Ahead of the US PGA Championship, we offer up our thoughts on some of the game's best players and their chances to win at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course.
His 2012 so far: If we were talking about any golfer not named Tiger Woods, three wins at Bay Hill, Muirfield Village and Congressional would be considered a banner season. However, since we're talking about Woods, the fact that he has three wins and one isn't a Major means it's jUSt another great year. Aside from his three wins, he's also posted a second, third and six top 10's. That's the good news. The not-so-good news is his Major record this year. Throw out the T-3 at the Open and Woods has a T-40 at the Masters and T-21 the US Open. He's certainly produced on the US PGA Tour, but when it comes time to produce at the Majors, he's fallen flat.
His record at the US PGA Championship: Sterling. In 15 US PGA Championship starts, he has four wins and three top-5 finishes, which is about as good as it gets. But even with the impressive record, it's hard to overlook the fact that Woods finished T-28 in 2010 and missed the cut at Atlanta Athletic Club last year.
Why he could win: JUSt look at his tee-to-green stats from last week. Woods finished first in the field in ball-striking and inside the top-10 in driving distance and greens in regulations. Everyone questioned how he'd handle playing Firestone with a driver in his hand, but after a week of watching him thrive with the big stick on a course that plays 7,400 yards, you get the feeling the driver won't be the big question mark. Assuming he shows up with the same game, he could be a serious contender at the almost 7,700-yard Ocean Course.
Why he could fall short: His putting improved over the weekend; however, it's difficult to see Woods being much of a factor if he averages more than 30 putts for the week, like he did at the Bridgestone. His short game is still a mess, and his wedge play from 125 yards and in is about as reliable you or me pulling off a Mickelson-esque flop shot. It's nearly impossible to win a Major when you can't convert with your scoring clubs. Throw in the fact that he's failed to break par on the weekend in every Major this year and you have a guy who's still trying to find his groove when it matters.
Our take: Woods showed us a little something over the weekend at the Bridgestone, but he's been wildly erratic at the Majors. Simply put, you just can't trust the guy to show up with his A-game and pick up his 15th Major. The Major championship drought continues with another top-10 finish at Kiawah.
His 2012 so far: A typically strong season from one of the world's best golfers. Twelve events, 10 cuts made, a victory in March at the Transitions. And he's coming off a T5 at the Open Championship. Just don't mention that missed cut at the US Open or the T32 at the Masters, OK?
His record at the US PGA Championship: He's played in eight US PGAs, and has recorded two top-10 finishes, including a T3 in 2006. Last year at the Atlanta Athletic Club, he was T8. So he's been on the leaderboard, just at the wrong end.
Why he could win: Because he's got pretty much the smoothest putting stroke on the planet, and he's not too bad tee-to-green, either. He plays the kind of smart golf that keeps you in the less-fierce Majors (sorry, PGA) and could pay off on a weekend that is expected to have weather come into play at some point.
Why he could fall short: Well, because the game of golf has never had a broader relative talent base than it does right now, and because "No. 1" doesn't really mean much anymore. You can't afford to make any mistakes in a Major, and while Donald generally doesn't get himself into huge trouble, he tends to make those "they add up" errors that doom your chances.
Our take: Nope. This might be Donald's best chance of the year, but we still don't think it's his year. We're going with a bigger hitter. We expect Donald to be close, but again fall short. On the plus side, he's still got a few years before he's in Lee Westwood territory.
His 2012 so far: Up until the T-10 finish at the US Open, Westwood was having another solid season: 1 win, 5 top-5 finishes and 3 top 20s. But over the last month-plus, his game all but disappeared. To put Westwood's struggles into perspective for you, his best finish in his last three starts is a T-40 at the Alstom Open de France. So, yeah, he's been struggling a bit. His game officially hit rock-bottom over the weekend at Firestone when he posted 11-over 81 in the third round.
His record at the US PGA Championship: If you look at Westwood's last three starts (T-3, DNP, T-8), he looks like a guy who's primed for a big week at the US PGA Championship. But let's take a look at the bigger picture here: Westwood's missed more cuts at the US PGA (four) than any Major he's played in his career. Not only that, he's only posted two top-10 finishes in 14 career starts. His game has improved over the years, so you have to believe his early career struggles have to be taken out of the equation; but looking at his overall body of work, his finishes don't paint a pretty picture.
Why he could win: Why not? I know that's a rhetorical question, but Westwood certainly has the game to win a Major. This has been a long, crazy year and while he's not exactly clicking on all cylinders, this would seem like the perfect place for him to finally win his first Major. Nobody is mentioning his name this week, and everyone wrote him off after the 81 at the Bridgestone. Assuming he can find some magic for four days, he has more than enough game to take down the field.
Why he could fall short: How about 81 strokes at the Bridgestone? I'm pretty sure that's reason enough to pass on Westwood this week. He's played well at the US PGA Championship in recent years, but this time around is different. Westwood's game is unpredictable at the moment, to the point that you have to wonder if he'll be a 36-hole cut casualty.
Our take: Westwood has been our pick to win every Major this year, but the time has officially come to cut bait ... at least for this week. His game has been trending downward over the last month and when you're going up against a course that requires you to be long, accurate and have a deadly short game, you can't show up with sub-par swing. Posting a top-25 would be an accomplishment this week.
His 2012 so far: Watson already has a green jacket in his possession, thereby making 2012 a complete success. But if you really want to see how well he's played this year, take out the Major win and look at the rest of the season. With the exception of back-to-back missed cuts at the Memorial and US Open, Watson hasn't finished outside the top-25 in his 10 other starts this season. That's pretty impressive for a guy who's taken weeks off in between events.
His record at the US PGA Championship: Considering he's only made five US PGA Championship starts in his career, his record is fairly decent. There's a T-70 and two missed cuts in there, but over the last two years, Watson produced a second-place finish in 2010 (he lost in a playoff to Martin Kaymer at Whistling Straits) and T-26 last season.
Why he could win: Because the Ocean Course requires you to not only bomb it off the tee, but shape the ball in both directions, two things Bubba Watson can do as well as any player in the field. This isn't exactly Augusta National, where you can pull driver and get away with wayward tee shots, but you have to like his chance on the longest course (7,676 yards) in Major championship history. If you need another reason to take Bubba this week, don't forget he's coming off playing two events in the last three weeks. The last time he played that much, he ended up leaving the course with a green jacket. Watson obviously decided to take extended periods of time off between the Masters, US Open and The Open to spend time with his baby boy. But if you look at his stats, Watson seems to play his best golf when he's had time to groove his swing.
Why he could fall short: This course demands accuracy off the tee to score. It's not Oakmont or Olympic Club narrow, but you can't get careless and expect to contend. The extreme length is right in Watson's wheelhouse, but if he turns the US PGA Championship into a long drive contest and tries to reach every par 5 in two, he's likely going to find trouble in Kiawah's sand dunes. For Watson, it's all about being smart this week and keeping his ego in check.
Our take: Whether you want to believe it or not, Bubba Watson has the tools to win this week. He's long, can shape the ball, and has the imagination around the greens to be a factor. The big question is, can he keep the big number off his card and stay patient when things aren't going his way? We think he'll come close, but a couple untimely misses will have him settling for a top-5 finish.
Jonathan Wall, Yahoo! Sports