Tiger Woods has won five regular tournaments this season but would probably swap each of them for that elusive 15th major which he will be striving for at this week’s US PGA Championship. Justin Rose can be forgiven a missed cut in the Open Championship after winning the US equivalent in June. Henrik Stenson has an excellent skill’s profile for this week’s challenge.
The final major of the season is being played at the Oak Hill Country Club course in Rochester, New York. At less than 7200 yards in length the course is short by modern standards and puts a premium on accuracy over distance. Many of the fairways are narrow and tree lined and excellent iron play will be required to find the greens that are generally below average in size.
The East Course at Oak Hill has staged 10 major tournaments in the amateur and professional game. The PGA Championship of 2003 was played on the course when Shaun Micheel won with a score of four under. He was one of just three players to break par, including Tim Clark who finished just three shots off the pace.
Of the players who are still competitive at this level Ernie Els had the best week, finishing tied 5th after playing 72 holes in just two over par. Phil Mickelson was joint 23rd with Adam Scott and Luke Donald while Woods finished just inside the top 40 after four rounds averaging 73 strokes.
The small number of players who finished under par reflected the demanding nature of the course in 2003. There have been few modifications for this year’s renewal but the length has been increased by 27 yards. The par remains at 70, made up of the usual quota of medium and short holes but just two par 5s, one of which is a true three shot hole.
Since 2000 the winner of the PGA Championship has been recording a first major championship win while seven of the champions have been multiple major winners. Woods is the only player to win the championship more than once in this spell while Keegan Bradley was competing in his first major when he lifted the huge trophy in 2011.
Four of the last five champions have been non –Americans, with the 2009 winner YE Yang following Vijay Singh as an Asian champion. Padraig Harington was winning his third major in 13 months when taking the prize five yeas ago. He was too good for Sergio Garcia down the stretch that year and the player formerly known as El Nino has yet to win a major.
When Garcia challenged Woods in the 1999 event as a teenager and came up just short few would have suggested that 14 years later he would still be striving for that first major. Garcia seems to have almost talked himself into believing he is not good enough to win at the highest level and he seems too troubled at times on the course to win a major.
Harrington showed three times that he can beat the best players in the world when the pressure is most intense. He will go down in history as one of four Irish players to win a major in a five year spell that started with his win in the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie. However, he continues to modify his game to recapture former glories.
Woods won the last of his 14 majors in the US Open in 2008. He played himself into contention in this year’s Open but faltered in the final round. That seems to be the pattern for Woods in majors over the last five years and he hasn’t broken 70 in the final two rounds of any major in that spell.
The world number one arrives in New York with his game in great order. He won the World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational by seven shots last Sunday, winning for the eighth time on one of his favourite courses at Firestone in Ohio. He recorded an impeccable score of 61 in the second round and was just two missed medium length putts from breaking 60 for the first time in his professional career.
Justin Rose won the US Open in fine style, playing two of the best shots in his career to set up a par at the final hole to clinch the win. The last English player to win the US Open had been Tony Jacklin in 1970 and Rose was a worthy winner. Ian Poulter was probably inspired by this effort from one of his best mates and for a short while on the Sunday afternoon looked the most likely winner of the British Open
Phil Mickelson ‘brought home the Jug’ after one of the best days of his career at Muirfield in the fourth round. He is now three quarters of the way to completing the career Grand Slam, a feat only achieved by five players. The US Open is the one major title not in his set and after six second place finishes Mickelson surely deserves to win the national championship of his country before the end of his career.
Henrik Stenson reached a career high of number four in the world rankings after winning the Players Championship in 2009. A bad run of injury and loss of form meant he dropped out of the 200 but he is now back in the top 20 after contending in two majors and a WGC event this summer.
Stenson finished second in the Open after making the payout places in the Scottish equivalent the previous week. Like the rest of the field the Swede couldn’t get near Woods last week but another top 5 at the highest level suggests he could win a major in the next three years, beginning this week on a course that is a good fit for his game. However if Woods can maintain his form Stenson and the rest will be playing for second place for the second week in succession.