The season's final major is here, and it may be the most anticipated PGA Championship in the Tiger Woods era. Phil Mickelson is coming off his historic Sunday round at The Open, and Tiger enters fresh off a seven-shot win at Firestone. They are 1-2 in the world, and have dominated the headlines this week at Oak Hill, one of America's classic and great courses. The 2013 year at the majors has been one of the best in golf history, with world-class winners and close finishes at the world's best venues. That form should hold this week in Rochester.
Here are some picks, predictions, and discussion points batted around by SB Nation staffers and golf writers Emily Kay, Mark Sandritter, Hart Van Santvoord, and Brendan Porath.
Who is your darkhorse pick to contend and possibly win? (odds that are 60/1 or higher)
Hart: I like Angel Cabrera to be a factor on the weekend. El Pato proved, once again, at Muirfield that you can't count him out in a major championship.
I like to think that Angel Cabrera sleeps in an oxygen chamber. Alarm goes off four times a year. Awakes, smokes, heads to major.— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) July 18, 2013
Mark: I'll go with Graeme McDowell who is 60/1. He's had an up-and-down season, but when he's been right he's been very good. His game fits Oak Hill very well and he should hit a ton of fairways this week.
Two months ago McDowell was one of the betting favorites in the U.S. Open, now all of a sudden he's an afterthought? I wouldn't be surprised to see him make a run at his second career major championship.
Emily: Daniel Balin -- because one more "L" in his last name and this guy's ballin'.
Brendan: There are some really talented players with odds that are 100/1, 150/1 and even 200/1 to win this week. I'll take a flyer on Nicolas Colsaerts, the Belgian bomber who contended at the U.S. Open in June. In the last marquee event hosted by the PGA of America, the Ryder Cup at Medinah, Colsaerts more than held his own and went nuts in a match against Tiger and Stricker. Medinah, Merion, Oak Hill... at 150/1, I think he makes a run inside the top 10.
Any rookies or first-time PGA Championship players to keep an eye on or that you expect to be part of things on Sunday?
Mark: The obvious choice is Jordan Spieth who, at 20 years old may already have enough game to contend in a major. He's had a terrific year with six top 10s and a victory in 17 events. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open and finished tied for 44th at The Open, but Oak Hill sets up well for the Texan.
Brendan: I'll go with Peter Uihlein, the once decorated amateur who now seems to be getting his game together over in Europe. Uihlein, the son of Acushnet (Titleist/Footjoy) CEO Wally Uihlein, hasn't exactly had what you'd call a tough life. But the expectations placed upon him were immense, and after some struggles off the map, the unconventional route of working things out over in Europe appear to be paying off. I think he takes advantage of that late invite extended by the PGA and makes some noise on the weekend.
Hart: Jordan Spieth will continue the joyride since winning at the John Deere and making the cut at Muirfield. Look for him to make a run at the top 25, but I think we'll have to wait until 2014 for him to be in the mix on Sunday.
Which big name, or names, are the best candidates to disappoint and exit before the weekend? Who are you most concerned about, given form, trends, course match, etc. ?
Mark: Rory McIlroy's struggles have been well- documented. As for another name I'd throw Lee Westwood out there. He has two top 15 finishes in 18 PGA Championship appearances.
Hart: Rory is the obvious big name, but I'm pulling for the Northern Irishman to somehow put a few good rounds together and make the weekend. I'm going to go out on a limb and also say Westwood is still battered and bruised from his Sunday hiccup at Muirfield and will miss the cut. That's all I have on Westy. You wanted a big name, right?
Emily: Rory is the easy answer, given the way his season has gone so far. Form, trend, gear, love -- pick ‘em.
Brendan: It's feast for famine for Graeme McDowell, who has spent his season either winning tournaments or missing the cut. He's one of the bigger names with lower odds who I think bows out early again (Sorry, Mark). Also, I think Bubba Watson will continue his quiet non-contending ways, struggling at his seventh major since last April's win at Augusta.
What will be the winning score?
