PGA Championship Preview – by Fiona O’Brien
With Rory McIlroy in the form of his life, he is the favourite to lift the last Major of the year this weekend, while the rest of the golfing world battle it out for Team Europe Ryder Cup places.
The win for McIlroy in last weekend’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational marched him right back to the number 1 spot in the rankings, and cemented his place as the man to beat at Valhalla Golf Club next weekend.
Leapfrogging Adam Scott, he has had an incredible couple of months that saw him lift his third major at the tender age of 25, a feat only golfing legends Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods managed to achieve before him.
On Sunday he had his eyes firmly focused on closing down Sergio Garcia’s three shot lead, and the Spaniard let the pressure get to him, allowing the unstoppable Holywood golfer to overtake him on the final leader board.
With the bookies currently giving extremely short odds of 11-2 for McIlroy to lift the PGA Championship this year, there are a whole host of other Europeans who will be battling it out for vital rankings points to ensure they get a place on Paul McGinley’s team for the Ryder Cup next month.
The final team will be based on the rankings come August 31, and the points are heavily distributed for the major, making it possible for some players who have fallen short over the past year to make up some serious ground.
Tiger Woods withdrew from South Carolina this weekend with a back injury caused by play in the bunker and will not partake in the PGA either. This coupled with Dustin Johnson’s confirmation that he will not feature at all for the rest of the season due to ‘personal challenges’ means that McGinley has a great chance in duplicating the win at Medinah two years ago.
The Portrush golfer is currently one place short of an automatic qualification spot for Team Europe, and only a slender 6.26 points behind Luke Donald.
It means that if he can finish ahead of the Englishman he will leapfrog him on points but the 2010 US Open champion will be setting his sights higher than that, he will have serious hopes of lifting the title himself.
He is currently priced at 40-1, so is among the top twenty favourites to win, and it is not hard to see why when you look at his recent results, coming eighth behind McIlroy at the weekend, and getting another top ten finish in the Canadian Open the weekend previous.
A tied ninth place finish in the British Open shows that McDowell is not struggling for form and may just be gathering momentum at this all important stage of the season in a Ryder Cup year.
Lowry is definitely an outside-shot as a title contender, currently priced at 150-1, but is improving all the time and especially impressed at the British Open.
The Offaly player held the lead going into the final day of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth earlier this year, and lost narrowly to the charging last day push from Rory McIlroy.
It appeared to none though that Lowry let nerves get the better of him, he was just outplayed on the day by a player enjoying a remarkable time of form, and did brilliantly to earn a second place finish.
He played two outstanding rounds of golf at the British Open three weeks ago, and only for an off-day could have been in with a shout on the final day of the championship.
However, his final round of 65 equalled the best scorers of the day, and gave him a tied ninth finish with McDowell for his highest ever finish in a major.
The 27-year-old is a definite improver who seems to love the game, and will be one Paul McGinley would greatly benefit from having in a match play environment.
As things stand, Lowry is ten places away from a Ryder Cup place, but a top ten finish in the Major could see things all change and would definitely grab McGinley’s attention as a possible wild-card entry.
Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood
The Spaniard is in fine form, but is still struggling with his career plight of holding onto a lead, shown best by slipping behind McIlroy last weekend, after holding a three shot lead at the start of the final day.
Garcia has a guaranteed spot in Team Europe for the Ryder Cup as is sitting on 317.40 world points at the minute, but will want to banish his demons with a title-winning performance at Valhalla next week.
But his failure to capitalise on his advantage on Sunday means the he has won just three times on the 16 occasions he has held the 54-hole lead.
Desperate not to be thought of as one of the best players to never win a Major, Garcia is running out of time to etch his name alongside golf’s greats and now at 34 will be wary of the younger breed of international golfers that will increase competition in years to come.
Westwood was struggling up until this weekend, missing four consecutive cuts, his worst form in almost eight years.
However, a flawless 63 in the final day of the Bridgestone Invitational secured him a top twenty finish and could justify McGinley selecting the fans favourite of the last decade of Ryder Cup play as a wildcard.
Prior to the tournament Westwood stated that he did not want to earn a place on the team unless he was playing well, but a change in form could see him selected in the tournament that holds the biggest place in the Nottinghamshire golfer’s heart.
Ian Poulter, one of the European heroes of the famous Medinah comeback, popular Spaniard Miguel Angel Jiminez and Scot Stephen Gallacher are all grouped closely just outside the automatic qualification places and will be hoping for big results to impress captain McGinley.
The Dubliner opted to have three wild card picks in an increase on the standard two places his predecessors chose beforehand. It doesn’t make it any easier for him though as a lot of players that merit a chance due to recent form could be overlooked for Ryder Cup veterans who hold the vital experience of matchplay on one of the most high-pressure golf environments going.