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2010 PGA Championship: While Tiger Woods Struggles, Upstart Golfers Can Make Their Mark

The names you know -- Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson -- are playing some of their worst golf of the season. That opens the door for others to get a rare shot at a major, starting Thursday morning at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

With Tiger Woods (left) struggling, young golfers like Rory McIlroy have a better shot to win a major, starting with this weekend's PGA Championship. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
With Tiger Woods (left) struggling, young golfers like Rory McIlroy have a better shot to win a major, starting with this weekend's PGA Championship. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Wide open. It's a theme that was repeated throughout the pre-tournament news conferences going into the first round on Thursday of the 92nd PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

Following Phil Mickelson's third Masters win, the two Open winners were first timers. Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen got their first major championships -- and first PGA Tour wins -- in completely different ways. McDowell survived a bloody back nine at Pebble Beach to win the US Open. Oosthuizen won the Open Championship with ferocious length and driving, not once thwarted by the wind on the weekend at the Old Course.

Now, at what could be billed as a hybrid of those two courses with a helping of PEDs injected, who knows what the profile of this PGA Champion will be.

The supposed No. 1 finished far from there last week, but Tiger Woods has two top five finishes in the majors this year. For as unreliable as he has been in non-majors, Woods has typically summoned some measure of golf competency for the majors. His performance here in 2004 was less than stellar, but also during the first year of his relationship with Hank Haney. Woods is winless in 2010, but may be summoning a new teacher in Canadian Sean Foley. Whistling Straits could signal another reset in Woods' storied career, but likely will not mark his 15th major victory.

Phil Mickelson has been battling a form of arthritis since June, in addition to what his wife and mother have been facing for almost 18 months. Perhaps that condition has something to do with why Mickelson has been unable to break Tiger's reign atop the Official World Golf Rankings.

The rankings are typically rendered meaningless by Woods' dominance and had Mickelson usurped the title already, no one would care. But like the now retired Lorena Ochoa and Mickelson's own quest for his first major, the issue exists because of Mickelson's inability to squelch it. While he may eventually become No. 1 and is the betting favorite this week, it is unlikely that either will work out this week.

Trash the traditional names. Forget the conventional thinking.

This PGA Tour season has been abnormal. Young golfers are winning at a pace that even outshines the record 2002 season for first time winners. Foreign-born players are taking more events than Americans, albeit barely. Combine the two and there could be the profile of a champion only befitting of this season -- young and not American.

Several players fit that profile very well. Rory McIlroy is one, certainly with the iron game to have laserlike precision on these large Pete Dye putting surfaces. A surpising pick in terms of popularity is either of the Molinari brothers. The Italian World Cup champions are playing great in Europe ahead of the Ryder Cup. Luke Donald and Paul Casey are Englishmen seemingly looked past for majors, but could well have the combination of driving prowess and putting to win the season's final major.

The Americans have hope, particularly with the younger set. Hunter Mahan -- last week's winner -- appears on the verge of completing a breakthrough season. Sean O'Hair, like Mahan a stud in Foley's current stable, has been one of the more consistent Americans in the last three months. Jeff Overton should not be overlooked. While Rickie Fowler has not played superior golf of late, his rally to T14 at St. Andrews after an opening round 79 must give him confidence that he would win with four great rounds.

The beauty (though to some, the bane) of this season is its unpredictability. While Woods languishes in his personal and professional life, there is an open tryout for the major championships. Other top players have been unable to strike during Woods' nearly double digit winless streak. The winners have been players ranked with an average in the 40s in the Official World Golf Rankings.

The guy smack dab at 40? Argentinian Angel Cabrera. Not young, but foreign-born. In a season like 2010, though, picking numbers out of a hat is just about as good of a guess as there is.