By Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM Fantasy Columnist
Hitting fairways is the key at Oak Hill Country Club this week, right? That may prove to be true, but contenders at the 2003 PGA Championship as well as recent winners of the season's final major don't present the kind of evidence required for an open-and-shut case.
Of the 13 golfers that finished inside the top 10 on the leaderboard at Oak Hill in 2003, only five ranked inside the top 10 in fairways hit that week. Champion Shaun Micheel, who was two strokes lower than runner-up Chad Campbell, split only 31 of 56 fairways (55.36 percent) to rank T40 in the field (Campbell tied for third-most with 41 fairways hit). Instead, Micheel did his heavy lifting thereafter, ranking T3 in greens in regulation and first in putting average. He also led the field in par-4 scoring.
Aligning with what we expect at most tournaments, seven of the same 13 golfers in 2003 placed inside the top 10 in greens in regulation. Six of the 13 ranked inside the top 10 in putting. Both trump driving accuracy.
Since the PGA Championship migrates and course pars vary, direct comparisons can't be made between host tracks, but it's somewhat relevant to mention that Padraig Harrington (in 2008) is the last PGA champion to crack the top 15 in fairways hit the week of his victory. He checked in at T7. Y.E. Yang (2009) and Keegan Bradley (2011) tied for 20th; Rory McIlroy (2012) ranked T42 and Martin Kaymer (2010) finished T49. Meanwhile, Yang (eighth), Bradley (second) and McIlroy (10th) placed inside the top 10 in putting. All five finished the week inside the top 13 in greens in regulation.
So, while Oak Hill suggests that first shots need to come to rest in short grass, the host of the 95th PGA Championship could evolve into a second-shot golf course. That it measures just 7,163 yards from the tips supports the theory; that is, even the shortest knockers won't necessarily be wielding long irons on the longest holes.