The 2014 PGA Championship is set to get underway at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, KY. This will be the 96th edition and the third at Valhalla, which previously hosted this major back in 1996 and 2000. Jack Nicklaus is responsible for designing this course and seems to put his stamp on all kinds of tracks on the PGA TOUR these days. Valhalla also held the Senior PGA Championship in 2004 and 2011, while also hosting the 2008 Ryder Cup.
The par 35-36-71 was lengthened 291 yards for that Ryder Cup and now stretches out to 7,458 yards. The greens were upgraded following the 2011 Senior PGA to allow for tolerating the heat much better. There have also been some trees removed to promote growth on the ground. The biggest change was the green at the par-3 eighth hole. Nicklaus decided to take some of the bigger contours out to make it slightly less penal.
There has been an interesting trend forming at the PGA Championship over the past decade. Indeed, each of the last 10 winners of this major registered a top-25 finish in his last PGA TOUR start. Obviously, having good form coming in has been one of the keys to hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy. Five of those recorded top fives in their previous start. That includes the last two in Rory McIlroy (2012) and Jason Dufner (2013).
Valhalla is no different from most of Nicklaus’ modern tracks these days. Players are asked to hit the ball both ways, but the field of 156 will have ample room to land in fairways off the tee. This is just another second-shot course, which is clearly a staple of Nicklaus’ designs. The greens are very sectional, so accuracy on approach shots will be imperative to making birdies. Players with great short games will certainly have an advantage.
Each week, I go through and pick five golfers that I believe have the best chance to win while also factoring in the odds. Here are my top four contenders as well as a long shot pick for the 2014 PGA Championship.
Rickie Fowler (+2105) – The only player with top fives in each of the year’s first five majors. If it was a compilation, he would lead second place by five strokes in the three majors. He also has top 15s in each of his last five starts. Only Rory McIlroy is hotter right now, but at basically 5/1, he’s not worth a look at such short odds.
Henrik Stenson (+2470) – While he is winless since his 2013 European Tour finale, Stenson’s accuracy off the tee and high ball flight will pay major dividends at Valhalla. His T19 at Firestone was his 10th top 20 in his last 14 starts, five of which went for top 5s.
Phil Mickelson (+2470) – While Lefty is without at top 10 this season, he is clearly rounding into form heading into Valhalla. His 62 at Firestone on Sunday will have him heading into the PGA Championship with a ton of confidence. His ability to be aggressive off the tee will help him on this course, which has wide fairways.
Jim Furyk (+3700) – His T15 at Firestone was his 11th top 20 in his last 12 starts. He has had some bad luck in finishing runner-up numerous times this year, but may be ready to break through for a win at a place he is familiar with. Furyk ranks T2 in proximity to the hole and first in scrambling this year, which are two key stats at Valhalla.
Robert Karlsson (+10000) – Talk about tremendous odds for one of the best players in the world that not too many folks know about. This will only be the second start in the United States for this European Tour member. Karlsson has had seven top 15s worldwide this year, including in each of his last three starts. He quietly tied for 12th at The Open Championship. He ranks 11th on the European Tour in putting and 18th in scoring average.