Biggest questions for the PGA Championship at Bellerive involve Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth

Golf


For the last time, the PGA Championship will be the year’s last major. Next year, it moves up to May, making it second in the major batting order, falling after the Masters.

The 100th PGA Championship, held this week at Bellerive, won’t be short on drama. We take a look at the biggest questions for the 100th PGA Championship.

1. Is this the week Tiger Woods breaks his major championship drought?

Bob Harig: No, there seem to be too many things going against him. The deepest field of all the majors. A poor performance at Firestone in which he showed he needs to work out several issues, including accuracy off the tee and putting. A short prep time for Bellerive and having to balance practice versus his physical well-being. And while Woods said it wasn’t an issue, he was clearly fighting some standard lower-back tightness.

Michael Collins: This is not the week. Tiger, because of his necessary practice regimen, won’t be able to do the work it would take to be prepared. We now also know at least once a week his back won’t get loose.

Ian O’Connor: I don’t think so. Even though Tiger held the lead at The Open at Carnoustie with eight holes to go, he didn’t look sharp at Firestone — in fact he didn’t look nearly as fluid as he appeared at The Open. My articles of faith on Tiger go like this: I do believe he will win a 15th major title. I do think it will happen sooner rather than later, sometime in the next couple of years. I do think Carnoustie was a significant step toward winning. I do think it’s possible it will happen this week at the PGA. But I also believe Tiger will have better chances at Augusta National and at The Open, where the speed of the course and quirky links bounces give the old guys better than a puncher’s chance.

Kevin Van Valkenburg: No. He’s clearly close to putting everything together, but on a course where he’ll have to hit driver often (unlike Carnoustie) I just don’t see him outplaying ALL the young guns. It’s possible he could get in contention if he is within five shots of the lead going into Saturday, but his game just doesn’t feel sharp enough to win a major on a course where a handful of guys are going to shoot 66 each day.

2. Which player in the top 10 should be the most concerned heading into this week?

Harig: Jordan Spieth. The final-round, no-birdie effort when he had a chance to win The Open might have been one of those days, but he did little to inspire confidence at Firestone, shooting three rounds in the 70 to finish tied for 60th and 20 shots back. Ranked eighth in the world, Spieth’s only top-10 going back to the Masters is the tie for ninth at Carnoustie.

Collins: Francesco Molinari. I don’t believe a Danny Willet-like crash will happen, but Molinari still hasn’t fully recovered from all the golf he played leading up to his Open Championship win.

O’Connor: Jordan Spieth. I just think his game right now is all over the map. He followed up his very disappointing Sunday at Carnoustie (a 76 in the wake of his Saturday 65) with three rounds north of par at the WGC-Bridgestone. Outside of The Open, Spieth hasn’t finished in the top 20 in his past eight tournaments, including three missed cuts. It would be a great story if he completes the career Grand Slam at Bellerive after just turning 25. He’s more than capable of getting hot and rendering his slump moot by winning the PGA, but it’s gotten hard to picture that happening.

Van Valkenburg: Jordan Spieth technically could complete the career Grand Slam with a win this week, but it sure seems like that would come out of left field. Just when it looked like he was coming out of his putting slump, he was T-60 at WGC Bridgestone. It’s weird to say this about a guy who with a little luck could have won two majors this year, but this feels like a lost year for Spieth.

3. The PGA got in the on the “supergroup” act. Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas are playing together. So are this year’s major champs — Francesco Molinari, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka. And there’s Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose. Do you like the idea of supergroups? Does it help or hurt the top players?

Harig: The major-winners grouping is standard for the PGA, but the supergroup deal in general is becoming tired. It is done for streaming purposes but puts a burden on spectators who are crammed together watching the top names in consecutive groups. It is far better to spread out some of the name players and give those on the ground some breathing room. It shouldn’t matter to the players, but it can be an inconvenience to those trying to watch them.

Collins: I LOVE them, but it’s not good for golf. Spreading those players out gives fans watching exposure to other players they could become fans of by seeing them alongside one of the big names. That doesn’t happen with supergroups.

O’Connor: I’ve always been a proponent of the supergroup. As a sports fan you always want to see elite athletes face off, and what better way to size up golf’s heavyweights than to shove them into the same ring? In theory, these pairings should help the world’s top players — the greats elevating their games in the presence of worthy rivals. In practice, I’m not sure it helps. And I don’t care. I still want to see Tiger and Rory together to compare and contrast their swings, power, etc. and to observe their interaction, or lack thereof, especially after Rory’s candid assessment of a 42-year-old Tiger at The Open.

