Philadelphia, PA – The PGA Championship heads to Oak Hill Country Club's East Course for a third time.
In 1980 at Oak Hill, Jack Nicklaus won his 17th major championship in resounding fashion. Nicklaus closed with three straight rounds in the 60s to beat Andy Bean by seven strokes. Many thought it would be Nicklaus' last major, but he surprised everyone at the 1986 Masters.
At the 2003 PGA Championship, virtual unknown Shaun Micheel hit one of the most iconic shots in event history. Micheel was battling Chad Campbell throughout the round, and had a 1-stroke lead heading to the final hole.
Micheel's 7-iron approach shot stopped inches from the hole. He tapped in for birdie and his first major championship title.
That win closed a season in which all four major champions were first-time major winners. Of those four, Micheel is the only one that hasn't won since that victory.
Thirty-seven players that competed at the 2003 PGA Championship have qualified for this year's championship. Among that group are nine PGA champions and four PGA club professionals.
Among those nine champions are 2005 winner Phil Mickelson, 2008 winner Padraig Harrington and four-time titlist Tiger Woods.
Oak Hill has also hosted three U.S. Opens, which were won by Cary Middlecoff, Lee Trevino and Curtis Strange. The East Course is a tree-lined course, so it will be more difficult for the bomb-and-gauge group like Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson. A player that finds a lot of fairways, like Henrik Stenson or Jim Furyk, may have more of an advantage.
Adam Scott won the Masters earlier this year and was the first of two first- time major winners in 2013. Scott, who bogeyed four in a row to lose the British Open last year, needed a playoff to dispatch Angel Cabrera and win his first major.
The U.S. Open returned to Merion for the first time in 30 years, and Justin Rose put together a stellar closing round of 70 to win his first major by two strokes over Jason Day and Mickelson, who finished second for a record sixth time.
Mickelson, who many thought could never win the British Open, did just that at Muirfield. Mickelson won the Scottish Open the week before and carried that momentum through all four rounds of the British Open.
The left-hander fired a 5-under 66 in the final round to come from behind and win his first claret jug. He also became the first player to win those two events in back-to-back weeks. Scott again grabbed the lead in the final round, but for the second straight year, bogeyed four in a row to fall from the lead.
Heading into the final major of the season, Mickelson would have to be among the favorites with five top-3 finishes in his last seven starts.
Woods is coming off a commanding, 7-stroke victory at the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational. He has top-10 finishes at the Masters and British Open, to go along with five victories this year.
Of course, those two are also the top-two ranked players in the world so it's easy to mark them as the top-two favorites.
Brandt Snedeker and Matt Kuchar join Woods and Mickelson as the four players with multiple victories this season. Snedeker has made the cut in only three of his six PGA Championship starts, and this is the only major in which he doesn't have a top-10 finish.
Kuchar's record is equally as spotty. He has played the weekend in two of his five previous PGA Championship starts. However, the two times he made it to the weekend, he also posted top-20 finishes.
Last year's runner-away winner Rory McIlroy had missed the cut in three of his last five starts before sharing 27th at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Prior to that rough patch, he had four straight top 25s, including three top-10 finishes.
Regardless of which McIlroy shows up, it will be very difficult for him to match what he accomplished in 2012 at Kiawah Island. He went 11-under par over the final two rounds and lapped the field.
McIlroy beat David Lynn by eight strokes, even though Lynn closed 68-68. The 8-shot margin of victory was the largest in championship history.
McIlroy isn't playing to that level at this point.
After Woods' performance at the Bridgestone, it's tough to say if anyone is playing as well as he is. However, the same could have been said entering the Masters, as Woods beat Rose by two at Bay Hill three weeks before the year's first major at Augusta.
The final battle this week between Woods and Mickelson is for the lead in the Player of the Year race. Woods has five wins (including two WGC's) and a pair of top-10s in majors. Mickelson has two wins (with one being a major) and two runner-up finishes (one of which was at the U.S. Open).
A win by Woods at Oak Hill would just about wrap up Player of the Year honors. One could say the same for a win by Mickelson.
As easy as it would be to take Woods, I'm leaning towards not taking him.
One last battle being waged at Oak Hill will be for spots on the two Presidents Cup teams. Many of the spots on both teams are locked in, but the captains are still searching for their wild card picks.
It's doubtful we'll have a wild card type winner this week, like Micheel in '03. I'm guessing the winner is ranked in the top 20 in the world, and has been a factor in majors before.