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PGA Championship Preview and Picks
by Matt Fargo - 08/10/2011
This week we have the final Major of the PGA season as the PGA Championship will be contested from Atlanta Athletic Club and the Highlands Course in Johns Creek, Georgia. With Darren Clarke winning the last Major, the Open Championship, it has now been six Majors that have been won by non-American players. Even more amazing is they have also been first time Majors winners. Not since the Masters in 2004 have there been at least five consecutive first time Majors winners.
European players have taken four of those Majors, three coming from Northern Ireland alone, with the other two coming from South Africa. With Americans winning 76 of the 92 PGA Championships, one would think the U.S. drought could be broken. However, non-Americans have won the Wanamaker Trophy the last three years which is the longest consecutive stretch without a win in the history of the tournament. You have to go back to 1994 and 1995 to find the last back-to-back non-American victories prior to this run.
The PGA Championship returns to the Atlanta Athletic Club for the first time since 2001. It was set up then as a long and difficult course, or so it was supposed to be, but that was hardly the case as David Toms finished 15 under par, shattering the old PGA Championship scoring record. It will not be that easy in 2011 however as Rees Jones came in for a redesign in 2006 where he pinched many of the fairways with bunkers and turned many of the doglegs even more.
Hitting fairways is a must this week. Back in 2001, the greens were soft and players were able to take advantage even if they were in the rough. Part of the 2006 redesign took place on the greens and it wasn't reshaping them but it was changing the grass. The Highlands Course went from bent grass to champion bermuda which is much better in the heat as the greens can dry out without stress to the grass. That means players in the rough will not be able to hold anything on the putting surface.
Defending his PGA Championship is Martin Kaymer (+3,000). He earned his 2010 PGA title by defeating Bubba Watson in a playoff at Whistling Straits. He has not placed higher than T12 in any Major this year and he is coming off a T29 last week at the Bridgestone Invitational. His highest finish in seven stroke play tournaments in the U.S. is a T19 at THE PLAYERS Championship.
The favorite this week is Rory McIlroy (+800) who is back in the U.S. for his first Major since winning the U.S. Open. Following his T6 last week at Firestone, he has finished there or better in his last three tournaments over here with a solo fifth at the Memorial rounding it out. This course does not set up well for McIlroy as he is 104th on the European Tour in driving accuracy.
With Europeans dominating the Majors, Luke Donald (+1,500) needs to be in the mix. He has won three times world-wide this year and he is coming off a solid T2 last week at Firestone. He missed the cut in his last Major at the Open Championship but he has nine top tens on the PGA Tour alone including a T4 at the Masters. Donald is 28th in driving accuracy and fourth in strokes gained with putting.
Nick Watney (+2,500) is first in the FedEx Cup standings and he comes into the PGA Championship with something to prove. He had the lead at Whistling Straits heading into Sunday last year but a final round 81 left him with a T18 finish. He has already won twice this year and has eight top tens to only three missed cuts. He is third in the All-Around ranking and fifth in strokes gained with putting.
Steve Stricker (+2,500) won at the Memorial and at the John Deere Classic and while he has not placed better than T12 since then, he should be in the hunt here. He has not missed a cut this year and has been in the top 20 in the other three Majors. He is arguably the best player without a Major based on his 11 tour wins and his putting can be the difference this week. He ranks first in strokes gained in putting.
Does David Toms (+5,000) have a chance to win here again? He lost in a playoff to K.J. Choi at THE PLAYERS and came back the next week to win at Colonial so he obviously has what it takes to win and against elite competition. The layout has been lengthened by more than 200 yards since the last time it was held here but that means nothing to Toms who is fourth on tour in driving accuracy.
As for the longshot this week, look no further than Webb Simpson (+6,000). He did not qualify for the Bridgestone Invitational last week but is coming off a T9 at the Greenbrier Classic two weeks ago which was his sixth straight top 20 finish. He is having a great year without a victory as he is 12th on the money list and ninth in the FedEx Cup standings thanks in part to only two missed cuts.
Recommended Tournament Win Five Pack at the PGA Championship – All for 1 Unit
Luke Donald (+1,500)
Nick Watney (+2,500)
Steve Stricker (+2,500)
David Toms (+5,000)
Webb Simpson (+6,000)