In 2008 Padraig Harrington became the first European to lift the Wannamaker Trophy when he won the USPGA Championship at Oakland Hills by two shots from Sergio Garcia and Ben Curtis.
The Irishman will be amongst the favourites again this year after his dramatic return to form at the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational last week.
The man to beat at Hazeltine will, unsurprisingly, be the man who beat Padraig at Firestone – Tiger Woods. He’s won each of the last two weeks and, with closing rounds of 65, 65 at the Bridgestone, he showed he’s back to his imperious best. With four victories in the USPGA Championship, Tiger will be looking to join Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen as the only five-time winners of the tournament.
The Robert Trent Jones designed course at Hazeltine opened for play in 1963 and within seven years it played host to a Major – the US Open of 1970. In that tournament England’s Tony Jacklin won with something to spare, he remains the last European to win the US Open title. Perhaps the Jacklin connection with Hazeltine might inspire one of the English players to success this week. There are 12 of them in the field with Lee Westwood leading the charge. He’s been playing solid golf for some months now and was in contention at the Open Championship right up to the death. Two other Englishmen who had a chance to win at Turnberry – Ross Fisher and Chris Wood – will also tee it up at Hazeltine.
Stretching to 7,674 yards and with only one par-4 under 400 yards, the course at Hazeltine looks like being something of a brute. When the USPGA was last contested here back in 2002, the layout was ranked as the second hardest played on the PGA Tour through that year. Then, Rich Beem won the tournament by a single shot from Tiger Woods.
Venue: Hazeltine National GC, Minnesota
Date: August 13-16
Course stats: par 72, 7,674 yards
Purse: $7,500,000 Winner: $1,350,000
Defending Champion: Padraig Harrington (-3)
Thursday 13 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 7pm
Friday 14 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 7pm
Saturday 15 – Live on Sky Sports 3 from 4pm
Sunday 16 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 4pm
Tiger Woods – It’s impossible to look past the World Number-1. He’s won five times in 2009 from just 12 starts. He’s also been in the top-10 in 10 of those events. He’s won this tournament four times and narrowly missed out the last time it was contested at Hazeltine back in 2002.
Lee Westwood – He’s been knocking on the door of a significant victory and this could be the Englishman’s week. He’s a great driver of the ball and that will be essential to success here. If he can get the putter working as he did in the last round at Firestone, he’ll be right up there on Sunday afternoon.
Rory McIlroy – The young Northern Irishman is yet to contend in a Major but he’s made the cut in all four of his Major starts. This course should suit his game, he’s one of the longest players in the field so the 7,650 yard layout won’t scare him.
Key Hole: 16th. It’s only 402 yards but it was described by Johnny Miller as “probably the hardest par-4 I ever played.” The players drive over the lake but must stay short of a stream on the left side of the fairway. The green is narrow, elevated and tough to hold. The water, waiting to the right, also comes into play.
Skills Required: Long, straight hitting. With some monstrous holes to negotiate this week, the man who is bombing his driver long and straight will be at a distinct advantage. With two par-5s over 600 yards and numerous par-4s at the 500 yard mark, this will be a stern test of power hitting.