On the condition of anonymity a PGA Tour pro who is in the field at monstrous Baltusrol ranked the top PGA Championship contenders based on their ability to play powerball
10 ¬†ADAM SCOTT
AGE: 25 WORLD RANK: 7th DRIVING DISTANCE (RANK): 296.4 yards (26th)
If Adam weren't so inconsistent, he'd challenge Sergio for Best Player Never to Have Won a Major. It's easy to forget that Adam is only 25 when you see his classic swing--but that makes it hard to be patient with him as well. Even Adam's Australian countryman Peter Thomson supposedly said that Adam is overdue to contend in a major and is overrated until he does. It's true that Adam has been MIA in the big events. He didn't crack the top 25 or shoot a round in the 60s in any of the first three majors, although he tied for eighth at the Players Championship. His sand play ranks near the bottom (194th) on Tour, and despite his length he hasn't taken advantage of the par-5s as he should. But he does hit a lot of greens in regulation (15th on Tour), and that's what Baltusrol calls for.
LONG STORY SHORT: He has the game and the guts to be a major winner, and the personality to be a major star. All he needs now is to play with a little more feel and creativity.
9 ¬†DAVIS LOVE III
AGE: 41 WORLD RANK: 16th DRIVING DISTANCE (RANK): 301.1 yards (10th)
It's hard to believe that Davis is 41 and even harder to believe that he has won only one major. I figured he'd have at least four by now. Davis's game has been erratic because of his back troubles. He missed the cut at the Masters and the British Open--kind of a shocker--and shot a 77 in the first round of the U.S. Open. When he's on his game, a U.S. Open--style setup such as Baltusrol suits him.
LONG STORY SHORT: He may be only a step away.
8 ¬†JOHN DALY
AGE: 39 WORLD RANK: 44th DRIVING DISTANCE (RANK): 305.0 yards (6th)
John drives it straighter than most guys who fly it 330 yards (page 35), and he's been playing his best in years. He finished 15th at St. Andrews, his only decent showing in a major since he won there in 1995. I wonder if it was a coincidence that he didn't have his usual distractions there--no merchandise trailer or entourage. Think he'll attend the champions' dinner? Probably not. He once showed up at a dinner at the Shark Shootout wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sneakers. Greg Norman asked, "You didn't get the memo about the suit and tie?" John said, "In Arkansas this is a three-piece suit."
LONG STORY SHORT: He could be a factor if he drives it in play.
September 7, 2005
7 ¬†PHIL MICKELSON
AGE: 35 WORLD RANK: 4th DRIVING DISTANCE (RANK): 300.5 yards (12th)
I hate to say this, but Phil's game has regressed. Bottom line: He's wild. Like the Mickelson of old, he's hitting it way off-line, especially left--and pretty far left. This year he switched balls to regain distance on his tee shots and did, but he lost the accuracy that he had last year, when he didn't try to blast every drive. It's not the ball that's the problem, it's Phil's attitude because of the ball, if you know what I mean. He hasn't cracked the top 25 in his last four starts. Plus I think he suffered from overanalysis at St. Andrews. He was out there for hours, charting every pin location with Dave Pelz, and where did he finish? Sixtieth. Phil isn't playing to the strength of his game, which is imagination and feel, and he's being too analytical and scientific. Use the Force, Phil.
LONG STORY SHORT: I'm not enthusiastic about Phil's chances unless he straightens out his tee shots. Baltusrol will basically be a U.S. Open setup, and nobody wins an Open from the rough.
6 ¬†FRED COUPLES
AGE: 45 WORLD RANK: 17th DRIVING DISTANCE (RANK): 291.2 yards (52nd)
I'll accept a pat on the back for touting Fred at the British Open. (He finished third.) He was 15th at the U.S. Open, and obviously his back is better. That has allowed him to play more often. He has teed it up in 14 tournaments before August, after playing only 16 all last year. This bears repeating: Fred hits the ball as solidly as anyone, even Tiger. And he's driving the ball so well. His putting is sketchy with that belly putter, but if he can putt the Old Course greens, he can putt anywhere. That attitude he projects--that he's not overly concerned--is how he plays. He doesn't obsess about the majors, and maybe that's why he plays well in them.
LONG STORY SHORT: Fred could definitely win the PGA.
5 ¬†KENNY PERRY
AGE: 44 WORLD RANK: 10th DRIVING DISTANCE (RANK): 302.8 yards (8th)
Here's your PGA sleeper pick. When Kenny is hot, he's really hot, and he's a good front-runner. Very few guys drive the ball better than Kenny, who's long and very straight--witness his first-place standing in total driving. He hits a draw, which will help him on 17 and 18, a pair of long par-5s, and he hits his long irons high. He's a good putter, but his chipping is a question mark. (Though maybe chipping doesn't matter since he hits so many greens in regulation. He ranks second, not that anyone has noticed.) Winning would be redemption for the '96 PGA at Valhalla, in his home state, where he lost to Mark Brooks after spending a half hour in the TV tower instead of warming up for the playoff.
