By Aaron Pennesi
The professional golf scene has been a whirlwind in 2016. We have seen multiple first-time major winners, elite players playing in less than top form, and the readdition of golf into the Olympics (to name a few). The latter has impacted the Association in many ways, and one of the most evident impacts is the altering of the PGA Schedule. Due to the reinstatement of golf into the Olympics, the PGA Championship has been moved up on the schedule, and it will be played this Thursday at Baltusrol Golf Club.
So far, the 2016 season has been one of the most unpredictable seasons we’ve ever seen. The game’s “Big Three” have not won a major this season, and truly haven’t consistently performed at the level we are used to seeing them at, all year. We have had plenty of come-from-behind winners, and have also seen the likes of Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson remove the hypothetical ‘Major Monkey’ from their backs.
Going into the PGA Championship, it should be no surprise that the world’s top golfers have the best odds. But, in a season where strictly playing the odds should be all but thrown out the window, someone under the radar could very well see their name atop the championship leaderboard on Sunday.
Baltusrol [Lower] is known as a very complex and demanding course, and the most strokes will be gained through precision and putting. Here are 5 golfers to watch for that could attack this course and potentially raise this year’s Wanamaker Trophy:
1. Dustin Johnson
The golfer who is finally taking the PGA by storm, should absolutely be something to watch this week. Dustin Johnson has it all. He is currently displaying the total package when it comes to golf skills, with power that is unmatched. His recent major victory at the U.S. Open should have him bursting with confidence, and I believe from here on out Johnson has a shot to win any tournament he enters.
2. Phil Mickelson
Mickelson is coming off a tough loss to Henrik Stenson, who put together one of the best rounds we have seen at the Open Championship, and has only had a week to put that behind him. To some, this could be seen as a cause for concern, but I disagree. He is currently playing the best golf we have seen from him all year, and his putter is on fire. Mickelson also has a vast knowledge of the course, winning the 2005 PGA Championship there against Tiger Woods, and he has also been putting a lot of extra time in on the course with one of the club’s professionals.
3. Sergio Garcia
For years now, Sergio Garcia has been known as the golfer who just can’t seem to win the big one. Time and time again we see him in the thick of things, but is never able to pull off that major win. But, Sergio has been playing some masterful golf of late, placing in three straight top fives (one of them at the U.S. Open). He is consistently driving the ball well as always, but he’s also been abnormally consistent getting on the greens in regulation. The window is starting to close for Sergio’s shot at a major victory, but if he can use that to motivate him, he could be the third golfer to get his “major monkey” off his back this season.
4. Jordan Spieth
Yes, yes – Jordan Spieth again on a favorite list, but rightfully so. Spieth is a legitimate threat in every tournament, and this championship is no different. It is a known fact that putting is going the be one of the big keys to success this weekend, and he is one of the best putters on tour. It has been said that he has been frustrated with the fact that people are pinning his less-than-stellar season on his Masters collapse, and a win in this championship could quiet all of that talk. Spieth is a very emotional golfer, and if he can find a way to hone his emotions and use them as an asset, we will see a very determined player, with the skills and mentality of a major champion, on the course this week.
5. Rory McIlroy
Rumors have been swirling around Baltusrol, that McIlroy has been putting on a spectacle at the course range, and during practice rounds, with his ball striking. It is no secret that McIlroy possesses elite golf abilities, especially when it comes to his power off the tee, but it has been his approach shots that have hurt his rounds of late. If the rumors that he has found his groove again with his irons are true, and he can pair his booming drives with a solid and accurate followup shot, expect to see McIlroy make a run for yet another Major Championship.