens. Results have been mixed. He ranks 163rd in strokes gained putting, but two weeks ago at the RBC Canadian Open, he rated 76th. In Sunday's final round, he needed 18 putts on the front nine and 33 total for the round, making only three putts longer than 6 feet. Had he gotten a few more putts to drop, he would have won.

After considerable work looking at videotape, Garrigus and instructor Jim Ahern found that Garrigus stood more upright on Sunday, with his hands higher up his chest than normal. The result was a less-fluid stroke and a loss of confidence.

Garrigus decided to make a change to his putter grip this week, opting for a split grip. That change, plus an acknowledgement of some nerves and the technical slip-up with putter positioning. might be enough to elevate Garrigus into contention for his first major championship.

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