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11D AGO

Power Rankings: PGA Championship

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Power Rankings

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    Written by Rob Bolton @RobBoltonGolf

    Not unlike how many of the horses arrive for the annual Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs some 15 miles to its west, Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, is poised to host numerous thoroughbreds in top form for the 106th running of the PGA Championship.

    A review of the course and other information is below the ranking of those projected to contend.



    It’d be a curious opinion to want the sport’s top talents to descend at the second major of 2024 in form other than the current, so it’s a timely bonus that Valhalla will give all 156 entrants a terrific opportunity to stretch and showcase what they got.

    This is the fourth edition of the PGA Championship on the Jack Nicklaus design. After testing as a par 72 in 1996 and 2000, it’s been a par 71 since Rory McIlroy prevailed in 2014. The field’s average that week was a modest 71.539, but that’s when the tournament was contested in August.

    It’s late enough in the growing season this year for Valhalla to present its fully formed self, but it does so now capable of extending to 7,609 yards. That’s 151 yards longer than a decade ago, but the expectation is that it will again provide a fair and consistently strong exam. While visually striking in places, Valhalla’s setup as a proper stage is the narrative. The prepared will be rewarded on an exceptionally balanced course.

    Because it’s a Nicklaus design, long hitters will be licking their chops off tees. With five par 4s tipping at 484 yards or longer piggybacking three par 5s, the driver will be a busy stick. Yet, in 2014, Valhalla surrendered just 278 yards on average in distance of all drives. That was 11th-lowest of all courses measured that season and respectful of the fact that greens average only 5,000 square feet. The formula favors course management over all alternatives. This is major, after all.

    But make no mistake, confident drivers will feast. McIlroy prevailed in 2014 at 16-under 268 and was among five with four rounds in the 60s. He led the field in distance of all drives, total driving, Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and par-4 scoring.

    McIlroy is among the 34 in this week’s field who competed here 10 years ago. The then-new, heat-tolerant T-1 bentgrass on the greens held its own in the muggy conditions at the time. It was a big deal because it was the first time the strain hosted a major. The darker-green surface is ready to touch 13 feet on the Stimpmeter this week; that is, if it wasn’t subject to persistent rain immediately in advance of and during the tournament.

    There’s at least a slight risk of precipitation every day, although Thursday and Sunday are the early clubhouse leaders for cooperative conditions. Wind won’t be a significant factor at any time, so it’ll simply be a matter of dodging lightning and cloudbursts. Daytime highs might not hit 80 degrees until Saturday. Even with a warmup for the finale, it won’t be sweltering. If it’s soft, fairways will play wider but a blend of bluegrass and fescue trimmed to four inches will grab wayward strikes on either side.

    In addition to a lifetime exemption into the tournament, the winner of the Wanamaker trophy will receive exemptions into the next five editions of each of the other three majors. He’ll also secure spots in the last two Signature Events of 2024 and the 2025 editions of The Sentry and THE PLAYERS Championship. His PGA TOUR membership exemption also will extend to the maximum five seasons through 2029.


    ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE

    • MONDAY: Power Rankings
    • TUESDAY*: Sleepers
    • WEDNESDAY: Golfbet Insider
    • FRIDAY: Medical Extensions
    • SUNDAY: Points and Payouts; Qualifiers; Reshuffle

    *Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, which also publishes on Tuesday.

    Rob Bolton is a Golfbet columnist for the PGA TOUR. The Chicagoland native has been playing fantasy golf since 1994, so he was just waiting for the Internet to catch up with him. Follow Rob Bolton on Twitter.

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