The 97th PGA Championship returns to Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis., for the third time in 11 years, and for the third major championship in a row, competitors will be faced with a links-style test after Chambers Bay in the U.S. Open and the Old Course at St. Andrews in the Open Championship.
Pete Dye designed Whistling Straits, which skirts Lake Michigan and features more than 1,000 bunkers and sandy areas. Players should be a bit familiar with what they’ll encounter given that this is the fourth course they’ll play this year designed by Dye. The others: Harbour Town Golf Links, TPC Louisiana and TPC Sawgrass.
Offering a purse of $10 million the PGA Championship features several intriguing story lines, led by world No. 1 Rory McIlroy returning after missing the Scottish Open, the Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational after twisting his ankle playing soccer with friends. Dustin Johnson returns to the scene of one of his biggest heartbreaks; he led after 71 holes but grounded his four iron in one of those countless bunkers, incurring a two-stroke penalty and missing the three-hole playoff that Martin Kaymer won over Bubba Watson.
Finally, Jordan Spieth has a chance to make history. A victory would make him the first player in history to win all three American majors in one year: the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA. Furthermore, a top-five finish would make him just the fourth player to finish in the top-5 in all four majors in a year. The others: Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler.
The field of 156 includes 20 PGA club professionals, 98 of the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking and 15 past PGA winners, including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III.
CBS Sports lead golf analyst Nick Faldo assesses the course, the field and what to expect from some notable players.
Assess Whistling Straits, which is perhaps one of the most difficult layouts Pete Dye has ever devised, and that would be saying something.
Nick Faldo: It’s got amazing views, great shot values. It gets difficult where the golf course narrows, and guys have to play smart. The long hitters do have an advantage. Cutting the corners on some of the par-4s. The golf course, by the looks of it, could be quite firm. It might be breezy. So I think the longer guys, there are some pretty important tee shots, and they can really take advantage if they hit it in the right places.
Rory McIlroy, who has been sidelined by an ankle injury after getting hurt playing soccer with friends, will defend his title after missing the Open Championship at St. Andrews and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he also was defending champion. What do you expect to see from the No. 1 player in the world after the layoff?
Nick Faldo: He looks good. But he’s had 53 days off from competitive golf. I’ve got a feeling he’s going to be fine. His swing and his fitness look great. Physically he looks good, so it comes down to competitive rust. You’ve got to believe it’s there, so we’ll see how he handles that.
Fifteen players have made the PGA Championship their breakthrough major in the last 25 years. Why is this major championship seemingly so accessible to the previously uninitiated?
Nick Faldo: I think that’s changed a bit now. Tiger has won a couple. Rory has set the benchmark. But, yeah, we’ve got a new breed of golfer winning majors. There’s a changing of the guard, and it’s very cool. Golf is in a good position, and we have a lot of guys like Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Jimmy Walker, who could break through. So we might see another. A lot of recognizable talent out there right now. It’s good for the game.
Jordan Spieth has figured out how to prepare for majors. Two wins and a tie for fourth in the first three this year. A win this week would give him all three American championships, which never before has been done. What have you seen in his game that makes him so successful regardless of the venue?
Nick Faldo: The thing that’s quite unique about him is that he went into the 2014 Masters in ’13 and made it a goal of preparing for it. He takes the learning process and comes back a year later and blitzes everybody. So now, at the tender age of 21-22, he gives himself chances to win. For a man to be doing it at this age with less than five years of experience, he has a great way of going about it, a great process of preparation, of visualizing, of committing to the shot. Every great player can do that, but for him to have that great self-belief so early is quite extraordinary. If he keeps playing that focused, relaxed golf we’ll have the next 15 or so years to see how great he really is.
Phil Mickelson struggled last week at Firestone Country Club in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Tiger Woods has missed the cut in the last two majors? Their last wins each came in 2013. Are they on the decline or just in a lull, which happens to all great players?
Nick Faldo: Every athlete declines, but golf is the one sport where you can figure out another way to win after there’s a falloff. Golf is a torturous game because it dangles a carrot right in front of you. You shoot 65 one day and then you think, can you do it again? And you can’t. When you lose your game, it doesn’t matter what you’ve won in the past. It’s how good you are today and tomorrow. That’s the harshness of the game of golf. It doesn’t care if you won five majors or 14 majors. Are the nerves still there? Are the shots still there? There’s going to be a decline eventually. Is it happening now? They’re right there in the spotlight for every shot and we see what is going on. But they have to keep their conviction because you never know.
Keeping in mind the breakthrough possibilities, give us your favorites and dark horses
Nick Faldo: Justin Rose is playing very nicely. Had a little putting issue last week, but he is doing everything beautifully. I give Henrik Stenson a good chance, and Jason Day has been turning up at the last couple of majors. Justin Thomas hits it really long and high. J.B. Holmes is long off the tee. Jimmy Walker is a long hitter, too. They have been a little off but their names might pop up.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.