With Tiger Woods' old caddy Stevie Williams on the bag and a suddenly trusty putter under his chin, Scott has leapt into the conversation for best player in the world right now. His dominant win at the Bridgestone showed that he could win on a tough track against a major-caliber field — exactly what he's facing this week. Still only 31, Scott could finally be poised to deliver on all that promise.
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Rory is an all-American golfer who just happens to be Irish. By his own admission, he dislikes the unpredictability of links golf and prefers good old American target golf, where his superior shotmaking can shine brightest. In other words, he's a perfect candidate to win multiple PGA Championships. He almost won this event at Whistling Straits last year. Get ready to see plenty more of Rory stateside in coming years.
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Ladies and gentleman, the last American to win a major. That's right - Mickelson's 2010 Masters win was glory's last shot for the Yanks. The drought almost ended at Royal St. Georges, though. For 11 holes on Sunday at the British Open, Lefty was electric, firing at pins and draining putts in vintage Mickelson fashion. Can he harness that magic for four days in the Georgia heat? The last time the PGA visited Atlanta Athletic Club, Mickelson had a win snatched away by David Toms' epic up-and-down on the 72nd hole. Lefty's major window is slowly closing, and he wants this tournament desperately. Maybe too desperately.
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It's hard to ignore the No. 1 player in the World Golf Ranking, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I'll say it again: Donald has to prove it on a major Sunday. He's getting closer; his record this season in the elite-field WGC events — a win, a T6 and a T2 — is stellar, and he was in contention at the Masters. The PGA seems like a likely spot for a breakthrough, a la Payne Stewart circa 1989.
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The defending PGA Champion has been a disappointment this season. Other than a January win in Abu Dhabi and a brief reign atop the World Golf Ranking, Kaymer has been largely invisible, missing the cut at The Masters and failing to contend at either the U.S. or British Opens. His talent is undeniable, though, and we can only hope that he contends so we can catch a glimpse of world-class WAG Allison Micheletti.
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Day has done everything but win this season, finishing T2 at The Masters, second at the U.S. Open and T4 at the Bridgestone and surging to seventh in the World Golf Ranking. He's played his best golf this season south of the Mason-Dixon line, and he'll hold up in the sweltering conditions. Basically, the kid's a major waiting to happen, and it could happen this week.
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Speaking of Southern-fried talent, Kuchar is a former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket who'll feel like he's on home turf this week. But after posting eight top-10 finishes through the Memorial, Kuchar has backslid in recent weeks, missing the cut at the British and Canadian Opens, and his major resume doesn't exactly scream contender. But familiar surroundings and a friendly, supportive crowd could carry Kooch to that elusive breakthrough.
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Over the last 14 months, DJ has melted down in the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open when it was his tournament to lose; lost a spot in a playoff to a untimely grounded club at the 2010 PGA; and lost the 2011 British on a wayward 2-iron shot lost out of bounds. It's fair to wonder if this insanely talented 27-year-old can handle the big stage. But if Mickelson comparisons are fair — and I think they are — that means that there are majors in this guy's future. Don't be surprised if he's on the leaderboard on Sunday.
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Stricker just keeps chugging along, his post-40 renaissance in full bloom. He's won twice this year, including his third straight win at the John Deere Classic. But ever since his runner-up finish to Vijay Singh at the 1998 PGA, he really hasn't come close to winning a major. For now, he's firmly ensconced in Kenny Perry territory — great career, but in history's second tier. A major could change that.
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A year ago, this tournament was Watney's to lose, and lose it he did, squandering a three-shot lead with a final-round 81 at Whistling Straits. Watney enters the PGA as the leader in FedExCup points, a nice accomplishment but sorry substitute for major glory. Still, Watney has won twice this year against major-caliber fields, at the WGC-Cadillac and the AT&T. He's as likely a candidate as any to end America's major drought, which is now six tournaments long.
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This was supposed to be Westwood's breakthrough season. Hasn't happened. Aside from wins in Korea and Indonesia, Westwood has been MIA for most of this season, aside from an essentially meaningless T3 at the Rory-dominated U.S. Open, and he's still stinging from a stunning missed cut at the British. Still, it's impossible to dismiss Westwood's six top-three finishes in his last eight majors. He'll be lurking this week.
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Is Woods really a contender this week? Probably not, but if I didn't include him, he'd go out and win the thing for sure. Woods, whose last Tour win came at the 2009 BMW, continues to shed sponsors and supporters and had to endure the spectacle of his former caddie outshining him at his comeback tournament. He's cornered right now, which means he's dangerous. At least I hope so — a toothless Tiger is no good for anyone.
