Plenty on the line for the final major
The 94th edition of The USPGA Championship tees off today at Kiawah Island, Ocean course in South Carolina.
The final major of the year is the last chance for 153 of the 156 strong field to claim golfs biggest prize, a major championship in 2012.
The Pete Dye course hugs the coastline where adverse weather, late storms and strong winds are expected throughout the week.
The key hole will be the 223 yard 17th which can be anything from a 3 wood to a 9 iron depending on the unpredictable weather.
Tiger Woods will head into the event as favourite, like he usually does.
Woods has clawed his way back to number two in the world, and is in solid form that being said there is still is streakiness about the American’s game.
Luke Donald and Lee Westwood will be trying to claim their first major championship and will be spurred on by Great Britain’s recent success at the Olympic Games.
Northern Ireland’s Graham McDowell and Rory McIlroy will both be strong contenders this week. Both players are in form and should be used to Ocean Course’s conditions.
The subplot to the PGA this week is the sprint finish to claim a spot on either the European or United States Ryder Cup teams.
There are still up to 35 Europeans that can steal a valuable spot with the qualification process being finalized at the end of the month.
The US team allows four picks by team captain Davis Love 111 whereas Jose Maria Olazabal has two picks to determine his strongest 12 golfers.
Both captains will be competing this week and will be keeping a very close eye on proceedings before making their valuable captains picks.
There are a number of players on the bubble of gaining spots and would benefit by winning or putting in a strong performance on the Kiawah layout.
Padraig Harrington is currently sitting in 19th position and the Irishman needs to claim his 2nd Wanamaker trophy this week to have any chance of forcing his way into automatic position.
Winning is a strong possibility for Harrington as his game has been on the way up the past year after going through swing changes after claiming his 3rd major in 2008.
The 40-year-old came tied 4th at the Masters and tied 8th at the US Open as well as showing signs of his former self despite having a victory to his name.
Europe’s captain is aware of Padraigs looming presence but admits, “He will have to do extraordinary well here”.
Sergio Garcia is clinging to the 10th and final automatic spot. The Spaniard plays his best in the Ryder Cup, where his passion shines through and one would assume that he would gain a captains pick from his mentor should he be overtaken. Olazabal reiterated this fact by stating “ He’s a great team player. I think he is a great asset to the team”.
Nicolas Colsaerts is narrowly behind Sergio for the last automatic position. This weeks promises to be a bombers paradise, which will help the longest hitter on the European tour become the first Belgian to claim a place on the European team, he will need to at least finish in the top 22.
Phil Mickleson is normally a certainty in the American line up is not guaranteed of an automatic start up this year. Phil is paired with Love the first two rounds, so he will be able to show why he should be in the team as he clings to the last qualifying spot. His experience behind the scenes and value he would bring the rookies will surely boost Mickelsons prospects.
Young guns Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan and Brandt Snedeker and the ‘old fellas’ Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker will be trying to stake their claim and move into an automatic position.
Although they will be focused on winning the tournament it will be further motivation to put in a solid showing at the PGA and force their way into the leading 8 players.
If the USPGA goes to script with the rest of the year, we are in for an exciting and unpredictable finish to the years ‘last chance at glory’.
Oliver Neave, golf correspondent