Who can crash this party? As we look toward the final major of the year, we also look back to get an indication of who can lift the 2013 USPGA Championship title at Oak Hill.
What we see is quite a rare situation for golf, certainly in recent times. Four of the world’s top five currently hold a major apiece and the one who doesn’t, world No 1 Tiger Woods, well, he has tried to compensate for the empty space on his mantlepiece by winning five tournaments in 11 starts this year, which is frightening even by his standards.
You could draw parallels between golf and tennis right now and how the power pack at the top on the men’s ATP rankings predominantly share out their own equivalent of majors, Grand Slams, amongst themselves; Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and our own hero, Andy Murray. Only three male players have picked up a Grand Slam since 2004 outside of these four and none has managed to repeat the feat.
The situation may change soon with injury continuing to dog Nadal and time catching up with Federer, who currently ‘languishes’ at No 5, his first time out of the top four in ten years. However, this is widely accepted as a golden age in tennis, where we have been fortunate to see four exceptional talents battle it out together, delivering spectacle, excellence and drama that will last long in the memory.
Are we then to assume we are in for a similar golden age with golf as we look at the heavyweights currently at the top of the rankings? It certainly is a mouth-watering prospect to consider when you look at those involved: Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Adam Scott.
However, what I will say is that it is will be much harder for this to happen. During a golf tournament you are not attempting to overcome a handful of opponents in a sequence, you are battling the whole field at once, which usually numbers in excess of 100 opponents.
There will be up to 156 at this weekend’s USPGA. This is borne out by that fact that, since 2004, there have been 26 different winners of the four golf majors. And yet, despite the stats, I’m finding it hard to see past these guys this weekend. Who could crash their party?
The view over in the US is that Keegan Bradley is the man most likely. A winner of the same tournament in his Rookie year in 2011, he has just come off the back of second place in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week and is strongly fancied. But the other player who came second last week, Henrik Stenson, is my favourite to take Rory’s title.
I have played with Henrik and I know he has the strength and fortitude to come through for a major. He was the only player who didn’t wither in the white heat of Mickelson’s afterburners at The Open and he showed up well again last week.
Gone are the days of his issues with the driver; he used to put it 70 yards right and sometimes reverted to using no tee to limit this. Henrik now carries a 3 wood and was ranked No 1 in driving accuracy last week, and Oak Hill is a course that demands an accurate tee shot. It could be his time.
Another player who believes this course will reward those straight and long and has said so this week is Lee Westwood. He’s got a great coaching set-up around him and it is clear he is determined to work as hard as is necessary to step into the winning circle at a major and I will be rooting for him this weekend.
Sergio Garcia is another player I feel for and would like to see triumph. His is such an exceptional talent. They say you could walk along the practice ground with a blindfold on and identify Sergio simply by the sweet sound of his ball striking. It would be such a shame if that talent didn’t gain the recognition of a Major win.
Of the top five, only McIlroy is struggling. Pardon the cliché but, for me, Rory is the embodiment of the belief that form is temporary and class is permanent and Rory is a class act. Golf is an easy game when you hit it 340 yards down the middle and there is no doubt it is his driving he is struggling with and, consequently, his overall game is suffering.
Rory is a player who operates at maximum with a full and fast swing, which makes it more vulnerable to any marginal error. I guess what I’m saying is there may not be a lot to fix but what error there is has a more profound effect on Rory than others. Let’s hope it clicks for him soon.
Who will win this week? It is hard to pick between the old adversaries of Woods and Mickelson. Woods was so dominant last week and, going back to his strike rate of five events in 11 in 2013, it is a truly impressive season. To put it into perspective, no other player has won more than twice in the US this year.
This form cements Woods as the best golfer in the world this year and a worthy favourite for the bookies. But – and it’s a big but – Mickelson is a different player now in the manner he approaches majors. I wrote ahead of the US Open that he was maybe too ‘gung ho’ for Merion. How wrong I was. Mickelson was meticulous in the way he navigated that course, using his 3 wood to devastating effect.
His new approach was further exemplified at Muirfield when he produced ‘the round of his life’ to come through and lift the Open. Again the 3 wood was central to his success. Phil hits his 3 wood so far that there will be no disadvantage for him at Oak Hill this weekend and it should, in fact, put him in a position to apply the rest of his game as effectively as possible.
This weekend, there really is no picking between Woods and Mickelson, the top two players in the world. It makes for a fantastic tournament and, like tennis observers, we need to remind ourselves how fortunate we are to be witnessing these great talents playing together at the same time.
• Sam Torrance writes exclusively for The Scotsman in his role as Caledonia Best Clubhouse Captain. For more information on the brand visit www.caledoniabest.com