Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The PGA Championship: Everything you need to know

 

The PGA Championship begins Thursday at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, the fourth of golf’s majors. Who’s going to win? How’s it going to go down? We know, and we’ll tell you right here.

Wait, another major? Didn’t we just have one of these?

We did indeed. Henrik Stenson concluded his thorough throttling of Royal Troon at the British Open barely 10 days ago, and here we are back at it again. Blame it on Rio, to coin a phrase; the Olympics forced golf to adopt a much tighter-than-usual schedule, and the PGA Championship got bumped back up the calendar a bit.

Ah yes, the Olympics.

Right. As you already know, most every major golfer has bowed out of the Olympics, claiming fears of Zika virus while not exactly opposing the idea of getting a bit more rest in advance of the FedEx Cup playoffs and Ryder Cup. So while the PGA Championship gets a bit of mocking, it’s also got a far better field than the Olympics could ever imagine.

Why’s everybody always dumping on the PGA Championship?

It’s the Ringo of majors, the one whose various slogans (“Glory’s Last Shot,” “This Is Major,” “Please Love Us,” “Last Chance ‘Til Next April,” and so on) have only added to the tournament’s veneer of an inferiority complex. Which is unfortunate, because the PGA Championship has always been competitive and generally delivers a marquee winner. Since the tournament was last at Baltusrol in 2005 – a tournament Phil Mickelson won, by the way – winners have included Tiger Woods (twice; he lost a third to Y.E. Yang on the final holes in 2009), Rory McIlroy (twice), and Jason Day. That’s a solid set of champions right there.

What’s the story with the course?

Baltusrol, in suburban New Jersey, has hosted seven U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships. It has two courses, and the Lower Course will be hosting the PGA Championship while the Upper hosts a lot of merch tents and such. The club dates back to the 1800s, but the courses as they stand now were created by famed architect A.W. Tillinghast in 1926.

The course starts rough and offers salvation at its end. The opening seven holes have the sobriquet “The Sobering Seven,” which is strange because you’re really going to want to drink once you see your scorecard after playing them. The course’s signature hole is the 196-yard par-3 4th, fronted entirely by a pond. Baltusrol also backloads its par-5s – way, WAY backloads them, placing them at the 17th and 18th holes. The 649-yard 17th is the second-longest in PGA Championship history. That means there’s opportunity to throw red numbers up on the board late, which should lead to Sunday-afternoon drama.

So who’s looking sharp this year?

This tournament seems to be a favorite of McIlroy; he’s won every other year since 2012. Dustin Johnson is playing the finest golf of his career right now. Mickelson, the defending Baltusrol champ, is coming off what should have been the defining major of his career, were it not for an otherworldly performance by Henrik Stenson. Day, the defending PGA champ, is a bit more ragged; he only saw the course for the first time on Wednesday and is battling a cold. And Jordan Spieth ought to be under consideration, but don’t tell him that.

Yeah, but we know all those guys. Who are all these dudes I’ve never heard of?

Dudes you’ve never heard of. The PGA Championship invites PGA teaching pros from golf clubs all over to attempt to qualify for the tournament, and those that do (20 of the 156 in the field) find themselves, for a moment, at the white-hot center of the golf universe. Most don’t see the weekend, but don’t think that’s a reflection on their skills—any of them could beat you going away.

What are the records in play?

The PGA Championship isn’t nearly as tough as either the U.S. or British Opens, and isn’t as devious as Augusta, which means that low scores are out there for the fortunate. David Toms owns the lowest absolute score at 265, set in 1991, while Jason Day owns the lowest score in relation to par at -20, set just last year. Rory McIlroy’s 2012 victory by eight strokes was the widest winning margin. Thirteen golfers have notched the low score of 63, most recently Hiroshi Iwata last year.

Where can I watch?

In addition to the PGA app and website, you can catch the opening two rounds of the tournament on TNT from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET. Saturday and Sunday, TNT handles the early action from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and then CBS steps in to take us home (expected tournament end: approximately 7 p.m.). And come Sunday afternoon, you’ll want to soak it all in.

Why’s that?

Because after that, it’s a long seven months till Augusta.

Aw, man.

Yep. Enjoy the last major golf of the year while it lasts, starting Thursday.

____
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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