Who Will Be Taking Home the 2017 Wannamaker Trophy?
By Paul Laubach
The 2017 PGA Championship should be the easiest to predict for two reasons. First, there is plenty of data to analyze regarding the participants as the season nears a close. Secondly, the site of the event, Quail Hollow, is a regular tour stop, so a number of players have history with this venue. As with most of the majors, the PGA is a shot maker’s tournament. There are so many great ball strikers, however, that any number of players could win. After extensive analysis, and some dart throwing, we are prepared to make the following predictions:
Cover image by Mike Davis, Some rights reserved
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One of These Guys Will Win:
Rory McIlroy is everybody’s favorite. This is hardly a surprise since he had finished top 10 in each of the last five years at Quail Hollow, including a dominating win in 2015. He seems to be playing well of late although the putter is still concerning. Having parted ways with his caddie, we are somewhat cautious, but he knows this course so well, he should be in contention on Sunday.
Hideki Matsuyama is coming off an amazing rout at Firestone last week. His final round 61 was other worldly. I have not seen anyone hit so many quality shots.
That said, he has never won a major and I worry about his putting as well. Not sure he can back up the win last week, but he has a good record in Majors this year (all 3 top 15) and is currently playing well. Further, while not as stellar as McIlroy’s, he has a decent record at Quail Hollow.
Jordan Spieth has played well in the majors this year and is currently trending up, despite giving away a number of shots last week. His putter was not behaving, but we all know what happens when he gets on a roll (see The Open Championship).
He is looking to achieve the career Grand Slam, which might create added pressure. It will take all of his grit to win, however, nothing should be surprising when it comes to his game. My only concern is that he does not regularly play at Quail Hollow. His one appearance resulted in a 32nd place finish.
Ricky Fowler is due. It seems we have been saying this for several years. However, if Sergio can break through, so can Ricky. Fowler had two top five finishes in his last four appearances at Quail Hollow, including his big win.
His record in the Majors this year is very good. I like his putting, and think the ball striking can carry him. As with every tournament he plays, we have to worry about the final round. His best opportunity would be to come from behind on Sunday (a la his win in The Players a few years back).
Top Ten Finish, But Will Not Be Holding the Trophy:
Matt Kuchar is playing as well as anyone else right now, however, he seems destined for great finishes, not victories. I would love to see him win, but figure one of the young guns above will go low on him. Kuchar does not generally play Quail Hollow, which could be a disadvantage. His consistency should keep him near the top of the Leaderboard. Ultimately, he gives up too much distance to some of the big hitters on tour.
Brooks Koepka has easily the best “Major” record this year, with three in the top 11, including the amazing performance at Erin Hills. A lack of history at Quail Hollow and “odds catching up” work against a second major this year, however, his game has few flaws and he is playing well.
Charley Hoffman/Paul Casey are the two best bets to go low on Thursday and Friday. Both have had excellent years and should probably have multiple victories each. Both have a tendency to experience a problem during the latter rounds. Neither has won a major, but both have posted good results this year, with each consistently inside the top 25 at these events.
Phil Michelson looks like he is ready for the Senior Tour, but may have some magic left. Still confused about the split with Bones. The only reason he appears on this list is an impressive resume at Quail Hollow. Three top 5’s in the past four years, with an 11th in 2014 give him hope. Realistically, there is little reason for this pick, but it would certainly make for great television if he could get on the first page of the Leaderboard on Sunday.
Daniel Berger has quietly become one of the better players on tour. I am not sure he has the experience or temperament to win a Major this week, but if he gets hot, he could pull off a performance like Koepka in Wisconsin.
Tony Finau has shown good results at Quail Hollow and is playing well. I look for him to become a big winner in 2018, but think top 10 would be a great result this week. Definitely has the game to win, so you never know.
Xander Schauffele has been the big surprise in the second half of 2017. He appears to have the nerves and intensity of Jordan Spieth. Top 20’s in both his major appearances speaks to his potential. He is very hot at the moment and does not appear to be fazed by the big stage.
The following players have been trending the wrong way: Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Patrick Reed, Jon Rahm and Henrik Stenson. Rose, however, has a great, albeit limited record at Quail Hollow. Stenson has missed three straight cuts on this course. Sergio Garcia has come down to earth since the Masters. His recent marriage will further take the edge off, although he played well in his one appearance at this venue. Any of these guys could win, but most will disappoint.
Look for a Euro, like Alexander Noren, Tyrell Hatton or Thomas Pieters to make a splash, but I do not see a win outside the big four.
Weekly Observation: It appears the PGA Championship will be moved to May next year. I think this is great as it lessens the gap between the Masters and U.S. Open. However, it may be time to officially recognize The Players as a “Major” in order to expand the number of viewable weekends for the non-golf fanatic.
Paul Laubach is completely unqualified to provide expertise with respect to golf course rankings and design, however, he is a highly opinionated golf addict who believes everyone should be entitled to his thoughts. He has recently released Confessions of a Golfaholic: A Guide to Playing America’s Top 100 Public Golf Courses; now available in hardcover edition. Please visit tophundredgolf.com regularly for more (im)practical information.