PGA Championship: 10 to watch
By Joseph Demling
Not long after Valhalla Golf Club was awarded the 2014 PGA Championship, some in the golf world assumed it would be another prime opportunity for Tiger Woods to add to his list of major championships.
And for good reason since Woods captured the 2000 PGA at Valhalla after a playoff battle with Bob May and later said the course “just suited my eye.”
But as we head into the 96th PGA this week at Valhalla, Woods is struggling with his game and his health. He hasn’t won a major championship since the 2008 U.S. Open and withdrew on Sunday from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational because of back spasms after missing much of the year after back surgery.
So, he’s not in our top 10 players to watch. But the world’s new No. 1 – Rory McIlroy – and plenty of others should give us a fabulous finish to the majors this year. Here are a few guys to keep an eye on at Valhalla:
10. Kenny Perry
Best finish in 2014: Won twice on Champions Tour; T28 in the U.S. Open
Reason to watch: Sure, he turns 54 years old on Sunday and has only played in four PGA Tour events this year. But it’s a home game for Perry, who lives a couple hours away in Franklin, Ky., and he knows the course. He lost in a playoff in the ’96 PGA at Valhalla, was a member of the 2008 Ryder Cup team and has been to the course several times this year for practice rounds. Plus, Perry is playing great. He won the 3M Championship on the Champions Tour last week, has five top 10 finishes in his last seven starts and was T-28 in the U.S. Open.
9. J.B. Holmes
Best finish in 2014: Won Wells Fargo Championship
Reason to watch: Another local hero, Holmes is from Campbellsville, Ky., less than two hours away and has played the course a lot. He played on the U.S. winning Ryder Cup team at Valhalla in ’08 and his long-hitting style is good, especially knowing the course and where to put it. The course has changed a lot since ’08 and Holmes has played it more than anyone but Perry. He has eight top-25 finishes this year and was T-26 last weekend at the WGC-Bridgestone.
8. Justin Rose
Best finish in 2014: Won Quicken Loans National
Reason to watch: With two wins to his credit this year, including the Scottish Open, Rose comes into the PGA after a T-4 at the WGC-Bridgestone. Europeans have won two of three majors this year and Rose has been on the top 25 of all three with a T-12 at the U.S. Open and a T-14 at the Masters. But he’s done it without a great start in with an average opening round score in the majors this year is a 74. He was a T-3 in the PGA two years ago and did play in the ’08 Ryder Cup at Valhalla.
7. Matt Kuchar
Best finish in 2014: Won the RBC Heritage
Reason to watch: One of the most consistent players, Kuchar leads the Tour in top-10 finishes with 10 and just missed another with a T-12 at the WGC-Bridgestone last weekend. He has six top 10s in majors during the past five years, including a T-10 in the 2010 PGA. It will be his first trip to Valhalla but is on a good path heading into the year’s final major and the course should suit his game.
6. Jordan Spieth
Best finish in 2014: T-2 at Hyundai Tournament of Champions and Masters
Reason to watch: The top young American will break through at a major championship sooner or later and with his impeccable short game it could come at Valhalla. He’s never played a tournament on the course but should like the Kentucky Bluegrass and the newly renovated greens. He was T-2 at the Masters and also had a top-20 finish at the U.S. Open. He missed the cut last year in his first PGA.
5. Adam Scott
Best finish in 2014: Won Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial
Reason to watch: Was the No. 1 player in the world until McIlroy passed him last week; Scott still playing solid golf and has all season. He has a win and eight top-10s in 12 starts on the PGA Tour and has been in the top 15 of each major. He hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since May and dropped to No. 2 in the world despite a T-8 last weekend at the WGC-Bridgestone. Should be there on Sunday.
4. Rickie Fowler
Best finish in 2014: Second at U.S. Open and British Open
Reason to watch: Fowler hasn’t won a tournament in 58 starts but he’s been a major player in all of the big tournaments this year. He was a T-5 in the Masters and runner-up in the U.S. Open and British Open before a T-8 at the WGC-Bridgestone last weekend. First player since 2005 – Tiger Woods – to finish top five in the first three majors, but he has just one top 50 – T-19 in 2013 – in four PGA starts.
3. Sergio Garcia
Best finish in 2014: Second in WGC-Bridgestone; T-2 in Travelers Championship and the British Open.
Reason to watch: Garcia has been on fire in recent weeks, three straight second-place finishes, but he hasn’t fared well at Valhalla. The last time he played the course was a 5 and 4 loss to Anthony Kim on Sunday of the ’08 Ryder Cup and he was T-34 in the ‘00 PGA. But still, Garcia has to be a favorite. He has four top-10s at the PGA and it very well could be time for his first major win.
2. Jim Furyk
Best finish in 2014: Second at the Wells Fargo Championship; The Players Championship and the RBC Canadian Open
Reason to watch: There are reasons not to like Furyk – hasn’t won in four years and seven times in a row he hasn’t converted a 54-hole lead. But there are plenty more reasons to like his game at Valhalla, a place he finished T-72 in 2000 but had a successful week during the ’08 Ryder Cup. Has five top-10s in his last nine starts, was PGA runner-up last year and is already a lock for the Ryder Cup team.
1. Rory McIlroy
Best finish in 2014: Won the British Open and WGC-Bridgestone
Reason to watch: Only six players in history have ever won the final two majors of the year, but McIlroy just jumped to No. 1 in the world rankings and is on an amazing hot streak. He’s won two starts in a row and comes in as a heavy favorite to win the PGA, an event he claimed by eight strokes in ’12. He’s never played in an event at Valhalla but has four top-10s in five PGA starts. Everything points to a fourth major title for McIlroy.