99th PGA Championship – Preview

The fourth and final major of the year, the 2017 PGA Championship takes place this week from the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte in North Carolina, and it will be the first time that the club will be holding a major championship.

However, it has been a regular destination on the PGA Tour, having hosted the Wells Fargo Championship, which has been known as the Quail Hollow Championship (2009-2010) and the Wachovia Championship (2003-2008), since 2003, with the exception of this year to focus on getting the club and the course ready to host its first major championship, which should provide a challenging test for the best professional golfers in the world.

Looking at the history of the 14 times that the Quail Hollow Club has hosted the Wells Fargo Championship, the worst winning score has been eight under par back in 2013, and only twice has the score of the winner been worse than 10 under par. However, the Quail Hollow Club is a tough place to play if you are not from the United States, with the Wells Fargo Championship only being won three times from a player not from the United States, Rory McIlroy (2010 and 2015), and Vijay Singh (2005).

And while Singh, the winner of the PGA Championship in 1998 and 2004, is now well past his best, McIlroy, the winner of the PGA Championship in 2012 and 2014, is getting back to his best after a tough start to 2017.

A tie for fourth at The 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, and a tie for fifth last week at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club has given McIlroy, the world number four, a huge confidence boost, and given his record at the Quail Hollow Club in his career, he has to be one of the ones to beat.

However, given the lack of success international golfers (those from outside the United States) have had at the Quail Hollow Club, we need to consider golfers from the United States, and those who are in great form as contenders to win the 2017 PGA Championship.

The two golfers who I believe are in the best form heading into the 99th PGA Championship are Hideki Matsuyama and Jordan Spieth.

Matsuyama, the world number three, comes into the final major of the year off the back of a wonderful win at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, including shooting an equal-course record of 61 to win by five strokes at the Firestone Country Club. Matsuyama has also had a consistent year in the majors, finishing in ties for 11th, second, and 14th at The Masters, the U.S. Open, and at The Open Championship respectively as he aims to become the first Japanese golfer to win a major.

Spieth, the world number two, comes into the PGA Championship having won two of his last three events, including winning The 146th Open Championship, and he finished in a tie for 13th last week at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, and is primed to become the youngest man to claim the career grand slam, surpassing Tiger Woods, if he wins at the Quail Hollow Club this week.

Other players who cannot be ruled out of contending this week include Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Alex Noren, and Rickie Fowler.

Johnson, the world number one, has won three times this year, but has only finished in the top 10 once in his last seven events, and has had an awful year at the majors, missing The Masters due to injury, missing the cut at the U.S. Open, and finishing in a tie for 54th at The Open Championship. As strange as it sounds, a win here for Johnson would be a major turn-up for the books.

Garcia, the world number five, has made the cut in his last 20 events, but has finished in the top 10 only once in his last seven events since winning The Masters back in April. It would be a big surprise if Garcia claimed the second major crown of his career here.

Rahm, the world number six, has had a good year, winning twice, but it seems judging by his form in his career to date that he only strikes when he is feeling good, so he might be a dark horse here.

Day, the world number seven, has had a shocking year so far, with only two top 10 finishes from 14 events in 2017, and dealing with a myriad of personal and family issues. Probably unlikely to challenge here.

Stenson, the world number eight, has had a slightly better year than Day, with five top 10 finishes from 15 events, but a win here would be unexpected.

Noren, the world number nine, is in similar form to Stenson in 2017. Five top 10 finishes, including a victory at the BMW PGA Championship back in May, but is in inconsistent form, with two top 10 finishes in his last six events, but includes a tie for sixth at The Open Championship. May surprise a few here, but I wouldn’t tip him for the victory.

Fowler, the world number 10, is in some strong form, having finished inside the top 10 in five of his last seven events, and you sense that this is the time for Fowler to break-through and win his first major.

However, despite Rory McIlroy’s record at the Quail Hollow Club, and Jordan Spieth chasing his own piece of history, I am going to tip Hideki Matsuyama to continue his run of great form, and claim his first major championship.

 

Advertisements

The 146th Open Championship – Preview

The 146th Open Championship takes place this week, starting on Thursday, from the Royal Birkdale Golf Club in the Merseyside town of Southport in England.

It is the third major championship of 2017, after a well-deserving victory at The Masters for Sergio Garcia after so many years of trying to breakthrough to claim that elusive major, and a shock victory, for some people, for Brooks Koepka at the United States (US) Open.

However, we head into The Open Championship waiting to see if one of the expected heavyweights of world golf can breakthrough to claim their first major of 2017.

I am talking about the likes of Dustin Johnson, who has missed the cut in his last two events, including the US Open, missed The Masters due to an back injury suffered at his Augusta home, but has won three times this year, and is the clear World Number One.

I am also talking about the likes of Hideki Matsuyama, who has risen quietly to second on the world rankings after some consistent performances, including finishing in a tie for second at the US Open, and has won once this year, but hasn’t won a major so far in his career to date.

Jordan Spieth is another heavyweight, a two-time major winner, who hasn’t won a major so far in 2017, but comes into The 146th Open Championship in great form after winning the Travelers Championship in a playoff over Daniel Berger among his two victories this year.

Rory McIlroy is another heavyweight contender, but the four-time major champion has had a shocking year by his standards, missing the cut in three of the last four events he has played, and hasn’t won a tournament this year, his best finish, a second-place finish at the BMW SA Open hosted by City of Ekurhuleni back in January.

Sergio Garcia has also become a heavyweight contender after claiming his first major of his career back in April at The Masters, as well as claiming the Omega Dubai Desert Classic back in February, and has made the cut in his last 18 events, including in the 12 events he has played in 2017.

