Golf’s final major begins earlier than usual this year thanks to the Olympics. The PGA Championship gets underway tomorrow in Springfield, New Jersey at Baltusrol Golf Club. Here are some things I’m keeping an eye on.
· Streak of first-time major winners: The last four major champions have all gotten over the hump and claimed one of golf’s prestigious honors. In the case of Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, it was a breakthrough that many saw coming. But Danny Willett and Henrik Stenson’s major championships came as surprises. Players like Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Matt Kuchar are the among the best on the list nobody wants to be on.
· Top Guns: Dustin Johnson won his first major at Oakmont, Jason Day won The Players Championship for the first time, and Rory McIlroy has five top-five finishes since March. So while it hasn’t been a bad year at all for some of golf’s biggest names, it was certainly uncharacteristic to see Jordan Spieth let the Masters slip away and McIlroy miss the cut in the US Open. Adam Scott has made the cut in every event he’s played this season but has not finished in the top 10 in a major this year. It will be interesting to see how some of the favorites perform this weekend.
Mickelson poses with the trophy in 2005 at
Baltusrol after winning the PGA Championship.
· Phil Mickelson: How quickly we forget about such a fan favorite. Lefty was struggling heading into Royal Troon two weeks ago. What a difference four days can make. Mickelson played one of the best majors of his career at The Open Championship, but was bested by Henrik Stenson. Mickelson won the PGA Championship the last time it was at Baltusrol in 2005 and will certainly be on everyone’s radar once again this weekend.
· Scoring: After Mickelson and Stenson played a de facto match play final round in The Open, golf fans will be expecting more low numbers. Mickelson and Stenson both had rounds of 63 at Royal Troon to add to the list of 29 rounds of 63 at a major. But no player has shot 62 in a major championship. Thirteen of the previous 29 major rounds of 63 have been carded at the PGA Championship. However, Mickelson’s score of -4 was good enough to win in Springfield, New Jersey 11 years ago.
· Strength of Field: The Official World Golf Ranking began recording strength of field in 1986. Kyle Porter of CBS Sports points out that this year’s PGA Championship has a strength of field of 923 which is the highest since the statistic began being tracked. So if the streak of first-time major winners continues, this is quite the major to do it at. If there are players going low and making birdie after birdie, there’s a reason for that.