Golf: Advantage belongs to long hitters at PGA Championship

Dustin Johnson is tipped to win but he has the big bombers to contend with at Bellerive.
Dustin Johnson is tipped to win but he has the big bombers to contend with at Bellerive.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ST LOUIS (Missouri) • Dustin Johnson may be the favourite to win the PGA Championship that starts tomorrow but golf's long hitters will also be at home at Bellerive ahead of the final Major of the year.

A course stretching to 7,547 yards, with wide fairways and soft greens will give the big bombers the advantage they did not always enjoy at last month's The Open Championship on the parched fairways at Carnoustie.

World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational winner Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy are looming as the main challengers to Johnson, while former world No. 1 Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, who can achieve the career Grand Slam with a win, also cannot be discounted.

But Woods did not play well at the Bridgestone last week and Bellerive is not really up his alley. A decade removed from his 14th, and most recent, Major victory, he is better suited these days to courses that demand subtlety and shot-making.

Johnson is not the world No. 1 by accident but he is not quite the closer in Majors that he is in regular tournaments.

Another near-miss at the US Open in June, when he finished third after a pedestrian final round, revived nagging doubts about his ability to seal the deal, and the 2016 US Open remains his only Major win to date.

McIlroy, meanwhile, has heaps of great golf left in him but needs to win a Major on a firm and difficult track to shed the tag of being a flat-track bully, with his four Major titles all coming on rain-softened courses where he could bomb away with his driver and attack with his irons.

A dark horse worth keeping close tabs on is American Tony Finau, who has top-10 finishes in all three Majors this year.

A prodigiously long hitter, statistically the third-longest driver on the Tour this year, he reduces pretty much every par-five to a par-four, and he will be one to watch if he can find the fairways at Bellerive.

The Zoysia grass fairways offer perfect lies, with a modest but not particularly deep rough, while the greens should allow players to fire fearlessly at the pins.

Five-time Major winner Phil Mickelson has predicted a low winning score on Sunday.

"The greens you can make a lot of putts, the fairways are pristine, the ball just sits up beautifully and around the greens, you can spin your chip shots and get them close. So I feel like you can attack the golf course," he said.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2018, with the headline 'Advantage long hitters at PGA C'ship'. Print Edition | Subscribe