A new tee constructed during Rees Jones’ renovation in 2006 adds 25 yards to this dogleg left that bends past a heavily bunkered right side and a stand of tall trees on the left. Most players will throttle back off the tee with a wood or hybrid, leaving a short iron in for a shot at birdie. The ball should stay below the hole on a green surrounded by bunkers.
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A par 5 for the members, this hole, the longest par 4 on the course, demands a right-to-left tee shot to a narrow well-bunkered landing zone. Avoiding the thick rough and trees along the left side sets up a longer iron to a green reconfigured in 2006 to add a back-right hole location.
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A prevailing wind adds difficulty to an already challenging hole. Players will favor the left side of the fairway to avoid the bunker complex and trees on the opposite side. A large green, pinched by bunkers on either side, runs quickly from back to front.
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The scenic lake that protects the front of the green also surrounds the left side and wraps around in back. Selecting the right club from a new tee — especially when the wind blows — will probably be the biggest factor in hitting this narrow green. Playing from the sand behind the green to a pin tucked against the water could be a harrowing shot.
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To defend a hole that played as the easiest on the course at the 2001 PGA Championship, several changes were made. A new tee adds 25 yards of length and cross bunkers were built at the 100-yard mark, forcing players to decide between laying up short of them or challenging them on the approach. Either way, it’s a blind approach to a tiny, bunker-laden green.
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The skinniest fairway on the course is just 22 yards wide, suffocated by bunkers everywhere and a series of trees on the left side. The 2006 redesign brought the pond from No. 7 into play along the left side of the sixth green, creating the perfect risk-reward scenario for a 295-yard drivable par 4 if PGA officials decide to use a forward tee.
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A new tee can stretch this potential birdie hole to 195 yards if necessary. While the water in front won’t be much of a factor, the steep-faced bunker fronting the green could cause problems, depending on the hole location.
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A new tee has lengthened the carry over the pond to cut the corner of the dogleg left to 280 yards. Bunkers at least 300 yards from the back tee climb up the right side of the dogleg. A perfect tee shot that draws right-to-left off the bunkers will still leave a testy uphill approach. Iron shots mishit short or left could end up in more sand or water.
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Driving it straight up the gut between fairways bunkers to a slightly elevated landing area could lead to birdie, although a tee shot lost right will be blocked out by trees. A short iron should have no problem avoiding the sand surrounding a wide green. The green slopes severely from back to front.
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A set of fairway bunkers loiters up the left side of the fairway, catching anything from 260 to 310 yards out. A slight fade from left to right will set up the perfect approach angle. A mammoth bunker guards the left side. Staying below the hole is a common theme on the Highlands course.
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This sharp dogleg left offers plenty of room on the right of the left-hand bunkers. The downhill approach is a beauty. Bunkers guard the left side of a long, narrow green, while a pond extended during the renovation catches any sloppy mistake lost short and right. Wedges could spin back into the water, too.
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A new tee adding length won’t slow the longest hitters from taking advantage of this downhill hole and going for it in two. A tee shot that doesn’t make the corner of the dogleg left leaves a tricky layup to a landing area that shrinks the closer the ball gets to a small and shallow green. A pond and three greenside bunkers could ruin a good round.
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Control, not power, will solve this puzzle. The shortest par 4 on the course is also the tightest. The fairway of this sharp dogleg to the right has tall pines lining both sides. A bunker up the right side steers players into missing it too far left, blocking out the second shot. A collection of bunkers guard the front of an elevated green with some hard contours.
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The fairway of this slight dogleg right is hard to hit, partly because mammoth bunkers on either side make it appear there’s little room to land safely. From there, it only gets tougher. The most treacherous green on the course is elevated on a perch above four bunkers. The toughest pins will be tucked near these hazards.
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The longest par 3 on the course can be intimidating with two bunkers and a pond that fronts the green and swings along its right side. During the 2001 PGA Championship, it caused almost as many big numbers as No. 18. A new elevated tee has stretched the challenge to 260 yards of trouble.
Do You Remember?
David Toms used a hole-in-one from 242 yards in the third round en route to his 2001 PGA Championship victory, his only major championship. Jerry Pate pasted a 2-iron within eight feet to make birdie and jump-start his final-round run at the 1976 U.S. Open crown.
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With a back tee to lengthen the hole by 35 yards, this long uphill par 4 will play tougher than ever. The fairway constricts the further players drive it as the left side runs out of room. New bunkers protect the right side. The approach will be uphill to an unseen green that is slick from back to front.
