The U.S. Open may identify the best golfer, but the PGA Championship may reveal the best golfer right now. Each of the last 10 winners of the season's final major recorded a top-25 finish in his last PGA TOUR start prior to hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy. Five recorded top fives in their previous start, including the last two -- Rory McIlroy (2012) and defending champion Jason Dufner -- both at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville hosts the 96th edition of the PGA and its third (1996, 2000). The Jack Nicklaus design was also the site of the Senior PGA Championship in 2004 and 2001 as well as the 2008 Ryder Cup. In a renovation for the biennial competition, it was lengthened 291 yards. Now capable to stretching 7,458 yards, the par 35-36--71 is actually down 38 yards, but no hole is listed by more than six yards shorter than how it measured in 2008.
Since the 2011 Senior PGA, Valhalla's greens were upgraded to a more heat-tolerant strain of Bentgrass. In addition to the strategic removal of some trees to encourage growth at ground level, arguably the most noticeable change was made to the green at the par-3 eighth hole. Previously more penal despite its benign 174 yards, Nicklaus softened the contours with this week in mind.
Valhalla plays and routes like most modern Nicklaus tracks. There's room off the tee, but the field of 156 will be summoned to hit it both ways. So, make no mistake that this is a second-shot golf course. Because of the quintessential, sectioned greens featured on so many Nicklaus courses, it's target golf on approach. Hitting greens in regulation and confidence in putting will rule the day. Exceptional short-game artists will also stand out.
It's August in the Ohio River Valley, which means muggy conditions throughout the tournament, but high temperatures will remain in the mid-80s. A reasonable risk of thunderstorms populates the entire forecast. Winds may kick up as inclement weather encroaches, but there is no significant impact otherwise.
POWER RANKINGS: PGA Championship
1 Rory McIlroy 2 Sergio Garcia 3 Adam Scott 4 Jim Furyk 5 Rickie Fowler 6 Matt Kuchar 7 Keegan Bradley 8 Justin Rose 9 Ryan Moore 10 Marc Leishman 11 Patrick Reed 12 Graeme McDowell 13 Henrik Stenson 14 Jimmy Walker 15 Hideki Matsuyama 16 Phil Mickelson 17 Charl Schwartzel 18 Jordan Spieth 19 Bubba Watson 20 Brandt Snedeker