Van Valkenburg: Not a fan. I agree with McIlroy, it’s not fair to the top players. Everything is more chaotic when you’re playing in a supergroup. The crowd is problematic, so you need more marshals, the shots take longer, the television cameras are more up in your face. It takes you out of your natural rhythms. The Tour needs to find a happy medium instead of trying to put together supergroups in every major. It lessens the excitement when great players finally do get paired together on Saturday or Sunday at a major based on merit.

4. The PGA has yielded some surprising winners in the past? Who could be this year’s sleeper who walks away with the Wannamaker Trophy?

Harig: Patrick Cantlay. He seems to hover around the lead nearly every week and has been playing well of late. He tied for sixth at the Bridgestone, tied for 12th at The Open and has three other top-10s this year. He won last fall and seems well-suited for major championship golf.

Collins: Tony Finau is having one of those years where no one should be surprised if his first major is this week in St. Louis.

O’Connor: In Justin Thomas, Jimmy Walker, Jason Day, and Jason Dufner, four of the past five PGA winners were first-time (and only-time) major champs. So why not Finau this week? He’s played very well in the majors this year — top 10s in all three, including a fifth-place showing at the U.S. Open. As one of the tour’s long-ballers he certainly has the firepower to get it done. Finau just needs to do better at Bellerive than hitting 53 percent of his fairways (ranked 192nd). Other fairly recent first-timers at the PGA were Y.E. Yang (2009), Martin Kaymer (2010), and Keegan Bradley (2011). Finau has their tools and then some.

Van Valkenburg: Cantlay. He’s certainly got the game and he’s trending in the right direction after finishing T-6 at WGC Bridgestone and playing the weekend in 8 under par. Cantlay can be maddening to watch with his quirky, deliberate pre-shot routine. But he has a ton of talent, and could definitely break through at a course like Bellerive. Another dark horse? Kyle Stanley. He’s an elite ball-striker, and if he has a hot putting week, look out.

5. Who has the most to prove this week in their quest to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team? What about for Europe?

Harig: Webb Simpson for the Americans. He’s on the cusp of making the team and would be well-served to do so because relying on a pick is dicey for him. The last time that happened — in 2014 — Simpson played just two matches in an American loss, tying Ian Poulter in singles. He’s never won a singles match in a Ryder Cup and was shaky as a partner to Bubba Watson at Gleneagles. As nicely as he’s played this year, Simpson might be easy to pass over if he does not make the team on points.

For Russell Knox, the PGA is a big week, although the European team still has a few more weeks until the eight-man team is official. Knox, a Scotsman who lives in Jacksonville, was trending toward a spot on the team after winning the Irish Open. But he missed the cut at The Open and tied for 48th at the Bridgestone and has plenty of competition for a spot among the likes of Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Ian Poulter.

Collins: If Tiger Woods wants to play on the Ryder Cup team, then he needs to find a way to play at least three days in a row without any back stiffness. Tiger with a stiff back doesn’t help the team as a player. If I’m European team captain Thomas Bjorn right now, there’s no way I’m putting Sergio Garcia on the team unless he has a massive turnaround in his play.

O’Connor: Bryson DeChambeau. He’s had an awfully tough stretch of late, getting his compass banned before throwing a range fit at The Open and then completely melting down at the Porsche European Open, where he followed up his wet-and-wild misadventure down the stretch by giving winner Richard McEvoy the kind of handshake Bill Belichick used to give Eric Mangini. On the European side, it’s difficult to imagine Sergio Garcia being left off the team. But entering Firestone he’d missed seven of his past eight cuts, with his best showing coming at The Players Championship, where he finished 70th. Sergio needs to find something that works fast.

Van Valkenburg: DeChambeau and Xander Schauffle are part of the future of U.S. golf, but there is a good chance one of them is going to be left off the team Jim Furyk takes to Paris because it seems likely Ryder Cup veterans like Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar are going to be captain’s picks. DeChambeau would be such a fun Ryder Cup character, we should all be rooting for him to make the team on points, just for the potential drama. As for Europe, when is Sergio Garcia going to start playing like a great player again? He’ll obviously be on the team, considering his track record, but his play this year certainly doesn’t justify it.



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