Brendan: The PGA of America is not hellbent on protecting par like the USGA, and I think Kerry Haigh gives these guys some opportunities to shoot a 66 if they have it working. I think the winning score is at 7-under.
Where does the PGA rank for you compared to the other three majors? If last, why? Does it have an unwarranted bad rep?
Emily: A major's a major -- but it's no Augusta, U.S. Open, or Open Championship. Perhaps it would get more respect if it gave the British Open some breathing room (move it to October!).
Hart: I do think the PGA Championship's bad rep is unwarranted. While it doesn't have the tradition unlike any other of Augusta National, isn't an Open-style punishing track like our national championship and doesn't have the history of a links course, the PGA still boasts the best players in the world (99 out of the top 100 this week) all competing for a major trophy.
Mark: The PGA is a great event, but it's clearly fourth on the major championship pecking order. I like the fact 20 club professionals play their way into the field -- that's a nice reward and in interesting quirk.
Still, it doesn't have the aura of Augusta National and the Masters or the country ties like the U.S. Open and The Open. It just feels like there is more on the line in those events. That said, the fields are always excellent and Oak Hill should be a terrific host venue.
Brendan: This is no longer the 1980s, when there was serious discussion about demoting the PGA from the major ranks after a series of gimmicks and poor course choices, particularly the ugliness of Shoal Creek. Now, it's as good or better than the U.S. Open, which visits the same historic venues but sometimes "contrives" them to protect par, resulting in relatively boring golf with no movement on the leaderboards. Phil's come-from-behind 66 at Muirfield, which made that tournament historic, doesn't happen at the U.S. Open but it can here. The PGA lacks the identity of the other three (Augusta is Augusta, the U.S. Open has the setup drama, and the British has the history and links setting), but it has the best field at the top and is just as fun as the two Opens.
At any point, will Tiger mention he had trouble adjusting to green speeds?
Brendan: I actually think Tiger might now avoid the topic, given all the supercuts and transcripts that have been spliced together to accentuate this trope from Mr. Woods. He's a self-aware guy, and I think he'd just be putting it on a tee for everyone if he talks about that again.
Hart: I don't think that will happen this week as the PGA heard loud and clear his thoughts last week, just like the R&A heard Phil's and Poult's at Muirfield (I'm only half kidding).
Mark: That is like asking if Tiger will wear red on Sunday. It's going to happen.
Emily: Magic 8 Ball says, you betcha!
Expectations and finishing predictions for:
Emily: Thanks to his momentum and another session with Stricker, No. 15 is finally in the books for Mr. Tiger -- unless, of course, he has another "Weekend at the Majors."
Hart: While I'd like to agree with the notion that the field took notice after Tiger's dominating performance at Firestone and will hand over his 15th major, the reality is that the field is far deeper and less intimidated by Tiger than it used to be. I still think Tiger will finally put it together this week, but he'll have to earn it on Saturday and Sunday, something he's struggled to do in recent years.
Mark: Woods' game is sharp and this week's putting lesson with Steve Stricker should only help. Oak Hill is fast right now, which Woods prefers. That all adds up to Woods being in contention on Sunday. He hasn't broken 70 in a final round this season, so I'll say he finishes in a tie for sixth.
Brendan: This will be another top 10 finish at the majors for Woods, but the drought will go to a sixth year. He won't have to hit driver too many times, and the hole shapes don't force him to work it right-to-left off the tee, which he hates and pretty much can't do at this point in his career. He'll be in one of the final groups on Sunday, but won't pull off a final-round chasedown, something he's never done at a major.
Mark: If Mickelson keeps hitting that Callaway X Hot 3Deep 3-wood like he did at No. 17 at Muirfield, he certainly has a shot to win this week. He's raved about the 3-wood and once again is going without a driver this week. I'll think he contends, but comes up short and settles for a top 15 finish.
Emily: As much as a Phil-Tiger finale would be great theater and what many golf fans are hoping for, it's not to be. With the Open Championship finally in his bag, the Claret Jug in tow, the glow (and fatigue) from conquering links golf fresh in his mind, and the U.S. Open his primary goal, Lefty does not have the oomph to pick up the Wanamaker Trophy. Finishes in the top 10.
