Wednesday, August 06, 2008

When I look at this year’s PGA Championship, I can only think one thing: Phil Mickelson looks like a lock to pick up his fourth major championship.
Phil’s had an off year at the 2008 majors. He took fifth place at the Masters, but finished only 18th at the U.S. Open and 19th at the British Open. So why do I think he’s primed to win at Oakland Hills this week? Because this is his type of golf. Oakland Hills is a big golf course, it’s tree-lined and the weather will be hot. It reminds me of Bethpage (where Phil came in second at the 2002 U.S. Open) or Baltusrol (where Phil won the PGA in 2005). He can keep the ball in the air all day long and, with his short game, he’ll be able to get around as good as anyone in the field.
The other reason I like Phil is that he’ll face less scrutiny at Oakland Hills. He put so much pressure on himself to win his hometown U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. That pressure -– and the marquee paring with Tiger on Thursday and Friday -- clearly wasn’t good for his game, and he’ll benefit from reduced expectations and attention this week.
If Tiger Woods was in the field, you’d be looking at three PGA Championships in a row. Tiger said watching the PGA on TV will be tougher for him than watching the British Open. I imagine the reason is that he hasn’t won a major three times in a row yet, and he’s missing a great opportunity to cross that off his bucket list at Oakland Hills.
Tiger is the only player in the game who can get in guys’ heads. Phil doesn’t scare anybody when he’s near the lead. They all know he will find a way to make it interesting.
So who can step up if Phil can’t close the deal? Retief Goosen is another guy who plays well on big courses. I also like Stuart Appleby as a sleeper pick. Stuart has been playing very consistently and his game really fits Oakland Hills.
The other pick might be the field. Caesars Palace Sports Book in Las Vegas posts odds for only the top 69 players in the 156-player field. Right now, Mickelson is the favorite at 7-1 odds, but "The Field" (everyone not on the board) is the true favorite at 6-1.
This year’s champion might actually come from the field — like Shaun Micheel in 2003 and Rich Beem in 2002 — but that would be bad for the game. This is always the least anticipated major, and it’s even less anticipated without Tiger and during the Olympics. Even diehard golf fans sound like they’re more interested in talking about the Ryder Cup.
We need to have another great storyline, like Greg Norman’s run at the British Open, to generate some buzz. My dream scenario would be a Mickelson-Anthony Kim duel on Sunday. They are complete opposites on the spectrum of tenacity: easygoing Phil versus intense Anthony.
Fortunately, when the best players in the world compete for a major, great storylines always emerge. This week won’t be any different.

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