An interesting stat came to light two weeks ago after Henrik Stenson captured the Open Championship. With Stenson's win, five of the previous six majors had been won by first-timers, that is, first time major winners. That number caught my eye, because it didn't seem to fit the narrative of all the high quality major winners over the past two seasons, but upon further examination the two need not be mutually exclusive. Sure, there was a time when a first-time major winner meant a one-and-done scenario, but that's certainly not the case with the recent group of winners. If anything, it goes to show just how good the PGA Tour is right now. The list of major winners over the past two seasons has a better chance of becoming a hall of fame list one day as opposed to flash in the pan list like we saw when the likes of Shaun Micheel and Todd Hamilton were winning majors. Now that Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson have majors, there won't be many first-time major winners in the near future.
Should we expect another first-timer this week at the PGA Championship? Obviously not, but there is one guy that many will be rooting for, Sergio Garcia. Garcia first caught the attention of the casual golf fan at the PGA Championship some 15 years ago and while he's had a very successful career, there's obviously a gaping hole on his resume. Garcia once famously said he's not good enough to win a major and while there does seem to be a bit of a mental hurdle for him to get over; I doubt that if given the chance, he'd crack under the pressure at this stage in his career. For Garcia though, it's all about getting into serious contention, which he hasn't had a knack for in recent years. He often manages to finish well at majors, but that most often seems to be a result of finishing strong once winning is out of the question.
While Garcia could add to an already interesting stat this week, the odds are against him as the "big three", to name a few, are hungry for their first major this season.
This week: The PGA Championship - Baltusrol G.C. - Springfield, NJ
Last Year: Jason Day shot a final-round 67 on his way to a three-stroke victory over Jordan Spieth.
Players to Consider
Day is certainly not playing as well right now as he was 12 months ago, but he seems to be building up to something, and that something is a major win this week at the PGA Championship. One poor round has derailed Day at just about every stop lately, but if he can avoid the blow-up this week, he should be in contention come Sunday. Day proved last year that he can beat the best fields at the toughest venues, so it's not so much about the track this week as it is about his game. For those fortunate enough to still have him, this is the week to pull the trigger on Day.
It almost seems too easy, which in golf, is never a good thing. Mickelson is coming off a great showing at the Open Championship and he won this event the last time it was held at Baltusrol. This is golf though and one plus one doesn't always equal two. Yes, he's in great form and yes, he knows this track, but it's when everything is lined-up perfectly that things fall apart. Mickelson is a top-pick this week, but may not be as good as he looks.
Speaking of looking good, is there anyone that looks as good as DJ right now? The answer is no, but strangely enough, his failure to capture the title at the Canadian Open last week is giving me pause. Like Mickelson though, the pros outweigh the cons, so DJ deserves to be on this list, but proceed with caution. If DJ continues his recent form, then he'll be in the mix again, if he slips at all, it won't be good enough this week. Nobody is winning with their "B" game this week.
If event history means anything this week, and that's debatable, then McIlroy is your man. McIlroy has won this event two of the past four years and he hasn't finished outside the top-20 since 2011. Also working in McIlroy's favor this week is all the attention that Mickelson, Day and DJ will be soaking-up. Not that these guys need more motivation at a major, but of the "Big three", McIlroy is the one failing to carry the load and I'm sure he's aware of that.
Stricker isn't the 5th-best option this week; all things being equal, Henrik Stenson would be a better option, but it's the end of the season and many one-and-done players are out of top-tier options. If you are in that position, then Stricker might be your guy. Stricker finished 4th at the Open Championship and runner-up in his previous start. He's proven over the past couple seasons that he can still play at a high-level, not for long-stretches, but for certainly over short spurts.
Players to Avoid
Dufner picked-up his first and only major win at this event in 2013 and while his game might be fitted for this particular major, he hasn't displayed the game over the past two seasons that helped him win his first major. It feels like Dufner is still working his way back to that major form, and he's simply not there right now.
Matsuyama is in the midst of a fine season, but his form over the past couple months has been abysmal. Matsuyama missed the cut at both the U.S. Open and the Open Championship as well as the Memorial. He finished 42nd at the WGC Bridgestone, but that event has no cut and the field is limited to 64 golfers. Matsuyama is playing so poorly right now, that I wouldn't even touch him in a pool format this week.
The PGA Championship was once referred to as "Glory's last shot" for a reason. Every single golfer that tees it up at the PGA Championship can turn their season into a success with one win. Take Fowler for instance, by his standards, this season has been a failure, but a win this week will turn his entire season into a success. While it's certainly possible that Fowler joins the "first-timer" list this week, it's highly unlikely given his play this season.
Watson has had a couple good showings at the PGA Championship over the years, but as a whole, he's struggled more often than not. Watson has developed a reputation as an early-season performer and though he's played well in the spots later in the season, he's pretty much a non-factor once summer rolls around. Watson is a big-name player that looks appealing, but he's no better than a middle-tier guy this week.
Willett's win at Augusta came as a surprise to many earlier this year and while it remains to be seen if Willett will get better with time or fade into obscurity, one thing seems clear -- he's not going to be a factor at another major this season. Willett finished T37 at the U.S. Open and T53 at the Open Championship, which doesn't necessarily mean he'll falter this week, but it's not hard to imagine that he's still in the midst of a Masters hangover.
ONE AND DONE GOLFER
Last week: David Hearn (MC) - $0; Season - $7,706,175
This week: Jason Day - I've been waiting all season for this moment. As mentioned earlier, Day isn't peaking like he was last year at this point, but he's trending in the right direction, which for a player of his caliber is enough to win this week.
Group A: Jason Day, Dustin Johnson
Group B: Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Brandt Snedeker
Group C: Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar
Last week: David Hearn (MC); Streak - 0
This week: Jason Day - Day will have to up his game to win this week, but if he continues to play like he has over the past few weeks, he'll have plenty to simply make the cut. There aren't many, if any, golfers on the PGA Tour more reliable than Day right now.