Philadelphia, PA – If forecasting a major championship had a scientific formula, it would be easy.
Plug in your variables, do some math and it would be simple.
This week's PGA Championship at Kiawah Island has more question marks than the U.S. census.
First, the PGA takes place only three weeks after The Open Championship. The best players in the world teed it up at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but most skipped the Canadian Open.
There is very little frame of reference for current form. Sure, there's been seven full months of the PGA Tour season, but month-to-month, momentum is built. Not every tournament winner is in the throws of a spectacular run when they hit the winner's circle, but generally speaking, you can tell a lot by a few weeks before the tournament starts.
We don't have that at Kiawah.
The course itself is the biggest variable.
This generation of golfer has not had any meaningful experience at the Ocean Course. The main event ever played at Kiawah was the 1991 Ryder Cup. Needless to say, not many of those Ryder Cuppers are in the field. In fact, there will be more CBS broadcasters (2 - Nick Faldo and David Feherty) that played in that Ryder Cup than competitors this week (1 - Jose Maria Olazabal).
That experience will not be enough to make the European captain a favorite.
For those of us that have voted in a few Presidential elections, what we remember most about Kiawah is that it was a hard track. Did the pressure of the most intense Ryder Cup in the last 25 years add to the challenge? Of course, but Kiawah was tough.
The main reason for Kiawah's brutality stems from its location. The Pete Dye design is right on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. There are 10 holes right along the Atlantic and with almost no trees, the single biggest factor in this PGA Championship will be what happens with the wind.
"There's so much room out there, but as soon as the wind starts blowing 20, 30 miles an hour, there's not much room," said Tiger Woods, who played a practice round there last week. "There's so many collection areas and where you have to miss the golf ball to give yourself the correct angle."
At the '91 Ryder Cup, players were hitting 3-irons and 3-woods at par-3s they hit 8-irons at during practice rounds.
The wind could potentially wreak havoc with this championship.
If the gusts don't get you, the back nine at Kiawah will.
"The front nine is a really nice, playable golf course, and then the back nine is not," said Adam Scott. "The back nine is very severe, and it's going to really -- it's going to be interesting down there."
Most golfers will talk at some point about "missing in the correct place." Kiawah will reward the ball-strikers. It has water, it has bunkers and some giant ones at that.
Visually, the Ocean Course will be breath-taking. If the wind doesn't come up, which would be a shocker, the course could be scorable. If the wind blows like it normally does, an over-par winner is a possibility.
The top criteria in winning a major anymore seems to be having not won one in the last four years.
There have been 16 different winners in the last 16 majors.
We've seen stars like Mickelson, Els, Harrington and McIlroy. We've seen fringe stars like Kaymer, McDowell, Bubba and Darren Clarke.
The parity in major golf we're currently enjoying is partially due to Woods. His 3-year swoon seems to be behind him and he's even contended at majors this year. But unlike years past, Woods throws a clunker round in the mix and falls down the board.
Scott should've won The Open Championship comfortably. He bogeyed the last four and essentially handed The Claret Jug to Els. How does Scott respond? McIlroy frittered away the 2011 Masters, but then blew out the field at the U.S. Open in the very next major. Does Scott do that? Hard to figure. After such good memories of his caddie's "greatest week of his life" last year at the Bridgestone Invitational, Scott laid an egg this year.
Phil looks lost. The same for Rory.
Can Luke Donald win the big one after a nice Open?
Does Lee Westwood have the short game? With his spectacular iron game, Westwood will need to have some touch around the greens because in heavy winds, guys will miss greens.
Defending champion Keegan Bradley claimed his first top 10 since Houston when he rallied to win the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational last weekend.
Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson won the first two majors of the year, but both essentially shut it down after each due to newborn children.
Will Kiawah's home-game feel be too much for Dustin Johnson, whose boo-boo at Whistling Straits two years ago prompted PGA of America officials to declare all sand this week "though the green." That means you can dig up more sand than a kid trying to bury his little brother on the beach during practice swings.
It's too hard to pick a winner this week when you don't even know truly what we're dealing with at Kiawah.
There are too many variables.