Five Storylines Heading Into 100th PGA Championship

PGA Championship

August 9th, 2018

St. Louis, Missouri, United States

The 100th PGA Championship is commencing today from historic Bellerive Country Club. With all eyes on St. Louis, the best golfers have one last opportunity to showcase their arsenal of talents, trying to win the season’s final major championship. History will be made as a new centennial of PGA Championships take shape, with this being the last time the tournament will be played in August. Taking place at Bellerive, a golf course that has seen prominent champions like Bobby Jones, Gary Player, and Nick Price win major championships only adds to the allure of winning the Wanamaker Trophy. Here are my five storylines heading into the this year’s PGA Championship.

All Eyes on Tiger Woods

This week’s tournament will be Tiger Woods’ 14th start this season, the most amount of competition he has played since 2013. No golfer has won the PGA Championship 42 years or older since Lee Trevino in 1984.

But heading into this week, Tiger is coming off a subpar performance at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he shot two rounds in the 70’s on Saturday and Sunday. He spent the Monday recovering in ice baths, demonstrating the toll playing golf has on the superstar. Because of inclement weather, he only played five holes in his practice round on Tuesday and the back nine of Bellerive on Wednesday. So it is extremely clear that Woods is coming into this week with little preparation.

“There’s going to be certain days that I’m just not going to have the speed and the flexibility and the movement that I once did. I’m 42 now, and I’ve had four back surgeries. So things are going to be different from day-to-day, and it’s just about managing it,” says Woods.

At the Open Championship, Tiger was standing on the 11th tee with the lead. But poor shots on the 11th and 12th at Carnoustie led to a double bogey and bogey respectively, putting him out of contention for the Claret Jug. But seeing his name in the mix was important for Tiger, as it has been so long since that has happened due to injuries.

“Considering that I didn’t do very well in the previous major championship, and I missed the cut, so to go from missing the cut there to contending and at one point leading The Open on the back nine, it felt good. It felt very familiar.”

The golf world is eager to see Tiger contend at Bellerive on the back nine on Sunday. He is a golfer who hits the ball high, which will be advantageous given that the conditions on the course will be soft throughout the week. While a victory is only recorded for a tournament win, Tiger is cognizant of how his comeback to playing a regular schedule on the PGA Tour can be considered a tremendous morale boost.

“Just the fact that I’m playing the TOUR again, it’s been — just for me to be able to have this opportunity again is — it’s a dream come true. I said this many times this year, I didn’t know if I could do this again, and lo and behold, here I am. So just coming back and being able to play at this level and compete — I’ve had my share of chances to win this year as well, and hopefully, I’ll get it done this week.”

Jordan Spieth Attempts to Secure Career Grand Slam

When Jordan Spieth arrived at Quail Hollow last year, the golf world was in a craze. After winning the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, questions and hype swirled around Spieth trying to win the Career Grand Slam by adding a Wanamaker Trophy to his resume. While those questions still remain, Spieth feels ready to take on the challenge and get back to the winner’s circle, something he has not been able to do this year.

“I feel somewhat under the radar this year. I’ve kind of felt that way a lot this year, I don’t mind it,” says Spieth. “This tournament will always be circled until I’m able to hopefully win it someday. It will always be circled to complete the career Grand Slam, which will ultimately achieve a life-long goal for me. So certainly emphasis in my head on it, but nothing overpowering, nothing that takes over once I start on the first tee, just more going into the week.”

By Spieth’s standards, it has been an off year for him. Other than a third-place finish at The Masters and the 54-hole lead at the Open Championship, the star golfer has not been in contention to win tournaments. Largely it has been his decline in driving accuracy off the tee and his consistently strong putting performances, which he used to win his three major championships. This year, he is 165th in strokes gained-putting (-.247) and 118th in driving accuracy percentage (59.98%), two areas of his game that he needs to improve if he is going to win this week.

“It’s important to pick your spots when you get good numbers and really pick apart the golf course, figure out where the right misses are, figure out how to protect par as the worst score, and kind of get a feel for what the scores are that day, what’s — where attack mode is, where — if scores are 1 or 2-under, then you obviously feel like you’ve got to play for the fatter parts of greens. But if guys are tearing it up, you start to see that you can maybe attack a little bit more,” stated Spieth.

There have been many superstar golfers who are in Spieth’s current position with three majors and don’t have the fourth. Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson never won the PGA. Phil Mickelson is still searching for that elusive U.S. Open. But with Jordan’s talent and ability to put himself in contention for major championships, sooner than later he will join the elite company of Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods with all four majors.

“I’m working in the right direction, I’m doing the right things, and again you get yourself in position enough, the bounces will go your way.”

Will England Finally Secure a PGA Championship?

Not only does England have a winless streak of the World Cup that dates back to 1966, but also there has not been an English golfer to win the PGA Championship in the stroke play era. With 14 golfers from England this week, they all will be competing for a chance to bring the Wanamaker Trophy home.

