The Final Major: 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine

The PGA TOUR plays the final major championship of the year at Hazeltine National Golf Club this week.  The 91st PGA Championship will boast the toughest field ever with 100 of the top 101 golfers, according to the Official World Golf Rankings, committed this week.  The TOUR is coming off a duel tournament week with the World Golf Championship event – the Bridgestone Invitational – and the PGA TOUR event – the Legends Reno-Tahoe Open.  Tiger Woods came from behind to beat Padraig Harrington at the Bridgestone, while John Rollins won by three shots in Las Vegas at the Legends.

At the Bridgestone Invitational, the duel between Woods and Harrington was one that so many thought would be the marquee match up this season.  It went to the 16th hole, where Woods’ birdie and Harrington’s triple-bogey swung the tournament.  In Las Vegas, Rollins was not seriously challenged during his even-par, 72, final round at the Legends Reno-Tahoe Open, notching his first victory of the 2009 PGA TOUR season.

Hazeltine was the setting for the 2002 PGA Championship, where Rich Beem held off a charging Woods to win his only major title.  As always, Woods is the favorite coming in especially coming off back-to-back wins.  Prior to the Bridgestone Invitational, Woods won the Buick Open by three shots after facing much criticism after finishing the first round of the Buick in 95th place.  Harrington is the defending champion this week and comes into Hazeltine off his best finish of the season.  Could we see another Woods-Harrington battle?  Or, will we see guys like Hunter Mahan, Anthony Kim or Rory McIlroy emerge as major winners?

Five questions heading into the PGA Championship:

  1. Can Sergio Garcia pass the “Best Player Without a Major” tag to another unwilling victim?
  2. Can Tweeting Stewart Cink make it two in a row?
  3. Can veterans Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh or Kenny Perry surprise the field?
  4. Will Tiger get one step closer to Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors?
  5. Will Phil Mickelson break his major slump in what would be a heart-felt win?

So, who will win?  My top three are Tiger Woods, Hunter Mahan and Lee Westwood.  Reasons…Woods comes into the week winning two in a row and wants to erase the memory of the missed cut at the British Open.  Hunter Mahan has played better as the summer went on and is the one young player that seems ready to capture a major championship.  It seems to be Lee Westwood’s time as the seasoned veteran came close at the British Open and has contended at majors in the past.

My players to watch this week are Phil Mickelson, Anthony Kim, Geoff Ogilvy, Rory McIlroy and Stewart Cink.  They all have interesting stories behind them.  Mickelson has had a rough summer with both his wife and mother being diagnosed with breast cancer.  It would be fitting that the player many fans are pulling for breaks his major slump.  Geoff Ogilvy has been quiet of late after getting 2009 off to a fiery start.  Anthony Kim and Rory McIlroy are both young, talented players and seem to be on the brink of special careers and winning their first major would help get that going.  Finally, for Cink, it is always interesting to see how a first-time major champion plays at the next big event.

Image credit: ventileit

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