10 to Watch: PGA Championship
1. Dustin Johnson, United States -- Even though he couldn't hold the lead on the weekend and tied for second in the RBC Canadian Open, Johnson continued a sizzling run with his sixth consecutive finish in the top 10. Included were victories in the U.
1. Dustin Johnson, United States -- Even though he couldn't hold the lead on the weekend and tied for second in the RBC Canadian Open, Johnson continued a sizzling run with his sixth consecutive finish in the top 10. Included were victories in the U.S. Open, his first major title, and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, to climb to No. 2 in the World Golf Rankings and take the lead in the FedEx Cup standings. Johnson had several big disappointments in the majors before breaking through at Oakmont, but he has finished in the top 10 in six of the last seven Grand Slam events. He also has placed in the top 10 in four of the last six PGA Championships, among his 13 such finishes in the major championships. That includes a tie for fourth in the Masters and a tie for ninth in the Open Championship at Royal Troon this year.
2. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland -- Nobody has a better record in the PGA Championship in the last seven years than McIlroy. He has claimed two of his four major titles in the final major of the year, winning in 2012 by eight strokes over David Lynn of England at Kiawah Island and in 2014 by one stroke over Phil Mickelson at Valhalla, two of his five top-10 finishes in the event during that span. McIlroy won the Open Championship and the PGA back-to-back two years ago and has placed in the top 10 in eight of the last 11 Grand Slam events he has played. His only victory this year came in the Irish Open after he won three times last year, but he is coming off a tie for fifth in the Open Championship and four other top 10s in his last seven events on the PGA Tour.
3. Phil Mickelson, United States -- Lefty claimed one of his five major titles in the PGA Championship the last time it was played on the Lower Course at Baltusrol in 2005. He built a lead by opening with 67-65 before playing the weekend in 72-72 and holding off Thomas Bjorn of Denmark and Steve Elkington of Australia by one stroke with a brilliant flop shot from the rough to within a foot of the hole for a closing birdie. Mickelson is coming off a runner-up finish behind Henrik Stenson in the Open Championship at Royal Troon two weeks ago, after missing the cut in the first two majors this year. That was his 11th second-place finish in the Grand Slam events, including six in the U.S. Open, the only major he has not won. He also has three runner-up finishes among his six top-10s this season.
4. Henrik Stenson, Sweden -- The big Swede endured a two-year non-winning streak before winning the BMW International Open by three strokes and the Open Championship at Royal Troon by three strokes (over Mickelson with a closing 63) in the last two months. His victory in the third major of the season made him the first Swedish man to win one of the Grand Slam events after he placed in the top 10 nine times in the big four events since 2008. Four of those came in the PGA Championship, including solo third in 2013 at Oak Hill and a tie for third the following year at Valhalla. Stenson showed he was ready to break into the victory column again when he recorded six top-10 finishes on both major tours earlier this year, including runner-up finishes in the Nedbank Challenge and the Shell Houston Open.
5. Jason Day, Australia -- The No. 1 player in the World Golf Rankings will defend his first major title this week in the PGA Championship at Baltusrol. After finishing in the top 10 on nine occasions in the Grand Slam events, including second three times, he posted four rounds of 68 or better to win by three strokes over Jordan Spieth at Whistling Straits. The Aussie has claimed five more victories since, including the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, where he won by four shots over Kevin Chappell. Day has cooled off a bit since, but he tied for 10th in the Masters, tied for eighth in the U.S. Open at Oakmont and tied for 22nd in the Open Championship at Royal Troon this season. He has recorded eight top-10 finishes this year, including a victory in the WGC-Dell Match Play and a tie for third in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
6. Jordan Spieth, United States -- After winning the Masters and the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay last year and becoming No. 1 in the world, then winning three move times through Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January, Spieth has not been quite the same since melting down on the back nine of his Masters defense in April. He did win the Dean & DeLuca Invitational in May, but missed the cut in the Players Championship, tied for 37th in the U.S. Open at Oakmont and tied for 30th in the Open Championship at Royal Troon. However, if gets his balky swing back in sync, you can't dismiss a guy who came close to the Grand Slam last year, also tying for fourth in the Open Championship at St. Andrews and finishing solo second in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
7. Sergio Garcia, Spain -- With Day, Johnson and Stenson winning majors in the last year, Garcia might again be the best player in the world without a title in the Grand Slam events. It's not for lack of trying, because the 36-year-old Spaniard has finished in the top 10 in the major a whopping total of 22 times over the course of his career. Included are ties for fifth in the U.S. Open at Oakmont and the Open Championship at Royal Troon this year. Sergio has finished second in the PGA Championship twice, including his epic chase of champion Tiger Woods all the way to the finish in 1999 at Medinah. He also tied for second, two strokes behind Padraig Harrington in 2008 at Oakland Hills. When the PGA was last played at Baltusrol in 2005, Garcia tied for 23rd.
8. Justin Rose, England -- Even though he won the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, there are those who believe Rose has been an underachiever in the major championships because he has had so many other chances since he was low amateur in the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale with a tie for fourth. He has 10 other finishes in the top 10 in the Grand Slam events, and has been right there four times in the last two years before coming up empty. Last year, Rose tied for second in the Masters, tied for sixth in the Open Championship at St. Andrews and finished fourth in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. He tied for 10th in the Masters this year, so don't be surprised to see his name on the leaderboard and perhaps he's ready to finally claim another major title.
9. Adam Scott, Australia -- Scott is in the same boat as Justin Rose, because when he became the first Aussie to win the Masters in 2013, the predictions were that the major titles would start rolling in, but it hasn't happened. And he's had his chances, finishing in the top 10 in two more majors in 2013, two in 2014 and two last year. But Scott's major season this year has been a disaster, as he tied for 42nd in the Masters, tied for 18th in the U.S. Open and tied for 43rd in the Open Championship. This after he seemed to be headed for a big season when he captured the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship to start the Florida Swing. Scott will be trying to regain that form this week at Baltusrol, where he tied for 40th when the PGA was last played there in 2005.
10. Zach Johnson, United States -- One of six golfers to have won majors at Augusta National and St. Andrews along with Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros, Sam Snead and Nick Faldo, Johnson doesn't have the big game of the others but doesn't blink in the spotlight. After missing the cut in the Masters this year, Johnson was on the leaderboard in the last two majors, tying for eighth in the U.S. Open at Oakmont and tying for 12th in the Open Championship at Royal Troon. Zach has three top-10 finishes in the PGA Championship, including a tie for third in 2010 at Whistling Straits, and when the final major of the year was last played on the Lower Course at Baltusrol in 2005, he tied for 17th. After something of a slow season other than the majors, Johnson has finished in the top 20 in his last four tournaments.
By Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange