A lull in college basketball news and a major championship being contended just up the road provides a perfect opportunity to talk golf. I know this is a college basketball blog, but being the only SB Nation site from Wisconsin that doesn't have more pressing matters to discuss, the powers that be at AE figured we might as well try to provide some coverage of the 92nd PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, WI.
Although Milwaukee lost its annual stop on the PGA Tour, Wisconsin has become a mecca of destination golf and over the next decade will be a regular stop for professional golf major championships. In addition to this week's PGA Championship, Herb Kohler's Whistling Straits, which has already hosted the 2004 PGA Championship and the 2007 U.S. Senior Open, will play host to the 2015 PGA Championship and the 2020 Ryder Cup, perhaps the most prestigious event in golf. Herb Kohler's other golf complex, Blackwolf Run, will again play host to the U.S. Women's Open in 2012. Wisconsin's newest golf jewel, Erin Hills, opened in 2006 and has already undergone two separate renovations; it will play host to the 2011 U.S. Amateur before hosting the 2017 U.S. Open. Not too bad for a state that only plays golf six months out of the year.
After the jump, I break down the 18 golfers that in my unprofessional opinion have the best shot to win the 92nd PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
1. Steve Stricker - If Madison's own is in the hunt on Sunday, the course is going to be electric and will probably feel more like Lambeau Field. The world's 4th ranked player is on the short list of the dubious Best Player in the World to Have Never Won a Major list and despite wining several big tournaments over the past few years he hasn't been very successful in major championships. It would truly be a Cinderella story if the crowd favorite and all-around nice guy can pull off the biggest victory of his career in his home state.
2. Phil Mickelson - The current Masters Champion always seems to be a favorite to win a major championship. I'm not sure if this course suits his game since there is a premium on driving the ball in the fairway, but Phil Mickelson has a very good short game which might come in handy if he gets into any of the approximately 1,200 bunkers at Whistling Straits. Phil can overtake Tiger Woods as the world's number one golfer with a victory this week.
3. Graeme McDowell - The reigning U.S. Open Champion from Northern Ireland has stated this week that he's feeling very good about his game. He didn't have much success after his victory at Pebble Beach, becoming the first European player to win the U.S. Open in 40 years but admittedly felt additional pressure returning to Europe for the British Open and other European golf tournaments. As mentioned above, driving the ball in the fairway will be very important this week much like it is at the U.S. Open, a feat that McDowell was very successful at in June.
4. Hunter Mahan - Coming off a final round 64 and a victory at the World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational, he's playing very well and is 4th on the PGA Tour Money List. He's part of the new group of young American golfers poised to take the next step and win a major.
5. Rory McIllroy- The 21 year old phenom from Northern Ireland was the first round leader of the British Open at St. Andrews earlier this year after a course record 63, but a second round 80 hurt his chances to win. He'd rally for a tie for 3rd and is currently ranked 7th in the world rankings.
6. Ernie Els - He missed a six footer in 2004 that would have put him in the playoff of the last PGA Championship held at Whistling Straits so he's had some success on this course. He's currently leading the FedEx Cup Points standings on the PGA Tour and has won twice this year. Although he only has 2 U.S. Open victories and 1 British Open championship on his resume, he's been very successful in the major championships over the past two decades, posting 31 top 10's including a 3rd place finish at the 2010 U.S. Open.
7. Paul Casey - He was in contention at the 2010 British Open before a quadruple bogey on the 12th hole of St. Andrews. He's a very polished player and is another young player ready to take the next step in his career and win a major championship.
8. Jim Furyk- A very consistent player with a U.S. Open championship on his resume, he drives the ball very straight and plays very well on difficult courses. He might not be the flashiest player in the world but always seems to be on the leaderboard.
9. Tiger Woods - Its hard to leave Tiger Woods off of this list despite his lackluster 2010 campaign. He is still the number one ranked player in the world, for now. He is coming off one of his worst performances of his career last week, but he seems to always elevate his game for the major championships (tie for 4th at both the Masters and U.S. Open this year, along with a tie for 23rd at the British Open) as he continues to chase Jack Nicklaus' record 18 majors. Always under the media microscope, it would be a great story and be great for golf if Tiger won this week.
10. Rickie Fowler - Young American golfer having success on the 2010 PGA Tour looking to win his first major.
11. Rickie Barnes - See Rickie Fowler.
12. Padraig Harrington - Three-time major champion, including the 2008 PGA Championship, is playing better of late.
13. Stuart Appleby - Shot a 59 earlier this year and has success in recent PGA Championships.
14. Jerry Kelly - Wisconsin's other representative in the field. He hasn't been playing very well this year, but would love to win in his home state.
15. Jeff Overton - Has been one of the best players on tour over the past few months, but has been unable to earn his first victory on tour.
16. Justin Leonard - Lost in a playoff to Vijay Singh in 2004 but knows how to play the course. If the course is wet, his lack of distance may be a problem, but he's very good at staying out of trouble.
17. Louis Oosthuizen - Who? The winner of the 2010 British Open at St. Andrews looked very good in his victory driving the ball very straight and very long, a lethal combination at any course.
18. Vijay Singh - Won the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in 2004, so maybe he can go back-to-back.