"Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel"

My new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" is the follow-up to "Illegal Procedure" and "Roughing the Passer" and is now available in print and in e-formats at amazon.com, smashwords.com and iBooks. Follow me on twitter @kevinkrest.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW: JORDAN TRIES FOR NUMBER THREE, DJ TRIES TO FORGET 2010, TIGER TRIES TO RECAPTURE THE PAST

This week's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits will begin with a number of potentially big stories unfolding: Rory McIlroy's return to action after a seven week absence; Jordan Spieth's attempt to win his third major of 2015; Ricky Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Matt Kuchar  looking for their first major; and of course Tiger Woods looking to regain his form from a couple of years ago. The last time the PGA was played at this Wisconsin links style layout in 2010, Dustin Johnson grounded his club in a sand trap that had been trampled by spectators and incurred a two shot penalty that kept him out of a playoff that Martin Kaymer eventually won. Johnson, despite some close calls, is still searching for that elusive first major victory. This venue, which requires length and accuracy off the tee, sets up well for long hitters who can at least keep it in the fairway most of the time. So with the way DJ has been playing recently, he has a good chance of contending again. Here is my assessment of the chances of some of the leaders in the FedEx Cup standings:

Jordan Spieth: This 22 year old has been phenomenal this season, winning the first two majors and coming within a couple of inches of holing a birdie putt at the eighteenth hole at St. Andrews that would have put him in a playoff at the British Open. Spieth is pretty accurate off the tee, but I'm not sure if his length enough to put him over the top with guys like Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson bombing away. Of course, his iron play and putting is usually sufficient to put him in contention.

Bubba Watson: Since missing the cut at The Open Championship, Watson has finished second at the Canadian Open and the Bridgestone. His major championship performance has not been good, with 38th place at the Masters and a missed cut at the U.S. Open. But his length should give him a good shot, and he was the player that Kaymer defeated in the playoff at Whistling Straits in 2010. So he's played well at this course, he's played well the last few weeks and the course sets up nicely for him. I like his chances a lot this week.

Jimmy Walker: A solid player, even if he is a little bit of a late bloomer, Walker has two wins and only one missed cut, at the Players, this season. He is decently long off the tee, but his accuracy is a little suspect, and missed fairways are a recipe for disaster at Whistling Straits. He missed the cut here in 2010, so he'll need to improve his driving to contend.

Jason Day: Since the Memorial in June, Day has finished no worse than 12th, recording a victory at the RBC Canadian Open in the process. Despite an inner ear problem, he still managed a tie for ninth a the U.S. Open and followed that up with a fourth place finish at The Open Championship. This 27 year old is poised to break through with a major win. His top ten finish in 2010 proves he can score well at Whistling Straits. I know he's a favorite among a lot of experts, but he'll need to keep the ball in the short grass off the tee. If he does, he could be lifting that Wanamaker Trophy come Sunday night.

Dustin Johnson: After a six month hiatus that is still a bit on the mysterious side, he's put up a win, a playoff loss and five other top eight finishes. All he needs is a major, something he's let slip through his hands more than once. In 2010, all he needed to do was put the ball in the fairway on the 72nd hole and he probably would have won the title. Instead, he was off line and the rest is history. I like his chances this week. It will be interesting to see how he handles his emotions if he makes the turn on Sunday with a shot at victory.

Justin Rose: The talented Englishman missed the cut here in 2010, but you just can't help but love this guy's game. He's currently fourth in total driving and in his last nine events he's put up six top six finishes, a win, a playoff loss and only one missed cut. He already has a U.S. Open title and the way he's playing, it's hard to think he won't add another major title or two before he's finished. If he can keep driving the ball long and straight, he's my pick to win.

Zach Johnson: Despite being one of the shorter drivers on tour, Zach was able to finish one shot out of 2010's playoff. He won a Master's without ever going for a par 5 in two, outlasted an amazing leaderboard at The Open Championship to win in a playoff, so I can't count this guy out. He's tough and now with a couple of major championships, he's put himself in some pretty rarified air. Johnson just knows how to get around a golf course and his driving accuracy, currently fourth on tour, will give him plenty of chances to attack the pin when the opportunity presents itself. But two consecutive majors? Not likely.

