By Craig Dolch, PGATOUR.Com Contributor
Because of the calendar, the PGA Championship has always had a tougher time generating the same buzz as golf’s other three majors. But even with the NFL lockout lifted and most college football programs starting practice this week, the 93rd PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club has become one of the most anticipated majors in years.
Not only is Tiger Woods playing in a major for the first time since a fourth-place finish at the Masters in April, he alone brings more story plots than a John Grisham novel. Can Woods somehow scrape enough rust off his game to win his 15th major after going through the longest winless stretch in his once-brilliant career without a major (it has been 13 majors since Woods last won, with him missing four due to injuries)? Will he have to wait another eight months to continue his chase of Jack Nicklaus’ 18 career majors?
And what do we make of this very public Woods-Steve Williams spat? The caddie made it clear two weeks ago how “disappointed” he was when Woods fired him after 12 years together. But just to make sure, on Sunday, after Williams helped his new boss, Adam Scott, to a four-shot victory in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Williams told CBS’ David Feherty that “I’ve been caddying for 33 years, and this is the greatest week I’ve had in my career.”
Ouch. Guess those 13 majors, the Tiger Slam and the 62 career PGA TOUR titles they teamed up to win don’t mean what they used to. While Williams is taking some heat from other players for his Tiger-bashing because it took away from Scott’s win, you think PGA of America officials now wished they would have paired Woods and Scott together this week? That would have made for some interesting viewing.
Beyond the histrionics, Williams’ presence seemed to elevate Scott’s game. With Williams on his bag, might the talented Australian finally win that anticipated first major? If he does, Scott would become the first player to win a major with a long putter.
The PGA Championship has plenty of other story lines, such as whether the Americans can end their record major drought of six consecutive majors – since Phil Mickelson won the 2010 Masters. Mickelson finished second, a shot behind David Toms at the 2001 PGA Championship, the last time a major was held at the AAC, but Lefty doesn’t figure to be the Americans’ best chance this week, despite his near miss at the British Open. Nor is Woods.
How about Dustin Johnson, who has contended – and lost – in three of the last six majors?
While the Americans can’t win a major, it seems agent Chubby Chandler can’t lose one. He has seen his players win four of the last five majors, including all three this year, and he goes for the so-called Chubby Slam at the PGA.
With the PGA of America doing its usual grouping of the year’s major winners -- Charl Schwartzel (Masters), Rory McIlroy (U.S. Open) and Darren Clarke (British Open) -- at least we know where to find Chandler during the first two rounds. If this trio doesn’t complete the Chubby Slam, Chandler also has other options in Lee Westwood, Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen and even Simon Dyson (recent winner of the French Open).
The PGA serves as the penultimate event of the FedExCup regular season, meaning it’s perhaps the final opportunity for Woods to move into the top 125 (he’s No. 129), but also for former major champions Ernie Els (No. 126) and Padraig Harrington (No. 130), as well as once-rising star Camilo Villegas (No. 125).
Woods has said he won’t play in next week’s Wyndham Championship because of a family commitment. So if he is to make the first event of the FedExCup playoffs he has won twice, making the cut at the PGA Championship is essential, with a top-25 finish a certainty to qualify.
The PGA also will mark the 20-year anniversary of one of the sport’s more surreal moments: John Daly’s unlikely victory as the ninth alternate in the 1991 PGA at Crooked Stick. Daly’s up-and-down career has been well-chronicled – his past is more checkered than his pants -- but now the 45-year-old needs more ups. He hasn’t finished in the top 125 on the PGA Tour’s money list since 2004, but he had his first top-10 showing in six years with a tie for ninth at last month’s RBC Canadian Open.
So forget about football – this week’s NFL preseason games won’t be more than glorified scrimmages, anyway – and get ready to watch what figures to be one of the most intriguing majors in recent memory.
Will Tiger contend? Will he and Stevie make nice? Will the U.S.’ major hex end? Will Chubby have another reason to throw a party? Will the PGA produce another first-time major champion? Can Daly conjure up another out-of-nowhere week?
One thing is certain: It won’t be boring.