LONG STORY SHORT: He has won twice already this year and come in third, 11th (British) and ninth in his last three starts. Kenny plays a fairways-and-greens game, which is perfect for Baltusrol. Don't say I didn't warn you.
4 ¬†SERGIO GARCIA
AGE: 25 WORLD RANK: 6th DRIVING DISTANCE (RANK): 300.0 yards (14th)
Sergio definitely has been putting better recently. He's always been a superior ball striker and a great driver, but his putting, especially under pressure, has been problematic. He used to use a heel-shafted putter that required timing in his stroke. Now he has a face-balanced model that has helped eliminate that timing variable. Baltusrol reminds me of Medinah. Sergio had a great run there at the '99 PGA--that's where he hit from behind a tree and ran up to see where it landed, a highlight we don't need to see again.
LONG STORY SHORT: Sergio is the best player never to have won a major. I think he's ready.
3 ¬†VIJAY SINGH
AGE: 42 WORLD RANK: 2nd DRIVING DISTANCE (RANK): 299.5 yards (16th)
Don't let what happened at the Buick Open fool you, the putter is killing Vijay. He's missing putts both ways because, I think, he's fighting his equipment. He's using a square-to-square putting stroke, trying to take it back dead straight and swing it through dead straight, but he's using a putter that needs to be released. It doesn't fit his style, and his stroke doesn't look good. I said it before: He putted his best with the belly putter. Veej went back to cross-handed the last time I checked, and even doing that he has a lot of left-wrist breakdown for a square-to-square stroke. He started putting worse when he switched to a face-balanced model. It's hard to say which is more amazing--how well he putted in 2003 and '04, when he racked up 13 wins, or how many key putts he has missed in 2005.
LONG STORY SHORT: If he can get any putts to fall, he is going to have a shot.
2 ¬†TIGER WOODS
AGE: 29 WORLD RANK: 1st DRIVING DISTANCE (RANK): 313.0 yards (2nd)
I picked Tiger to win the Masters and the British Open and said he was going to win the PGA too, but I've changed my mind. Despite his British Open performance, I still don't think he's hitting the ball as well as he was in 2000. Back then he hit a lot of iron shots stiff. He doesn't do that now. He hits it to 20 feet and relies on his great short game. Tiger has been successful this year because he hasn't been challenged. He finished bogey-bogey and still beat Chris DiMarco at the Masters. Michael Campbell beat Tiger at Pinehurst (Tiger bogeyed 16 and 17 on Sunday), and Colin Montgomerie challenged him, sort of, for 12 holes in the final round at St. Andrews. Where was the rest of the Fab Five? Tiger professes to be playing as well as he ever has, but I don't see him stamping out fairway after fairway, which he'll need to do at Baltusrol.
LONG STORY SHORT: Tiger is so good, he'll finish top five no matter what, and he doesn't have to perform at his best to win. Playing out of rightfield isn't going to work at Baltusrol, but if the other members of the not-so-Fab Five again fail to contend, Tiger may snatch the PGA anyway.
And the winner is ...
1 ¬†RETIEF GOOSEN
WORLD RANK: 5th
DRIVING DISTANCE (RANK): 293.0 yards (43rd)
Back-to-back meltdowns in the final round of two majors would leave some players hopelessly scarred, but Goose plays as if he has amnesia, and that's a good thing. He got off to a terrible start in the final round at the British Open and didn't play well, finishing in a fifth-place tie. British golf is unlike anything else, and sometimes your fate is simply out of your hands. Baltusrol may be more like a U.S. Open course than Pinehurst, and that style of golf is right up Goose's alley. He's a great driver and long-iron player. He spins the ball more than most guys, which, not coincidentally, is why he has won a pair of U.S. Opens. He has the all-around game. He's steady and doesn't hit bad shots, a terrific attribute in majors. Tiger and Phil have issues driving the ball, but Retief is always in play, never flaring one into a hot dog stand. The flashiest thing about his game is that it has no obvious weakness. That's not very flashy, I know. Neither is Goose. He glides along and treats every tournament the same, which is great. I wonder if he even knows what year this is. I've heard he's a riot after a few drinks, but on Tour he's a stoic and doesn't say a word, though he seems like a nice man.
LONG STORY SHORT: Tiger is the best golfer on the planet, but Goose is usually the steadiest. At Baltusrol it'll be about plodding--fairways and greens, lag putts from 40 feet and making pars. That's boring stuff. Look for Goose to bore us to death while winning another major.