Patrick Reed: Reed hasn't been playing well lately and his total driving ranking of 170 would indicate that he doesn't have a chance this week. He didn't play in 2010, not turning pro until 2011 and there are no amateurs in the PGA field. After a great start to the season, he's faded and I don't really expect him to contend.

Ricky Fowler: I have to say it. I really do love this kid. Great golfer, great respect for the game, clearly a great friend of some of his peers on tour. It's cool to see the kids dressed like him. I was so pleased when he won the Players, especially in comeback fashion. His play in the majors has been consistently stellar the last couple of years, but his season it's been pretty mediocre. A 12th place finish at the Masters was followed by a missed cut at the U.S. Open and a tie for 30th at St. Andrews. The last time the PGA was at Whistling Straits, he shot a 77 on Sunday to fade to fifty-eighth place. But his total driving rank of 21 might  help him to be a factor on the back nine of the final round.

J.B. Holmes: Five years ago, Holmes was in the next to last group on Saturday, but imploded with a 77. He rebounded with strong 70 on Sunday to finish 24th. Holmes' length off the tee is a real advantage at Whistling Straits and for some reason I really like his chances this week. He was in the hunt at Chamber's Bay, but faded with a 76 on Sunday. This guy is my true dark horse.

Matt Kuchar: Driving the ball has been Kuchar's big problem this season, but he finished tied for 10th in 2010 so maybe he can connect with those positive vibes this week. His inclusion on this list is more emotional than factual, as I'm just a big Matt Kuchar fan. I'd like to see a little more intensity and grit from him, and he'll need it to beat guys like Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose.

Sergio Garcia: I've said it before and I'll continue to say it until Sergio gets the major monkey off his back. Sixteen years ago Tiger Woods won his second major at this very tournament, challenged to the end by a nineteen year old Spaniard who looked destined to win several majors of his own. But here we are in 2015, and Garcia's legacy is mainly as a Ryder Cupper and Players champion. Garcia missed the cut in 2010 and his driving stats, while good, don't really point to a win this week. But if he has a chance at victory, I'll be pulling for him.

Rory McIlroy: After seven consecutive top eleven finishes and two wins in May, Rory broke his ankle playing soccer and hasn't teed it up since the U.S. Open. What was missing from his game in prior years, mainly focus and consistency, seems to have been evident in abundance before his injury. But can he return from an injury to his left foot, a body part so critical to a right-handed golfer's swing? I'm pretty skeptical, especially since he obviously wasn't healthy enough to tune up at last week's tournament that offered the opportunity to play four rounds because there was no cut. Whistling Straits is a very difficult track to walk, so I just don't see him making the cut, much less getting in contention.

Phil Mickelson: At the age of 45, Mickelson, very possibly the most popular American golfer next to Arnold Palmer, is reaching the twilight of his illustrious career. But his five major championships and 42 career victories rank him second to Tiger Woods on the active player list. Save for a couple of bad shots at U.S. Opens, he could have been a career grand slam winner as well. Does he have another major or two in him? Recent play would indicate not. However, just like the King before him, he'll have plenty of followers until he decides to move on to the Champions Tour.

Tiger Woods: Is his game back far enough for him to contend at a major again? Maybe not, but there's no doubt that if his name shows up on the first page of the leaderboard, as it did at the Quicken Loans a couple of weeks ago, a lot of people will start to take notice. Woods is an old 38, having played competitive golf at a high level for more than twenty five years. That's a lot of swings with a technique that exerted a lot of pressure on his joints. But one thing is indisputable: when he was on his game from 1999 to 2008, there was no one that could come close to beating him. I've been watching golf on television and up close at tournaments since 1964, and while I only caught Hogan and Snead near the end of their careers, no one has ever come close to what Tiger Woods could do on a golf course. Will he win this week?

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords. The third installment, "Offsetting Penalties" is due out in the fall.