PGA Championship Preview: Can an American End the United States’ Major Drought?

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Golf’s origins may have a decidedly Scottish flavor, but over the years it has mainly been an American game. Nearly all of the sports’ legends during its rise to prominence during the middle part of the 20th century were Americans, with rare exceptions like Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros bucking that trend. Toward the end of that century, a new group of foreigners, led by the likes of Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomerie, and Ernie Els took the sport by storm, but the game was still one dominated to a large extent by the red, white, and blue.

Nowadays, that dominance is starting to recede quickly. The last six major championships have been won by players born on foreign soil, with Phil Mickelson’s 2010 Masters win being the last time the stars and stripes were victorious. The emergence of some incredibly talented guys like Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, and Adam Scott has ushered in a new era of golf, and the United States’ young guns have yet to respond in a discernible way.

Could this week’s PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club finally see an American take down one of golf’s most sacred events, or will we once again see a foreign invader take one of our prized silver chalices back to his home on distant shores? If we are to see a homegrown talent take the title, here are five of the biggest contenders to do so:

Rickie Fowler

Pro:

Fowler is coming off of one of the best performances of his career, finishing in second place at the WGC Bridgestone Championship at Firestone last week. He looked great at the British Open in some terrible conditions in finishing fifth, and he is one of the tour’s best putters, ranking third in that category.

Con:

Fowler’s performance at the Open notwithstanding, he’s had a rough go of it at some big time events so far this year. He missed the cut both at the US Open at Congressional and The Players Championship at Sawgrass, and he shot rounds of 76 and 74 to cap off an abysmal weekend at the Masters.

U.S. Open Golf Practice Round June 13,  2011

Dustin Johnson (Keith Allison/Flickr)

Dustin Johnson: 

Pro:

Johnson is certainly well-known for his choke jobs at recent majors, including his recent failure at the Open where he drove a ball out of bounds at the 14th hole on Sunday to pave the way for Darren Clarke’s victory. Those failures could very well steel him, and the brutally long course in Atlanta plays right into his hands as his tremendous length (4th on tour in driving distance) will give him a sizable advantage.

Con:

Dustin is second on tour in birdies per round, but if he is errant off the tee or off the fairway, he could be in big trouble. He is 151st on tour in driving accuracy, hitting only 57% of fairways, and he only has a 40% success rate in sand saves, good for 167th on tour. Those are some scary numbers going into a major, as it is typically the guy who can best stay out of trouble who ends up kissing the trophy on Sunday.

Steve Stricker: 

Pro:

Stricker’s numbers aren’t exactly gaudy in terms of statistics, but the numbers on his resume that do stand out are his finishes in tournaments this year. He’s made the cut in all 14 events he’s entered this year, finishing in the top 12 of prestigious events like The Masters, The Players, and The Open Championship. He has also won two tournaments, so he certainly knows how to finish.

Con:

Stricker is currently 116th on tour in driving distance, so playing a course that is playing nearly 7500 yards could be a bit of a challenge for him. In addition, it seems as though Stricker has been unable to finish with any type of flourish in the majors his year, with his low Sunday round being a 70. If he is down at all going into the final round, it doesn’t seem probable that he can put together a low number.

Nick Watney:

Pro:

Watney has been having a very solid season this year, racking up eight top-10 finishes in only 16 starts. He has also won two events, the AT&T National and the WGC Cadillac Championship where he tamed the Blue Monster at Doral. Add to that high finishes at The Players (4th) and Pebble Beach Pro-Am (6th), and you can see that he has been on quite a roll this year.

Con:

Perhaps the biggest reason Watney hasn’t been mentioned more as a contender for this championship is because of his horrific performance in majors this year. He finished 46th at The Masters, and he missed the cut at both the US and British Opens. This lack of ability to rise to the occasion in big tournaments lends some hesitancy to pegging him as the guy who could end the US’ major drought.

Tiger Woods:

Pro: 

Being that it’s difficult to make a case for Woods that involves his performance this year (although he finished 4th at The Masters), there is one thing that could motivate him: Steve Williams’ comments about last week being the biggest win of his career, even though he won a slew of majors with Woods. Tiger may want to make him eat his words and to make him sorry for trash-talking him in the press, and an angry Tiger Woods tends to be a dangerous Tiger Woods.

Con:

The PGA Championship will only be Tiger’s second tournament back since withdrawing from The Players in May, and if he shows the same form he did last week in Akron, he could be in trouble. His putting is still maddeningly inconsistent, and he couldn’t find a fairway to save his life at Firestone. If he can corral his driver and get his flat-stick to behave he will be in great shape, but those are some HUGE ifs.


 

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