Widely known in the golfing world as ‘glory’s last shot’, the U.S. PGA Championship represents the final chance of the year to lay claim to a major championship title. Add to that the fact that it contains the strongest field of the season and with Ryder Cup qualification on the line this year, it promises to be an extremely exciting spectacle.
This year the event is staged at Whistling Straits Golf Course; a 7600 yard Wisconsin coastal layout with over 900 bunkers, where 500 yard par fours are the norm, as are 600 yard par fives. However, the course only really shows its teeth when the wind blows – which it is expected to do above 15mph all of this week. Sound familiar to a certain style of golf in Britain? Many golf purists will argue that ‘links golf’ is an esoteric term reserved only for courses located inside Great Britain and Ireland deemed worthy of the term by men in red blazers. But make no mistake, links golf will be the order of the day at Whistling Straits, and those who know how to play it should be licking their chops.
Justin Leonard is coming off a long overdue good performance at the Bridgestone Invitational last week and needs a very good finish at the PGA if he’s to be considered for the American Ryder Cup side. Hailing from West Texas, Leonard is no stranger to playing in windy conditions; he is after all a former Open Champion. He will, however, have mixed memories from Whistling Straits – which hosted the PGA Championship for the first time in 2004. Leonard led for most of the final round in that Championship, before bogeying the final hole to fall into a 3 way playoff which was ultimately won by Vijay Singh. If Leonard can play his links finest this week, he might just be the surprise package of the field.
Another man who has unfinished business at Whistling Straits is Ernie Els. He missed that playoff in 2004 by a single shot after three putting the final green, and is now ready for some more major success. Els’ fabulous record in the Open Championship (which he won in 2002), demonstrates that he has a penchant for links golf, and he possesses the sort of deft touch from the sand that ought to come in useful on a course practically buried in it. Therefore perhaps his real test will be whether he has the mental state to last the 72 holes. Els has suffered an abundance of major championship near misses in recent years, not least at the hands of Messrs Woods and Mickelson. But with the world’s top two players struggling badly for form at the moment, the door might once again be ajar for the big South African.
And of course this is to not consider the European challenge, which is undoubtedly a formidable one. It’s been an astonishingly successful season for European golf stateside, with no less than five separate winners on the PGA Tour, any one of whom could win again this week. However, one man yet to break his duck across the pond (no pun intended) is Germany’s Martin Kaymer; a player who possesses the complementing attributes of immense raw power and steely Bavarian grit. Not only should his low driving iron shots suit him well in the winds of Wisconsin, but perhaps more critically, his demeanour is seemingly entirely unflappable. Indeed stoicism might just be the tool in Kaymer’s armoury which sees him unlock the brutal links layout this week.
In 2004, 72 holes weren’t enough to separate the field and with no clear favourite this time around, you have to expect it to be close again. There’s just so much at stake: Ryder Cup points, the world #1 ranking spot, and of course actually winning the Wanamaker Trophy itself. Saddle up, it’s glory’s last shot.