By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The PGA Championship sets up as the most dramatic of golf’s majors this year.
While the event does not carry the status of the U.S. Open, Masters or British Open, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are both at the top of their game. There’s every chance that the two best players in the world could engage in a classic duel on Sunday to decide the last major of the year.
If it works out that way, Tiger vs. Phil will have the look of Jack vs. Arnie. It should be a classic.
But golf does not often play out the way it is supposed to. Tiger may have five tour victories this season, but he has gone five long years without a major and there’s no guarantee he will continue to play the same kind of stellar golf at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. that he played at the Bridgestone Classic last week when he whipped the field by seven strokes.
Mickelson was sensational in the British Open, firing a 66 in the final round to win that championship. Unlike the old Lefty, he will not always go for the all-or-nothing, reckless shot. If he gets behind and he has to do something to get back into contention, Mickelson will still go for it. But if he has the lead, Mickelson will take the thoughtful approach and is less likely to do something stupid than he was in the past.
There’s no guarantee that either man will play three consistent rounds of golf that leave them in contention on Sunday.
If the Tiger-Phil duel fails to work out, here are the golfers that you need to watch:
Brandt Snedeker – He has had a sensational year in 2013, winning two tournament and coming in second in two others despite having a rib problem that slowed him down in the middle of the year. Snedeker is healthy and he has the tee-to-green game and the putting stroke to make a run at his first major. Snedeker is normally a relaxed and efficient golfer in non-major tournaments. However, he tends to get too amped up at the majors and he has a difficult time putting his last shot behind him. If he misses a putt, he may be thinking about that on his next tee or fairway shot. If he can avoid that trap, Snedeker will be there all weekend.
Jason Day – The Australian has not won this year on the PGA tour, but he is having one of the most consistent seasons. In addition to making the cut in every tournament he has played, Day was third in the Masters and second in the U.S. Open. He does not get overwhelmed by the big events and he knows how to make clutch putts. He may not win, but Day should make his presence felt and there’s every reason to think he will be a factor on Sunday.
Matt Kuchar – Like Snedeker, he is also enjoying a tremendous season with two wins and two second-place finishes this year. Kuchar is also looking for his first major championship. Kuchar has an excellent short game and that’s obviously going to serve him well at the PGA. If Kuchar gets on a roll, he can string approach shots within 10 feet on a consistent basis.
Adam Scott – His breakthrough win in the Masters has propelled Scott to a different level on the tour. He does everything well and should withstand the test that Oak Hill provides. Scott has the distance, is fairly accurate off the tee for a big hitter, hits his irons well and can hit stellar approaches. His putting is the big issue. If Scott is on, as he was in the Masters, he can move to the top of the leaderboard. Since a lot of the pressure was relieved after his win at Augusta, Scott should be primed for a big effort.
Miguel Angel Jimenez – This 49-year-old Spaniard with the ponytail is clearly a longshot, but don’t think for a second that he doesn’t belong here. Jimenez was in contention in the British Open and he also made some noise at the Bridgestone Invitational last week as he finished tied for fourth. Jimenez may not look like an athlete because of his pot belly and trademark cigar, but he is a fine shotmaker. He is especially deadly with his irons and he can fly the ball directly at the flagstick. If his putting is steady, he has a chance to be an underdog winner.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.