The year's final major is here with the PGA Championship from Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. Last time we were here in 2005 Phil Mickelson was the champion. Last time we had a major Phil Mickelson shot a Sunday 65 and lost. Here's our stats thread.
• Henrik Stenson and Mickelson have to be picks 1-1A, right? Shooting 63-65 will do that, with Stenson making 10 birdies in 18 holes and Mickelson going bogey free at Troon in an absolutely epic duel. There was no ShotLink at the Open but consider that this season on the PGA Tour Stenson is second in strokes gained-approach to the green – showing the strength of his iron game – and is 21st in strokes gained-off the tee. And his putter finally got hot at Troon, bettering his 152nd ranking this season in strokes gained-putting. If the putter stays hot – and these soft greens may help his cause (see below), Stenson may well win his second straight major.
• I just really like Phil Mickelson this week. I know it's cliche, but he likes the place, he's striking the ball great – the 62.5 on Thursday at Troon was as much ball striking as his putter – and I think this is the week he finally puts the swing changes together and gets his first win in three years.
• On Golf Channel on Tuesday, Notah Begay said after talking with Davis Love and Tiger Woods that Baltusrol requires the ball-striking prowess of Oakmont but that the greens are easier and less dramatic. Couple that with the rain that came Monday and predicted for this week, especially on Friday, and this course should be getable especially early on. It's also been extremely hot, so they haven't been able to let the course really bake out, which should play into those who give themselves scoring chances from the fairway.
• The first three major winners of 2016 have all been first time major winners. Two were expected – Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson – while Danny Willett was probably a year or two away from having someone with expectations put upon him. So who's next if the PGA goes to a first time major champion? Maybe Brandt Snedeker. He nearly won the Canadian Open last week and has now gone T21-T22-T5 in his last three starts. For the week he was fourth in strokes gained-putting, and with a strokes gained-tee to green ranking of 42nd and a strokes gained-total rank of 22nd for the season, Snedeker seems like the type of guy who could come through on Sunday and get his first major win. He has a confident swagger and a game that has helped him win eight times on the PGA Tour, so while major pressure might be a bit new, Sunday pressure isn't.
• Par 5 Scoring average – 17 and 18 at Baltusrol are par-5s, a unique course set-up that leads to myriad possibilities down the stretch, especially when one of them, 17, is nearly 700 yards. The PGA Tour keeps a stat called "Late Par 5 Scoring Average" – credit to Ryan Ballengee for pointing this out – and the leaders in that category playing this week are:
Harold Varner III
Rory and Stenson obviously stand out, but don't overlook Ryan Palmer who, while he hasn't won this season (he nearly did at Colonial), can make a lot of birdies and always seems to pop up on leaderboards. If going low is indeed attainable this week, he could be your man.
• Jason Day has to start better. His major performance this season is OK, not great – T10-T8-T22 – but he's been beset by poor starts. This season on the PGA Tour his first-round scoring average is eighth. However, in majors he's gone 72-76-73. That will not work this week – at all. And he's been under the weather and got his first look at the golf course ever Wednesday. We'll see how that lack of prep time impacts him.
• I'm not too sure why so many people like Rory McIlroy this week. The game is indeed slowly coming around – he finished fifth at the Open Championship, and his ball-striking in practice rounds this week has reportedly looked good. And yes, a softer golf course favors him for sure. But his game has been too erratic overall – opening with 70-71 to lurk at Augusta before a Saturday 77, missing the cut at the U.S. Open while opening with 77 and then having middle rounds at the Open of 71-73 to rule him out of contention there – for me to trust him as a pick this week. Couple that with a 79th-place ranking in strokes gained-approach to the green this season on Tour and I'm further skittish.
• Speaking of skittish I wouldn't be surprised if Jordan Spieth, whose game has been anything but sharp lately, suddenly shows up on a leaderboard. He knows he can save his season with a strong finish here and in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Maybe not Player of the Year-worthy, but still a strong campaign. The stat to watch is strokes gained-approach to the green, where he ranks 118th. Ranked 23rd in strokes gained-off the tee, fifth in strokes gained-around the green and strokes gained-putting for the season, if he can improve his iron play – and specifically eliminate the rights – he has a great chance to contend this week.
• Watch out for Aaron Baddeley. We talk all the time about the freedom winning gives you. He won the opposite-field Barbasol Championship two weeks ago in Alabama going 66-64-66 the last three rounds, winning in a playoff and giving us one of the best victory celebrations you'll ever see. With his first win in five years behind him he can now relax and go for broke, which is a big deal for anyone on the PGA Tour. That week he ranked third in strokes gained-around the green and eighth in strokes gained-putting. Couple that with being T7 in greens in regulation and I really think he could be a factor this week.
• And finally:
Pick: Phil Mickelson
Sleeper: Brandt Snedeker
Super-Sleeper: Aaron Baddeley