It’s referred to as Glory’s Last Shot.
For some it can be the culmination of a great season.
For others it can salvage a poor or mediocre season. For still others (Shawn Micheel and Rich Beem), it can put their name on the golf landscape. For Phil Mickelson the tune-up is over. All the tires are changed. There is fuel in the tank. It’s time to run the race.
The PGA Championship returns to Chaska, MN this week - home to Hazeltine National Golf Club. At 7,674 yards and with four juicy par 5’s it looks to favor the big hitter. This can be deceiving though as three of the par fives look to be reachable in two by only the longest of hitters. In 2002, over this same track, Rich Beem (see picture below) withstood a furious Tiger Woods challenge and emerged from nowhere to become a part of golf lore. Will a no-name emerge from this year’s field to capture the 91st edition of Glory’s Last Shot? Always a possibility I guess, but it seems improbable.
With Tiger Woods coming off back-to-back victories and plenty of big names looking to add a spark to a lackluster year the champion is going to come from the ranks of the elite.
Tiger has to be the hands down favorite. But it is at times like this - when everyone is ready to hand him the trophy without a golf stroke being completed - that Tiger is beatable. Maybe the players get tired of hearing that they are competing for 2nd and up the concentration level a notch. Maybe (though I seriously doubt it) Tiger starts believing his own press and becomes complacent. All that being said however, if Tiger is still around after the cut, he will win this year’s last major. As we’ve seen in the past couple of weeks, a dismal opening round does not spell the end of the tournament for Mr. Woods.
Others to watch? Of course Phil, who can win anywhere, anytime, on any kind of track. That’s if he can find a way to put over 50% of his drives in the fairway or first cut. Though I can’t remember who (maybe Faldo), someone referred to Phil’s first round in last weeks WGC-Bridgestone tournament as all smoke and mirrors. I tend to agree. Unless Phil can produce more consistency than magic this week he may have a difficult time. However, he is paired with David Toms and Paul Azinger in the first two rounds and that can’t help but add to his comfort level. And as usual Phil will have great fan support.
Others among the elite who may contend: From across the pond so to speak I like Vijay Singh this week as well as Paul Casey, Retief Goosen, Padraig Harrington and Henrik Stenson. Another name who keeps popping up (and has been pesky in majors) is Miguel Angel Jiminez. The hair’s got to go but the man has game. Don’t forget Lee Westwood. He has publicly stated he is ready to put a major championship on his resumé and if last week is any indicator he appears to have his putter working.
Closer to home Kenny Perry stands out again (although he seems to have been flying under the radar a bit lately). After coming so close at the Masters he will have some sentimental backing at Hazeltine. Steve Stricker has a nose for the top in big competitions and if his putter stays at its normal temperature he has a better than most shot of taking home the hardware. Scott Verplank and Hunter Mahan are two others to keep in your peripheral vision. Stewart Cink - coming off his bittersweet British Open victory - may also be worth watching.
Shamelessly taking a page from Charlie Rymer/Andrew McGee and Alex Micili I’ll list my darkhorse, my contender and my winner in this week’s PGA:
Darkhorse – Prayed Marksaeng, Contender – Lee Westwood, Winner – Tiger Woods…No wait a minute, Darkhorse – Ross Fisher, Contender – Phil Mickelson, Winner – Tiger Woods…Or maybe Darkhorse – Boo Weekly, Contender – Henrik Stenson, Winner – Tiger Woods. Another possibility might be, Darkhorse – Rory Sabbatini, Contender – Kenny Perry, Winner – Tiger Woods. Wait, hold the phone, Darkhorse – Fred Couples, Contender – Stewart Cink, Winner – Tiger Woods.
Well, if your looking for this year’s winner, you get the point. The rest is not so clear.