No golfer has played more consistently this summer than Tommy Fleetwood. After shooting a 63 at the U.S. Open in the final round to finish runner-up, Fleetwood has been in contention at The Open Championship and the WGC-Bridgestone last week in Akron. But it is clear the Englishman feels more comfortable playing on the bigger stage in majors.

“I feel like the tougher challenges, tougher courses have suited me this year whilst I’ve been on my game and I’ve been playing well,” says Fleetwood. “Majors four times a year are the ones that everybody wants to win and the ones everybody looks at. Since I’ve been playing well in the Majors, I tend to look at them more, and I have a sense of confidence and belief that I totally can get over the line and win one.”

Justin Rose, a former U.S. Open champion, would love to end the drought for English golfers at the PGA Championship. Despite coming into the tournament with a back injury, Rose is feeling comfortable with his swing and his chances of winning this week.

“Certainly, it is time to end the 99-year drought,” said Rose. “I’m playing well enough to do it, and there’s a bunch of us playing well enough to do it. Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, the older statesmen, are still looking for their first major. Within the top 50, there are a ton of quality English players. So the theory of large numbers has to start playing in our favor here soon.”

Reed, Koepka, Molinari Looking to Secure Player of the Year Honours

Masters champion Patrick Reed, U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and Open champion Francesco Molinari will be playing in the same group the first two days. And these three are all looking to win their second major of the season at the PGA, securing the honour of Player of the Year.

Reed would be the fifth player to have won the Masters and PGA in the same year. Koepka would also be the fifth player to win both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in the same season. Molinari is looking to be the first player since Rory McIlroy in 2014 to win the Open and PGA back to back.

“When you win a Major, especially the Masters being the first one of the year, mentally and physically, the year becomes tougher. There’s a lot more obligations, a lot more things that go on with winning a Major that people don’t see behind the scenes,” said Reed. “I feel like I’ve handled that very well. I feel like I’ve gotten myself where, mentally and physically, I’m ready to go on and play, and the biggest thing is you just have to go into it thinking it’s just another golf tournament.”

For Koepka, many people believed that he would not win a major this year after suffering a wrist injury. But he has beaten the odds and now has a chance to make history by adding a third major to his repertoire.

“You feel like I guess part of your life’s just been put on hold for a while. It’s not fun. I went through a little bit of a phase where I really didn’t want to do anything for a while. And then to finally come back, that excitement level, to be hitting balls again, there was nobody more excited, still nobody more excited to be playing than me,” stated Koepka.

And then there is Molinari, who has captivated the golf world with his terrific play this summer, winning his first two PGA Tour events at the Quicken Loans and The Open Championship. Going bogey-free for 37 holes is a stellar accomplishment and it is a mindset that Francesco hopes to emulate going into this week.

“I don’t think the mindset is any different. I know how hard I work to win at Carnoustie, and it’s not going to get any easier just because you’ve won once. If anything, it will be probably harder because there’s less time to prepare and more pressure and more expectations,” said Molinari. “So the mindset is the same, try to make the most of all the hours of preparation I can have in the next couple of days and then just do my thing, go through the process like I did at Carnoustie, like I did at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, even without winning. I think the main thing for me is not being obsessed by results and just being obsessed by what I can control and let the results be just the end product of that.

The Conditions of Bellerive Country Club

A lot of talk leading up to the PGA has been how Bellerive will fair with the world’s best golfers. Playing at 7316 yards, the course is the third shortest in PGA Championship history, meaning longer hitters will have an opportunity to attack if they hit the fairway.

12 of the 14 holes that are not par 3’s feature are dogleg left. This will favour golfers like Patrick Reed, who can naturally draw the ball right to left.

“Being a drawer of the golf ball, it fits my eye really well. A lot of those tee shots I’m comfortable setting up, aiming down the right side and being able to turn back to the fairway, since that’s my normal shot,” said Reed.

But with rain earlier this week, the course has been extremely soft. Balls have stopped without much movement on the fairway and greens, allowing players who hit the ball extremely high to have the opportunity to use their irons to shape quality shots to the green.

“Right now it doesn’t really favor anyone because it’s playing so soft. The ball is just plugging out there, and if anything, it favors a guy who hits the ball high,” said Woods. “Because we’re not going to get any run, it’s not going to dry out the rest of the week. It’s going to be hot, it’s going to be wet, and fortunately, I’m one of the guys who hit the ball high and get the ball up in the air, and you just need to get the ball out there.”

13 of the last 14 major winners have been in the top 20 of strokes gained tee to green. On a course where there are tons of birdie opportunities, expect to see the best golfers take advantage of receptive conditions by firing low scores. In a city rich with sports and golf history, Bellerive will provide quite the send-off for Glory’s Last Shot, starting a new centennial on the right foot.