Often derided as the fourth major, trailed way, way behind the other three, the PGA Championship has actually staged some of the best finishes in recent history.
The 2011 edition sets up for drama, with the Steve Williams soap opera filling up space and reminding us that anything Tiger Woods-related remains the hottest of hot stories. Add the fact that Woods is back playing in a major since the Masters, a bucket-load of non-major winners are closing in on hoisting one of the four big trophies, and Atlanta Athletic Club could be the scene of one exciting golf tournament.
Will an established star such as Woods, McIlroy or Mickelson rise? Is this the week Lee Westwood or Steve Stricker breaks through? Maybe the newest Y.E. Yang. Read on to see what The Sand Trap staff has to say about it all.
Who will win the 2011 PGA Championship? Score?
Ron Varrial: Steve Stricker, -8. The guy has played too well over the past couple years not to have been a real player in the biggest events. Sounds like driving it well will be a priority at Atlanta Athletic Club, and the PGA is just the stage Stricker can grab his first major title.
Jamieson Weiss: I'll take Rickie Fowler at -9. After picking Matt Kuchar for the first two majors and Adam Scott for the Open, I want to take Scott again, but he won last week, ad his odds of going back to back are roughly 0%. Fowler's on a pretty good streak of finishes, maybe this time he will pull one out.
Justin L. Pucheu: Nick Watney at -17.
Alan Olson: If he didn't blow up in the final round at the Masters, we would be talking about Rory McIlroy going for his third major of the year. He doesn't obliterate the field but wins by two with a final score of -8 (272).
Erik J. Barzeski: K.J. Choi wins at -9 (271). Guy has a predictable ball flight and can play difficult golf courses well. Of course, having chosen him now, he'll miss the cut (sorry K.J.!).
There have been six straight first-time major champs. Who has the best shot at winning his first major this week? Which of those six has best shot at making it number two?
Ron Varrial: As much as I don't care for the guy, Lee Westwood should have won by now, probably more than once. He's teetering on Monty territory but a visit to the Stockton camp and a Dr. Bob Rotella head examination should inject him with what he needs to get over the top. As for the recent winners, hard to argue with McIlroy's form at this point.
Jamieson Weiss: I'm sticking with Fowler as a solid pick to win his first major. Of the last six winners, Rory McIlroy is probably the most likely to repeat. He hasn't won since the U.S. Open, but he's been right there in almost every tournament.
Justin L. Pucheu: Gotta go with Luke Donald. The guy is on top of the world (golf rankings). Plus he quietly finished tied for second last weekend. I've got a lot of faith in the guy he tied with as well (Rickie Fowler). Day has been playing consistently well for a while too. Tough call, but still gotta go with Luuuukke. The only thing that bothers me is that he isn't the longest guy out there and I really hope he doesn't get in trouble by trying to keep up with Watney and Quiros. Of those six (Kaymer, McDowell, McIlroy, Clarke, Schwartzel, Oosthuizen, right???) I think three have a legit shot - McIlroy, Kaymer, and Schwartzel. Kaymer has only had one top 10 this year, so let's throw him out. McIlroy seems to be hotter than Schwartzel so, gotta go with McIlroy.
Alan Olson: Sergio Garcia has played well this year and finally gets his first major. See #1.
Erik J. Barzeski: Aside from my pick of K.J. Choi, Rickie Fowler's a hot pick but he hasn't closed out anything, so I'm not choosing him. Lee Westwood seems to fall down in the bigger events, but he still drives it better than Luke Donald, so I'll go with him. Of the six, Rory's the clear leader to get number two.
Name one top 10 player to miss the cut and one player outside the top 50 to finish top 10.
Ron Varrial: I can usually look at the Top 10 and see one name that sticks out, but right now, wow, the Top 10 is really solid, top to bottom. But since I have to answer, I'll go with Dustin Johnson. Subconsciously, he can't contend and choke again. I wouldn't be surprised if he simply shrinks away this week. As for a long-shot, I keep waiting for Ben Crane to emerge. Actually, as slow and painful as he is to watch, I'm not waiting for it, I'm fearing him getting big camera time on a Sunday. But Atlanta CC might right up his alley.
Jamieson Weiss: Inside the top 10 to miss the cut I'll take Phil Mickelson. Even though I doubt it will happen, he seems most likely out of those guys to have a total stinker. Sergio is still barely outside the top 50, so he might be the obvious pick, but I'm going with Keegan Bradley. He probably won't win, but I think a top 10 is well within his reach.
Justin L. Pucheu: I don't think anyone in the top 10 misses the cut, but if I had to pick one, it would be Dustin Johnson (by process of elimination). Player outside the top 50 to finish in the top 10 - gotta go Sergio (51) again, though Cink (85) could be a sneaky pick. After all, AAC is kinda almost his backyard.
Alan Olson: Lee Westwood goes home early. Davis Love III makes a nice run and finishes with a top ten.
Erik J. Barzeski: Adam Scott to miss the cut (sorry Stevie), and Tiger Woods to contend. Oh, wait, he's not outside the top 50 yet? Okay, Webb Simpson to contend.
Who will cash the smallest check this week? Adam Scott, Tiger Woods or Steve Williams?
Ron Varrial: Every time I think Tiger will be more fired up, more focused, he reminds that he's not the Tiger Woods we once knew. I wouldn't be shocked if he scrapes it around and finds a way into the mix, but I also wouldn't be shocked if he's gone by Saturday and I'm leaning that way (but not rooting for it, since a Tiger vs. Adam-Stevie final round, final group pairing would be phenomenal. So, to answer the question, Tiger makes $0, Adam finishes Top 25 and Steve Williams out-earns his old boss two weeks in a row.
Jamieson Weiss: Probably Steve Williams. I think both Tiger and Adam will have good weeks, possibly even similar weeks, which means Steve cashes a much, much smaller check than either of them.
Justin L. Pucheu: Odds are it's Stevie. The only way I think he'd make more than Tiger would be if Tiger finishes way back (or MC) and Adam Scott wins. I can't remember anyone winning the Bridgestone and then the PGA back to back. My memory sucks though.
Alan Olson: Tired of the drama already. Pass.
Erik J. Barzeski: Stevie. His mouth is writing checks his body can't cash. That doesn't really fit, but, well, I'm going with it.
High profile event leading into PGA: gets juices flowing or robs it of proper major buildup?
Ron Varrial: At the start of the WGC, I thought it would steal the thunder. But it proved to be a nice appetizer, a strong week to get the focus back after a few quiet summer weeks. Of course, who could have imagined we'd have the fireworks just after Adam Scott holed out on the 72nd hole. More caddie coverage that in the history of golf. Not a fan of it all, but it got the buzz going. Really looking forward to this week's PGA, more than any PGA in recent years. Really feels like the culmination of months of the "changing of the guard" talk and it'll be interesting to see if one of the older champs can seize back some juice for the 35-plus set.
Jamieson Weiss: I like the lead-in of the Bridgestone. It's simply one more chance to see all of the best golfers on the same course, and I'll take that any time I can get it.
Justin L. Pucheu: Gets it going, gets people excited to watch the final major. This last weekend was a bit of an anomaly in that it took drama over the top, but still the same principle applies - people are excited to watch.
Alan Olson: We get to see the best in the world play two weekends in a row. That is a good thing.
Erik J. Barzeski: I'm good with it. Storylines build to a crescendo, ideally.