The PGA Championship is often referred to as the best opportunity for the tour’s more obscure players to add a major championship to their resume. But Whistling Straits, a sprawling links-ish track with sand in all the right places (or wrong places, if your name rhymes with Justin Donson) presents an arduous test of both the mind and body. Just ask Vijay Singh and Martin Kaymer.
While the playing styles of Singh and Kaymer may not seem that similar on the surface, the winners of the last two PGA Championships at Whistling Straits have something in common: marvelous ball striking. Singh finished second in greens in regulation (54 of 72 for 75 percent) en route to victory in 2004, and Kaymer finished T6 in that statistic in 2010 (52 of 72 for 72.2 percent). Kaymer hit 21 greens in a row in 2010, starting with the fifth hole in the second round and ending at the eighth hole of the third round.
So, what will it take to win this week? Solid iron play and plenty of long, straight drives. At 7500+ yards with thick rough framing the fairways and bunkers that are strategically and diabolically placed, Whistling Straits will expose those who are slightly off with the driver.
With those factors in mind, here are our picks this week. Whether you’re in a stroke play pool, daily fantasy contest or picking guys for bragging rights against a buddy, don’t overlook these names.
After a tough stretch early in the season for the Aussie, Scott has finished in the top 10 in the last two majors and has the ball striking abilities Whistling Straits requires. He’s 11th on tour in strokes gained/tee-to-green and eighth in GIR (70.8 percent). The 312 yards Scott averages off the tee (fourth on tour) don’t hurt, either. And neither does Steve Williams’ return to Scott’s bag.
The second Aussie on our list is probably the best player right now without a major victory, a title he’s due to lose shortly. Day is 26th in strokes gained/tee-to-green and 32nd in GIR (69 percent), but maybe more importantly has contended in each of the last two major championships. He averages 314 yards off the tee (third on tour) and is second this season in birdie average (4.56).
Fresh off T3, T4 and T6 finishes in his last three events (Bridgestone, Quicken Loans and the British Open)—not to mention a third-round 63 at Firestone CC last week—Rose is primed for a big victory. He’s ranked seventh on tour in strokes gained/tee-to-green and 14th in driving distance (305 yards a pop). Match those numbers with a solid putting performance and Whistling Straits becomes the site of Rose’s second major championship victory.
A T6 finish at the British Open put Willett on the casual golf fan’s radar, but he’s no stranger to the winner’s circle. The Englishman has three European Tour wins since 2012, including a victory a few weeks ago at the Omega European Masters. He hasn’t played enough PGA Tour events for official ShotLink rankings, but his numbers through nine tournaments have him eighth in total driving and 33rd in strokes gained/tee-to-green. If you’re looking for a sleeper pick, Willett’s the guy.
Check back Monday to see how our picks fared and which statistics played the biggest role in determining victory at the year’s final major.