Next week the tour tees it up at Whistling Straits for the final major of the year. Who will be hoisting the Wannamaker Trophy on Sunday? It does not figure to be Tiger. I have no feel for swing plane, launch angle, spin rate or “firing glutes”, but what I see is a player who lacks the ability to step it up under pressure. Performances in the last two majors and on “moving day” in the other tournaments suggest he no longer has the mental edge. Ever since Y.E. Yang “stole” Tiger’s 15th major at the 2009 PGA Championship he has looked vulnerable. I am sure the Thanksgiving shenanigans later that year did not help.
Having settled that issue, who figures to be on the leaderboard this week? Whistling Straits is not a true links course a la the Old Course, or even Chambers Bay. The Pete Dye design seems more reminiscent of the 2012 PGA Championship at the Ocean Course at Kiowa Island. Rory ran away from the field in that one but, if he plays, figures to be rusty, and Straits is a challenging walk even without the bum ankle. In the 2010 PGA Championship the top 10 included Martin Kaymer (winner), Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Jason Dufner Rory McElroy and Matt Kuchar; all of whom could challenge again. Zach Johnson aside, this group is generally dominated by long ball hitters. As always, you can expect a challenge from at least one lesser known player. Who will be the Branden Grace or Mark Leishman this time?
In no particular order, here are the 10 players I would want on my team:
Jordan Spieth: No way you cannot include golf’s wunderkind. Mentally tough with an amazing short game and great track record makes this a no-brainer. However, sooner or later he has to have an off-week…right?
Bubba Watson: I don’t think he can play links courses, but Whistling Straits is a different animal. His strong showing in 2010 suggests he can go low at this venue, and he definitely has the distance.
Ricky Fowler: Currently the hottest player on the planet not named Jordan. The “most overrated” (laughable survey) is now properly ensconced as World No 5. He has the length and flatstick to go low. Not sure what happened at Chambers Bay, or why he did not eat up the Old Course, but I expect to see him on the leaderboard this week.
Zach Johnson: Nobody can win two majors in the same year, right? (Oh yeah, Jordan did that.). I cannot envision him winning, but he has Midwest roots, mental toughness and did well in 2010.
Jason Day: Looking for the best bet to finish top-10 in a major. This is your guy. Have to admit, I will be cheering for Jason to take home the trophy. Length, mental toughness and great putter should serve him well. Best grinder on the circuit.
Dustin Johnson: May beat himself again, but he is the most gifted golfer in the field. I expect him to play great for the first 63 holes. If he can get a big enough lead this just might be his tournament. (Note: I said the exact same thing about him before the British Open.)
Louis Oosthuizen: Missed the cut in 2010, but what a great swing. Major performances this year have been eye opening. He should have won at least once this year.
Adam Scott: Length, experience and unreal talent should have the Aussie near the top. Last chance for a major with that crazy putter. Having Stevie Williams on the bag seems to help.
No real stretches on the list above. My sleeper picks are:
Paul Casey: Perhaps the most underrated player on the tour. Finished T12 in 2010 PGA at Whistling Straits, and appears to be rounding into form.
J.B. Holmes: Great season so far, this long hitter was one bad round from challenging in 2010. With a hot putter J.B. could be expected to make some noise.
Weekly Observation: Whistling Straits is a great risk/reward course. I would be following Phil Mickelson if I could stand to spend a few days in Sheboygan without teeing it up myself. Check out my last blog for more information on Whistling Straits.
Paul Laubach is completely unqualified to provide expertise with respect to golf course rankings and design, however, he is a highly opinionated golf addict who believes everyone should be entitled to his thoughts. He has recently released Confessions of a Golfaholic: A Guide to Playing America’s Top 100 Public Golf Courses; now available in hardcover edition from Elevate Publishing. Please visit tophundredgolf.com regularly for more (im)practical information.