By Brandon Raper @Brandon__Raper on August 6, 2014
It's finally time for the year's final major, and the 2014 PGA Championship is set to begin at Valhalla Golf Club on Thursday morning.
Right now, it certainly feels like Rory McIlroy's world, but he's far from the only player who could hoist the Wanamaker Trophy at week's end. As if a major championship weren't enough, there are also valuable Ryder Cup and FedEx Cup points up for grabs.
Read on to get started with our PGA power rankings.
The defending PGA Champion has been battling neck and back pain most of this season, recently revealing that he has two bulging discs in his neck. Considering that, he’s done well to perform like he did earlier this summer at Colonial and the Memorial. He’s a long shot this week, but if he can play through the pain, he could still make some noise.
It seems like forever since he won the McGladrey Classic back in November, but he’s got top-20s in two of three majors in 2014, and closed well in his most recent starts. Kirk ranks 17th on Tour in scrambling this season, and is a dark horse contender.
Mahan bounced back well from a disappointing missed cut in Canada to finish a solid T-15 at the WGC-Bridgestone. Mid-range putting has been Mahan’s Achilles heel this year, but his iron play has been generally strong, and continuing to hit greens at a steady clip will allow him plenty of chances to get the flatstick straightened out.
Welcome back, Mr. Snedeker. Five top-25s in his last six starts have earned him a spot here. Although he’s been through a rocky year, he’s still got the playoffs in sight. He's been around the block enough to handle the big stage, and a strong showing here could go a long way toward redeeming 2014 in his eyes.
Johnson looked like got his game back in shape with his runner-up finish at the John Deere, and if he can just get a few putts to fall, a strong finish at Valhalla wouldn’t surprise anybody. He’s only made 44 percent of putts between five and 15 feet this year, but he hits a bunch of greens in regulation, so he always has a chance to go low.
Kaymer put himself in Player of the Year conversations after winning both the Players Championship and the U.S. Open. Even though he’s suffered some letdowns since then, he didn’t win two of the biggest tournaments in golf by accident, and he’s won this one before, back in 2010. Kaymer’s got plenty of game to win.
It’s been a good spring and summer for Matsuyama, who claimed his first win at the Memorial tournament to start June. The 22-year-old doesn’t hit a ton of greens, but when he does, he hits it close, allowing him to still rank fourth on Tour in birdie average and third in birdie conversion.
Reed took a bit of a PR beating after claiming that he felt like “one of the top five players in the world”. Still, he seems to have come through well overall, and now he has a chance not only to win his first major, but also to solidify his place on the American Ryder Cup squad this fall.
Watson looked unstoppable earlier this year on his way to a second green jacket, but he’s shot himself out of both the U.S. and British Opens with Thursday 76s. It’s been an up-and-down summer for Bubba, but Valhalla should give him some more room to play, much like another Nicklaus design, Muirfield Village, did for the Memorial, where he finished third.
Call this one a gut pick. "Lefty" is going to be a trendy pick this week after closing the Bridgestone with a surprising 62. Even though he still has yet to notch a top-10 this year, he does appear to be on the upswing, and maybe a bit of positive energy from his T9 in 2000 will help him keep that going.
Leishman hasn’t won this year, but he’s found his way into the McIlroy-Garcia conversation with top-five finishes at the Open and the WGC-Bridgestone. Leishman ranked eighth in strokes gained putting at Firestone, and also led the field in birdies.
Schwartzel is wrapping up 2014 in style, with three top-ten finishes in his last five starts, including a T4 last week that was bookended by rounds of 65 and 64. He hasn’t been hitting a lot of greens, but somehow still finds a way to score, a trait that will always help in a major championship.
I said several weeks ago that I would consider Walker a contender until he proved otherwise, and I’m still waiting for that to happen. In the three majors and the PLAYERS, he’s finished no worse than 26th. He ranks second in birdie average and seventh in total putting, and should continue to shine at Valhalla.
As much as this seems like a down year for the reigning FedEx Cup Champion, remember this: he didn’t win his first PGA Tour event last year until the Deutsche Bank during the playoffs. He’s had some strong performances at the U.S. Open and last week’s WGC. If Stenson wants to defend his championship, what better place is there to start the run to Atlanta?
Moore is another of those under-the-radar types, but he’s got four straight top-15 finishes since the U.S. Open. Ranked ninth in greens-in-regulation, all it takes is one day of hot putting for Moore to rocket up the leaderboard, so he can’t be counted out down to the end.
Don’t read too much into his struggles over the last two weeks. Since the Masters, Spieth has finished in the top-20 eight times in 11 starts. He’ll be able to play a bit more aggressively at Valhalla than at Royal Liverpool or Firestone, and his solid work on and around the greens will keep him in contention.
Bradley has been up and down for much of 2014, but he’s found a groove in the last month after finishing in fourth place at the Greenbrier. The 2011 PGA Champion just posted four sub-70 rounds at Firestone to stay in the mix with Garcia and McIlroy, and could continue that torrid pace over the huge month to come.
Matt Kuchar has made himself at home in the top ten at tournaments all year, and that’s exactly why he belongs here. Consistency is the name of the game, and with the exception of a down week at the British Open, history points to Kuchar contending for that elusive first major win again.
McDowell is quietly having a steady, solid year, but don’t let him fly under your radar this week. He’s reeled off five worldwide top-tens, including a win in France dating back to the U.S. Open. McDowell ranks fifth on Tour in adjusted scoring, keyed by his excellent work on the greens, where he leads all players in total putting.
The fifth-ranked player in the world today, Rose has been outshone by Rory McIlroy’s recent tear, but it wasn’t that long ago that he won back-to-back starts himself. He just turned in a solid tie for fourth at Firestone, where he ranked fourth in greens in regulation. Few players have been better than Rose over the last few months.
Even without a win, Jim Furyk is enjoying his best year since winning the 2010 FedEx Cup. On a streak of five straight top-20 finishes and with top-15s in each of the year’s majors, he should be a strong contender again at Valhalla. Furyk ranks sixth in adjusted scoring and leads the Tour in scrambling.
Fowler’s turnaround continued at Firestone, where he posted three rounds of three-under 67 to finish tied for eighth. He now has three straight top-ten finishes, and he’s been remarkable at every major in 2014, with top-5 finishes at all three. Can he make it four in a row at Valhalla? With Butch Harmon's guidance, I believe he can.
Garcia may not have been able to close the deal at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but that won’t stop him from contending for his first career major win this week. He’s looking like a new man, and we could be in store for yet another Garcia-McIlroy showdown at Valhalla.
Scott was overtaken by Rory McIlroy for No. 1 in the world, but that doesn’t make him any less of a contender this week in Louisville. His results over the last two months have been as good as ever, and the Aussie should easily find himself at the top of the leaderboard again this week.
McIlroy seems to keep getting better, coming from behind to catch Sergio Garcia on Sunday at Firestone for his second straight victory. He not only led the field in driving distance, but he hit almost 80 percent of his greens in regulation, converting for 21 birdies and ranking seventh in strokes gained putting. The 2012 PGA Champion is the clear favorite yet again.
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