No European golfer has ever won the USPGA Championship. In fact, only seven men from outside the USA have lifted the Wannamaker Trophy in the 89 previous tournaments. But, if ever there was a year for the European duck to be broken, this is it.
European golf is on a high at the moment – Padraig Harrington’s successful defence of the Open Championship has seen him climb to number three in the Official World Ranking; Lee Westwood finished third in the US Open then in a tie for second at last week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational; there are currently 10 Europeans in the World’s top 30 and there are 30 Europeans on the start sheet at Oakland Hills.
Add to that the fact Oakland Hills was the venue for Europe’s greatest ever Ryder Cup victory back in 2004 when Bernhard Langer’s side trounced the USA by 18.5 to 9.5 in their own backyard. Eight members of that victorious team – Paul Casey, Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Colin Montgomerie, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood – will be teeing it up this week. They’ll be looking to feed off the good memories they have around the Michigan layout in order to take the Wannamaker Trophy across the Atlantic for the first time.
With no Tiger Woods in the field Phil Mickelson has been given the tag of favourite. He’s been to Oakland Hills for a pre-tournament practice session and will be looking to make up for his disappointing finish last week – he closed with bogey, bogey at Firestone to lose by two.
Oakland Hills is one of the most prestigious clubs in the US. Its status was marked from the outset – the layout was the work of famous course architect Donald Ross and the club’s first professional was Walter Hagen. The club has hosted four US Open Championships in 1924, 1937, 1951, 1961, 1985 and 1996. In the ’51 Open, won by Ben Hogan, Oakland Hills earned the moniker, “The Monster.”
At 7,395 yards and with a par of 70, the course should live up to that billing this week, who will tame the beast?
Venue: Oakland Hills Country Club, Michigan
Date: Aug 7-10
Course stats: 7,395 yards, par 70
Purse: $7,200,000 Winner: $1,260,000
Defending Champion: Tiger Woods (-8)
Thursday 7 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 6.30pm
Friday 8 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 6.30pm
Saturday 9 – Live on Sky Sports 3 from 4pm
Sunday 10 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 4pm
Phil Mickelson: The 2005 Champion is on good form and will be looking to make the most of (probably) the last Major without Tiger Woods in the field. If he can find some consistency off the tee he’ll be tough to beat.
Anthony Kim: The young American is being widely touted as a future Major champion so why not this time round? He’s already won twice on the PGA Tour this year and had a good finish at Royal Birkdale.
Lee Westwood: Westy is having a great season but it’s missing one key ingredient – a victory. He’d love to rectify that at Oakland Hills. If he can lift the Wannamaker Trophy he’ll turn a great season into an awesome one.
Key hole: 18th. At 498 yards it’s been, statistically, the most difficult hole in the history of championship golf at Oakland Hills. The fairway slopes right to left and is notoriously difficult to hit and the shallow green is protected by four bunkers. If the leader needs a par here to win on Sunday night get ready for a playoff.
Skills required: Length – with four par fours measuring over 490 yards the man who can hit it straight and long from the tee will be at a distinct advantage.