Hart: As much as I would love a Tiger and Phil duel on Sunday afternoon, I just don't see this happening. Lefty will make the cut, but won't be a factor down the stretch.
Brendan: This is Rory's favorite major, with two T3 finishes and a win in his last four appearances (and the fourth was a middling finish thanks to a wrist injury). He's always favored the American parklands courses, and this is a vintage one. I think Rory is back in the mix, finishing inside the top 15, but there are still too many issues with his short irons and play around the green for him to contend in the final hours on Sunday.
Emily: 2013 is just not Rory's year. If he doesn't miss the cut, look for a finish somewhere in the middle of the pack.
Hart: I'm pulling for the guy, but he clearly doesn't have it right now.
Mark: There is nothing to suggest McIlroy's game is in a place to expect him to defend his title. He's 143rd in driving accuracy this season and that will not get it done at Oak Hill, where hitting the fairway is priority No. 1. He'll probably make the cut, but be a non-factor on the weekend.
Justin Rose and Adam Scott?
Hart: I'm not very high on Justin Rose right now. I was disappointed with how he didn't get up for the Open Championship after his U.S. Open triumph. Although he had a solid showing at Firestone last week, I'm not sure he's fully recovered from his first major championship hangover. Adam Scott is a different story. He's benefited from Phil's dream final round taking the attention away from his Sunday collapse at Muirfield (remember, he was in the lead on the back-9 before bogies at 13, 14, 15 and 16). He rebounded well after last year's collapse at the Open to win his first major at Augusta, so look for his recovery to be much quicker this time around.
Emily: The bloom of the U.S. Open win is still on the rose for Justin, who will savor his first major win until April, when he'll have a go at his second. Top 25. Scott gives Tiger a scare but there'll be no book-end majors for Stevie's boss.
Mark: Rose drives the ball about as well as anyone -- he's second in total driving -- so he certainly has the game to contend. Of the three major winners, I think Rose is the most likely to add a second major title this season. Scott's game is at a level where it's more of a surprise if he isn't contention on the weekend than if he is. Scott has faded in final rounds this season -- his 69 on Sunday at the Masters notwithstanding -- so I predict he settles for a top 20 finish.
Brendan: The great thing about this year's majors has been the quality of the winners, with all three inside the top ten in the world at the time of their victory. Both Rose and Scott were due, and they're not likely done winning majors. Rose seems to have run out of gas, but Scott, who may have the best swing in golf, is always hanging around. Rose will make the cut but will be outside the top 25. Scott will finish inside the top 10, as he did at Muirfield,
Who wins the Wanamaker Trophy and by how many shots (or in what fashion)?
Emily: Tiger Woods, with a par-saving, 35-foot putt on the final hole to stave off Scott, whose own 20-footer slides by. Steve Williams hugs Tiger before Charlie, Sam, and Elin (sorry, Lindsey) storm the 18th green for a touching Phil-and-Amy type family moment. (Hey, it could happen!)
Hart: Tiger will break free from the albatross this week and win his 15th major. He'll have to earn it with a strong finish to win by two over the likes of Hunter Mahan, Dustin Johnson and Scott.
Mark: Hunter Mahan and Jason Day have been great in majors recently, but I'm going to go with Keegan Bradley to win his second PGA Championship. Bradley won the event in 2011 and finished in a tie for third last season. He played well at the British Open and finished second last week at the Bridgestone Invitational.
Brendan: Phil Mickelson will win his third tournament in his last four starts. Phil always seems to be propping up his game on the eve of majors, even when it maybe wasn't up to form and everyone watching knew it. But I am a believer in everything he's selling, with statements like he is "playing the best golf of his life" -- the impetus being a new Callaway 3-wood and finding his own "secret" to putting. He was wiped out last week at Firestone, but I don't think that affected him at all and he's ready to re-take the narrative from Tiger. It's going out on the limb simply because of the odds against the back-to-back wins, but the Summer of Phil continues in Rochester.