Did You Know?
Leading the tournament to start the final round, John Mahaffey saw his hopes to win the 1976 U.S. Open fall apart with a bogey on this hole.
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From the elevated tees, the lake in front of the green looks even more menacing. Playing downhill can cause players to second-guess their club selection, a deadly sin in a major championship. The back bunkers will see plenty of action.
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This demanding finishing hole in the shadow of the clubhouse is a par 5 for the members, but its design is ideal as an unforgiving dogleg left par 4 for the pros. A precise tee shot will draw around the corner to the widest fairway on the course, missing bunkers on the right. A large lake comes into play near the left corner of the dogleg, wanders up the left side and spills across the front of an undulating green. Two greenside bunkers add more potential danger.
Do You Remember?
Needing a par to win the 1976 U.S. Open, Jerry Pate hit his famous “shot heard ’round the world," a 194-yard 5-iron from gnarly rough to within two feet to make birdie and win by two strokes. Twenty-five years later, David Toms hit the most famous layup in golf history. Toms’ wedge to 12 feet and par putt beat Phil Mickelson by a stroke at the 2001 PGA Championship.
"I hadn't really gone at it until basically today, just kind of plodding away, just kind of hitting shots. Today was just, let's go, let's go play, just put everything aside and let's go give it a go and try to post a low number."
Tiger Woods after his return to competitive golf at Firestone Country Club. He shot a 2-under-par 68 in the opening round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
During his absence from golf, Tiger Woods has lost none of his ability to inspire intensely held opinions. On the occasion of Tiger's comeback round in the WCG-Bridgestone Invitational, we thought it would be a good time to hear from various quarters about the state of Tiger Nation.
“You think you're friends with a guy. You talk to him once a week for 15 years. You're like, this dude is my friend, we do things, we have fun together. I haven't talked to him in two years and I'm wondering what the hell is going on. I'm sitting back like everyone else and saying, what the hell is going on? I just feel sad, to be honest with you. You're like, dude, who is around this guy, who has his back, who has his best interest, who doesn't want anything from him? I don't know why we haven't talked to him in a couple of years. It's been very frustrating to watch everything that has transpired, and getting rid of (caddie) Steve Williams was probably the last straw for me.” — Charles Barkley, on the Mike Lupica Show
“Obviously I'm a player, but I'm a fan of golf and of sports, and it's a very compelling story. Everyone wants to know what he's going to do if he comes back, how is he going to play, how is his knee, people want to know. It'll be interesting. I think the draw has worked out really well for him playing with Clarkie (Darren Clarke) the first two days. He'll feel very comfortable in that environment. Darren is a very good friend of his. Yeah, it'll be interesting to see how he does come back.” — U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy
“His expectation is to win. I mean, obviously it really doesn't matter what I think. I know coming off injuries and being away from competition, it is tough. When I had my wrist injury, you feel like practicing and preparing away from tournament action. You feel very ready. When it comes down to crunch time and playing under competitive circumstances, it's a lot more difficult. You know, Tiger has done it a few times. He's obviously been away through injury a few times, so he's getting used to it a little bit. But I don't know what his expectation is. Obviously he always sets his standards very high, and that's the way he should be.” — World No. 1 Luke Donald
“Well, it's great that he's back. I mean, he's great for golf; he is. It's kind of like when (Michael) Jordan left and he retired for the first time. There was a hole in the game, there just was. Him not being here, it's a great opportunity for other players to come up and show their skills and everything, but there's no one like Tiger. I've never seen anyone like him. He's one of those once-an-era type of guys who's kind of changing the game forever. It's great that he's back. It's difficult because he's so secretive. We don't know how much of him is back. Is his leg good? Is it not good? You just don't know. Hopefully he's healthy.” — PGA Tour player Hunter Mahan
“He is playing out of desperation. He believes the only way out of the hell that he’s in is to play his way out. He wants to prove everybody wrong, he probably feels pressure from his sponsors, and he knows that time is slipping away. But I don’t think he’s physically, mentally or technically ready to play. How could he be?” — Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee
“The old Tiger is dead. He doesn’t have the same body and he doesn’t have the same mind.” — Chamblee
“I’ve heard of guys who have come back from long layoffs, guys who have changed caddies and guys who have changed swings. But it’s unprecedented to do all three at once.” — Golf instructor David Leadbetter
“A wounded dog has a tough time trying to keep winning battles. And because the battle was a lot tougher than I think even Tiger realized, he needs to heal before he gets back into these battles again.” — Michael Jordan