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Who is under the most pressure at the PGA?

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KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Much is at stake this week at the 94th PGA Championship. It’s called “Glory’s Last Shot” for a reason. It’s Tiger Woods’ last chance this year to end his major drought. Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Steve Stricker are still looking for their first major victories. Can Adam Scott rebound from his British Open disaster? It’s the last week to automatically qualify for the U.S. Ryder Cup and Stricker, Hunter Mahan, Jim Furyk, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson are all on the outside looking in. Which player is under the most pressure this week at the Ocean Course? Our team in Kiawah Island debates.

By JAY COFFIN

All of the aforementioned names are faced with a degree of pressure. Jim Furyk faces the most.

He’s 11th in Ryder Cup points and only the top eight Sunday at the PGA Championship automatically qualify for the U.S. team. If Furyk doesn’t play well many still believe he’s a lock to make the team via a Davis Love III captain’s pick. I just don’t buy it.

Sure, Furyk would be a safe pick and would not be controversial, but his inability to close the deal last week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational – which was compounded by the fact he played poorly down the stretch of the U.S. Open while in contention – has to be cause for concern for Love.

It's not like Love has a lack of options. Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson are all on the outside of the top eight and all would be worthy of a pick. Furyk has been on every U.S. Ryder Cup team since 1997. If he wants that streak to continue he needs to shake off last week’s disappointment and find a way to play well at the PGA Championship.


By RYAN LAVNER

Sure, most eyeballs will be fixated on Tiger Woods this week, but should he be feeling the most heat? No. That’d be Dustin Johnson. Twice in position to win a major – including this championship in 2010 at another Pete Dye gem (Whistling Straits) – the titanium-denting South Carolinian still is without one of golf’s most important titles.

More pressing this week, though: He ranks 14th in Ryder Cup points, and only 12 guys can make the team. Let’s assume there is no fluctuation in the standings this week (an unlikely proposition). So, would you pick DJ ahead of Jim Furyk, a Ryder Cup veteran? Or Steve Stricker, an ideal partner for Woods? Or Hunter Mahan, who is ninth in points and has won twice this season? Or Rickie Fowler, who authored one of the signature moments of the 2010 Cup?

Let’s not forget, for all of his immense talent, Johnson has struggled in these match-play competitions. After going 1-3 in his first Ryder Cup, in 2010, he stumbled to a 1-3-1 mark last year in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne. Yes, 2-6-1 the past two years. He’s no lock for a captain’s pick, so DJ better play well at Kiawah.


By REX HOGGARD

As chips go, Brandt Snedeker is of the 360cc variety, but in the affable Tennessean’s defense he has come by it honestly.

Few, if any, have endured the cold capriciousness of golf’s team selection process as harshly as Snedeker and this week’s looming Ryder Cup deadline will only serve to make the Ocean Course’s 7,700 odd yards that much more grueling and pressure packed.

In 2003 Snedeker won the U.S. Amateur Public Links, earned All-America honors and was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and yet was snubbed for that season’s Walker Cup team.

Last year, he was passed over again for a spot on the U.S. Presidents Cup team by captain Fred Couples and he enters this week’s PGA Championship13th on the Ryder Cup points list. He is, officially, on the outside looking in.

His plight is compounded by a stark reality for captain Davis Love III, who will make his four picks Sept. 4. It seems certain Love would pick No. 9 Hunter Mahan, No. 10 Steve Stricker and No. 11 Jim Furyk; which would leave one pick for either Snedeker, Rickie Fowler (No. 12) or Dustin Johnson (No. 14).

If Snedeker is going to make the U.S. team he will likely need to do it this week at Kiawah.


By JASON SOBEL

I’ll answer this question the same way I’d answer it prior to any major championship.

The player with the most pressure on him this week is Tiger Woods.

The other 155 players in the PGA Championship field are chasing a victory. Most want to win a major for the first time; others want to add a second or third (or even fourth or fifth) in order to validate their previous success. And yes, many have other goals in mind, such as qualifying for a Ryder Cup team or even keeping their PGA Tour card.

But nobody else is chasing history.

The only one for whom each passing major either means one more step toward breaking Jack Nicklaus’ all-time victory record or watching the window continue to close ever so slightly is Woods, whose odometer has been stuck on 14 ever since the 2008 U.S. Open.

When Roger Maris chased Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, his hair started falling out. When Hank Aaron chased the Babe’s all-time home run record, he received death threats.

The moral of the story? There are both internal and external pressures athletes endure when it comes to chasing history. Woods is no doubt feeling each of those once again this week.


By RANDALL MELL

Luke Donald is under the most pressure this week in his bid to win the PGA Championship.

As the world No. 1, a victory will prove he belongs at the top.

Whether Donald likes it or not, a segment of golf fans dismiss his ranking because he hasn’t won golf’s great prize, a major. He’s 0 for 37 in them. It has to be irritating to be dismissed, in some quarters, as a caretaker of the top spot until Tiger Woods returns to No. 1 or some player wins multiple majors to leave no doubt who deserves to be called No. 1.

Donald has been reminded constantly that of the 16 players who have reigned as No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, he and Lee Westwood are the only ones who haven’t won a major championship. Donald has held the top spot for 56 weeks. Only Woods, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros have held the No. 1 ranking longer.

All of these questions of worthiness have to be annoying, but, also, motivating. Donald handles it all impressively, but he holds the power to make his greatest impression, competitively, by hoisting a major championship trophy.

At first glance, Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course wouldn’t seem a good fit for Donald to win his first major. It will play long, especially with the rain that has softened the course this week. Sometimes, though, a big course just makes the short game more important, with missed greens more common. Given Donald’s wonderful short game, his terrific bunker play and fluid putting stroke, the Ocean Course just might bring out the best in the Englishman. It might bring him the prize he covets.