Oakland Hills the likely winner at PGA
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2008 US PGA Championship | Preview | 06 Aug 2008
The last major of the year, and perhaps the last major that golf’s mere mortals will have to take advantage of Tiger Wood’s absence, gets underway on Thursday at the famous or maybe infamous Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills in Michigan.
Infamous, as this golf course promises to be one of the most demanding major championship layouts many in this field have ever faced.
The South Course layout has hosted two previous PGA Championships, six US Opens, a US Amateur Championship and most recently the 2004 Ryder Cup Championship.
Oakland Hills is located around 40 minutes drive to the north west of Detroit, often known as “Motor City”, and was an original Donald Ross layout (1916), rebuilt by Robert Trent Jones Sr in 1951 and upgraded by his son, Rees, in 2006.
The recent upgrade by Rees Jones has added 475 yards to a layout last used for a major championship at the 1996 US Open and ensures that the fairway bunkering has also kept pace with the modern era in that its repositioning will play a key role in demanding accuracy from the tee.
“The fairways have been mown from green to tee adding extra length because of the fact that the grain is always against the players,” said Peter Lonard on Tuesday.
This is a golf course that will test every aspect of a potential winner’s game as the greens also are heavily contoured and while not as fast as at some of the other major championship, promise to be a real handful.
Phil Mickelson indicated last week at the Bridgestone that he is ready for a big week this week. Admittedly he let slip a great opportunity but that he was even in a position to falter tells the story of a golfer close to his best. As the leading world ranked player in the event, Mickelson deserves favouritism, even if just by a narrow margin.
Sergio Garcia was a huge disappointment at the Open Championship but his form prior was very good and it would not surprise me to see him contending again this week. There was enough to like about his effort in Ohio last week to suggest he could do just that.
Ernie Els had one bad stretch of holes at the Bridgestone last week but, that aside, his form in recent weeks has not been too bad at all. Els plays well on this type of course and actually finished 5th at Oakland Hills the last time he played here at the US Open in 1996.
Padraig Harrington returned to tournament golf last week at the Bridgestone and was not all that impressive although given it was his first tournament back after such a momentous week at Royal Birkdale, he can be forgiven a letdown of sorts. He could bounce back very quickly on a golf course that will suit the grinding type of player that he is.
Vijay Singh had, until last week, become the forgotten man to a large extent in world golf. He missed the cut at the Open Championship but his form had not been too bad earlier and now with his brilliant win last week in Ohio behind him and confidence in his return to the belly putter, he stands a good chance of winning his third PGA Championship and his fourth major.
Stewart Cink missed the cut at the Open and was less than impressive last week although to be fair it was only a stretch of four or five holes on Saturday which prevented him from contending. If he can rediscover his pre-Open form he has a chance to win his first major.
Lee Westwood’s record in 2008 is that of a man on the verge of major championship victory. He was perhaps disappointing at the Open Championship but last week so nearly won the Bridgestone and seems to have been in contention in nearly everything else this year. It might just be that Westwood claims the unwanted mantle of being the best player in golf at present without major to his name. If that changed this week nobody would be surprised.
Jim Furyk is back to near his grinding best with several good finishes of late. This is the type of golf course that Furyk has often thrived on and he might do so again. He ran in the midfield at last week’s Bridgestone but he was very good prior and can be expected to do well.
Retief Goosen has been AWOL for some time in terms of his status in the game but there has been clear evidence in recent starts that such a slump is drawing to a close. It is a slump many would be pleased to have endured but Goosen has not been at his normal self. Another good week last week has him on the verge of returning to a level where contention in another major is not out of the question.
Kenny Perry has a game that should suit this golf course. He is one of the great drivers of the golf ball on the PGA Tour and Oakland Hills will destroy someone who isn’t. He was a little ordinary last week compared to his recent run of form, albeit against lesser fields in the main, but he could well be a chance.
Steve Stricker appeared to be on a downward spiral until reversing his form in recent starts. His 7th place finish at the Open Championship was very encouraging and given that he was raised in this region or at least in the neighbouring Wisconsin he will have a lot of support. He had an average week last week in Ohio but there are genuine signs of a recovery
Henrik Stenson has not played a lot this year but he has done well enough when he has. His recent third place at the Open Championship reminded us all once again that he is a world class player at best. His last round of 67 at the Bridgestone gives every indication that he is close to that best and he might just be the‘smokey’ in this field.
Robert Karlsson is the other Swede who could do very well. He is in the middle of a stunning run of consistent form in events everywhere this year. He was 20th last week in Ohio and importantly has been inside the top ten in each of the majors this season.
Anthony Kim was very impressive on his debut at the Open Championship and he followed that up with a good week in Canada when 8th. This is a young player who will win major championships and if it was to be this soon in his yet fledgling career then few would be surprised. He was just average last week in Ohio but the two time PGA Tour winner in 2008 could well be contending again this week.
Stuart Appleby so nearly won the Bridgestone last week and will be buoyed by that effort. He started this season off well but in recent weeks had been compiling only midfield finishes. Last week’s effort gives hope to his chances this week.
Of the Australians, Stuart Appleby has already been mentioned and will be joined by the inform Robert Allenby and Peter Lonard, Adam Scott who carries an illness cloud, Geoff Ogilvy who seems to have lost his way the last couple of starts, Aaron Baddeley who recovered well from a slow start last week, Rod Pampling, Nick O’Hern, Richard Green, Steve Elkington, Mathew Goggin, Brendan Jones, John Senden and Scott Strange while New Zealanders Michael Campbell and Mark Brown, who will play his first major championship, have also earned starts.
The tournament has prizemoney of US$7 million with US$1.26 million to the winner.