Americans on run in final major
CAN an Englishman break a 92-year US PGA Championship drought by winning at the Atlanta Athletic Club this month?
England’s Jim Barnes (1916 and 1919) was the first and last player from the Old Dart to achieve the feat.
Nick Faldo got as near as anyone to breaking the jinx on English golfers in golf ’s minor major.
The six-time major winner gave England a glimmer of hope in 1992 when he finished in a tie for second behind another Nick – Zimbabwe’s Nick Price.
In 1993, Faldo, who won three US Masters and three Open Championships, came in third and in 1994 he finished in a tie for fourth and that’s about as close as he got.
Currently, there are four Englishmen ranked in the top-20 in the world and all want to make up for lost time and lift the Wanamaker Trophy.
At the time of writing, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood are ranked number one and two respectively while Paul Casey (15) and Ian Poulter (16) make up the quartet.
Add South African-born Englishman Justin Rose (ranked 32 in the world) to the mix and you start to think 2011 could be the year of the English.
If you are a betting man and think the Poms are too risky you may want to stick with the tried and tested Americans.
History tells us the Americans have lifted the trophy 76 times (54 different winners) while the rest of the world’s golfers have only made it to the podium 15 times.
But it seems the Americans are starting to lose their mojo.
Tiger Woods (remember him?) was the last American to win the title in 2007.
German Martin Kaymer was victorious last year while Y.E. Yang (Korea) and Irishman Padraig Harrington were victorious in 2009 and 2008 respectively.
In the past few years, the game has changed dramatically and now it’s a group of young Europeans, Aussies and South Africans who have the Americans on the run.
US Open champion Rory McIlroy, US Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Australian Jason Day are no longer in the Americans’ rear-vision mirror – they have caught up and are about to pull away.
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy is well and truly over his US Masters meltdown and it won’t be long before he’s the number one golfer in the world.
Both he and Day are excitement machines and will challenge each other for many years to come.
While the Americans have dominated the event, it’s the Australians who are next with four wins.
Big Jim Ferrier got the ball rolling for Australia when he won in 1947. He passed the baton to David Graham who won in 1979 and he was followed into the winner’s circle by Wayne Grady (1990) and Steve Elkington (1995).
In 1986, the name that should have been on the trophy was Greg Norman’s.
Instead, Bob Tway, that tall and severe American with a laid-back personality, ripped it from the Shark’s grasp when he holed a memorable bunker shot on the 72nd hole.
Norman had led from day one when he fired a 65, but he let himself down with a final round 76.
In 1993, Norman came close again but was beaten in a playoff by American Paul Azinger and he, like Faldo, never really challenged again. So who will win this time? Since 1962 Gary Player (twice), Nick Price (twice), Vijay Singh (twice) David Graham, Grady, Elkington, Yang, Harrington and Kaymer have wrested the crown from the Americans.
Kaymer, Harrington and Barnes, albeit a long time ago, proved the Europeans can do it.
What often beats them is the US’s sticky weather and that’s why the bookies just may give some juicy odds on the Europeans – particularly the English.
The conditions won’t worry Spaniard Sergio Garcia, who is playing well again and could go one better than his second behind Tiger in 1999.
Jason Day is a Queenslander so the hot weather won’t worry him and he will start as one of the favourites.
Of the rest of the Aussie contingent, Aaron Baddeley looks the most likely as he has been making regular appearances on the leaderboards.
If he can hit more fairways and greens in regulation and keep his putter hot he could challenge.
Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Robert Allenby and Stuart Appleby seem to be wavering, though Scott did show some promise at the recent Open Championship, finishing T25.
Oftentimes, an outsider has a habit of sneaking up to win the US PGA Championship so perhaps tall Queenslander John Senden could do a Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel or Mark Brooks.
He’s a terrific ball-striker who just needs to get the flat-stick working for four days in August.
If you are looking for a speculator, pick Rory – Rory Sabbatini.
If you are looking to put your hard earned on an American look for Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson, Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney, Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker or even aging David Toms, who won at the Atlanta Athletic Club 10 years ago.
Of course, Phil Mickelson is always a chief threat. FOOTNOTE: The 93nd US PGA Championship will be played at Atlanta Athletic Club in Georgia from August 11-14.
Matt Kuchar is one of many PGA Tour professionals hoping to break America’s three-year podium drought at the PGA Championship