However, the same cannot be said of Jason Day, who has missed the cut in his last two events, including the US Open, with a best finish of second so far in 2017 at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, losing in a playoff to Billy Horschel, after dealing with family issues relating to his mother Dening’s lung cancer diagnosis and surgery.

At a venue where at least one Australian has finished inside the Top 10 on seven of the nine times that it has hosted The Open Championship, it would be the perfect place for Day to regain form, and possibly challenge.

Talking about Australian chances, Adam Scott is also a chance of contending, but has had a poor year by his standards, dropping to 15th in the world, and has had only four Top 10 finishes in 2017.

You can also add Marc Leishman to the mix, and is in consistent form at the moment, making the cut in his last six events, including finishing in a tie for fifth at the Quicken Loans National a couple of weeks ago, adding to his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard back in March.

Other contenders to look out for include defending champion Henrik Stenson, Jon Rahm, Alex Noren, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Rafael Cabrera Bello, Matt Kuchar, Francesco Molinari, and Daniel Berger just to name a few.

However, Royal Birkdale has proven in the recent past that it can play tough, with the winner of the last two Open Championships at the venue failing to score under par for the tournament, and while conditions are going to be relatively settled and consistent throughout the championship starting on Thursday, with a little bit of rain on Friday and Saturday, there is a severe weather warning for scattered thunderstorms in the Southport area on Wednesday which could make things challenging.

Looking at some statistics pertaining to Royal Birkdale, only twice, Peter Thomson (1954) and Ian Baker-Finch (1991), has a winner of The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale been a first-time major winner. Thomson is the only two time winner of an Open Championship held at Royal Birkdale.

In addition, out of the eight golfers who have won The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, four of them have gone onto win at least five majors in their career, while seven of the eight have won more than one major in their careers.

The Par 70 golf course, stretching 7,156 yards will a true test, and the man who wins at Royal Birkdale Golf Club this week will have earned it, and would likely be a multiple major winner by the end of their career.

So, I am going to tip Jordan Spieth to win The 146th Open Championship, with Dustin Johnson, and Jason Day challenging from behind.

2017 U.S. Open – Preview

The second major of the year, the 117th United States (U.S.) Open takes place, starting on Thursday, at Erin Hills in Erin, which is almost 60 kilometres northwest of Milwaukee in the state of Wisconsin.

Erin Hills, which is a public golf course, will be hosting its first U.S. Open after hosting the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links event in 2008, and the U.S. Amateur back in 2011. It will also be the first time that the U.S. Open will be held in the state of Wisconsin.

The construction of Erin Hills began in 2004, and was officially opened in 2006. It was built by Wisconsin developer Robert Lang, but the golf course was designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry, and Ron Whitten.

Dr. Hurdzan is a retired United States Army Cornel who served with the United States Army Special Forces (Green Berets), and has won countless awards for his work as a golf course designer, .

However, Erin Hills was purchased by Andrew Ziegler in 2009, and has helped turn Erin Hills into a golf course that is capable of hosting prestigious championships, such as the U.S. Open, and with the official length of the course being 7,741 yards, it could be the longest golf course in U.S. Open history, although the yardage on the scorecard will read 7,692 yards, which would make it three yards shorter than Chambers Bay, which hosted its first U.S. Open back in 2015.

According to the 2017-18 rankings from Golf Digest, it is 44th best golf course in the United States of America (USA), and the 9th best public golf course in the USA. It is set to be one of the toughest challenges in golf, with plenty of thick, fine fescue, bunkers (138 to be precise) ready to catch out the best players in the world, should they miss the fairways or greens.

Erin Hills will also be the first U.S. Open since 1992 to play on a Par 72 golf course.

However, the fairways at Erin Hills are wider than at other golf courses which have hosted the U.S. Open, which should mean that we shouldn’t see too many players playing out of the thick, fine fescue during the course of the second major of the year.

However, should the wind get up, it will certainly be a daunting challenge for the world’s best golfer, and the world’s best golfer is Dustin Johnson, who heads into the 2017 U.S. Open looking to defend the title that he won at Oakmont Country Club last year. Johnson has also won three events this year, but hasn’t won since the WGC (World Golf Championships) – Dell Technologies Match Play tournament back in late March.

Since then, Johnson had to withdraw from The Masters after falling down some stairs where he was staying in Augusta, injuring his back, and has only played four events since returning from injury, with only one top 10 finish, at the Wells Fargo Championship on his return from injury, where he finished in a tie for second, and missed the cut at his last event, the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide over a week ago.

Even though his form looks to be a touch shaky, Johnson is surely one of the favourites to win the 117th U.S. Open. However, there are a number of players who will be looking to challenge the world number one.

The likes of Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Alex Noren, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, and Justin Thomas will all look to challenge Dustin Johnson to win the 2017 U.S. Open Championship.

Seven of those 12, plus Johnson (eight of those 13), have won at least one event in 2017. However, only one of those 13 have won an event since The Masters, the first major of the year.

The only one out of the Top 13 golfers in the world to win a tournament since The Masters was Alex Noren, who won the BMW PGA Championship at the Wentworth Club in London, which is the flagship event of the European Tour. However, he has only registered one top 10 finish out of 15 appearances at a major, and has only made the cut once out of four appearances at a U.S. Open.

However, the likes of Rory McIlroy and Jason Day are due for a tournament victory. McIlroy hasn’t won an event since winning the TOUR Championship in September last year, while Day hasn’t won since winning THE PLAYERS Championship in May last year.

Overall, I think it is going to be a fiercely contested championship, and I suspect that either McIlroy or Day will pick up their first tournament victories of 2017 at Erin Hills.