Commentary

Ranking the PGA Championship contenders

Originally Published: August 8, 2007
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

TULSA, Okla. -- Tommy Bolt. Dave Stockton. Hubert Green. Raymond Floyd. Nick Price. Retief Goosen.

The list of major champions at Southern Hills isn't exactly a Who's Who of golf royalty -- no Arnies, Jacks or Tigers in the bunch -- but it's a pretty distinguished group, featuring four World Golf Hall of Famers (Bolt, Green, Floyd and Price), one future HOFer (Goosen) and a guy who won two majors and captained a victorious U.S. Ryder Cup team (Stockton).

How does that translate for this week? It may not mean a thing, but don't expect a no-name to bust out of the woodwork this time around.

Among those who may not contend at Southern Hills are Jim Furyk (back injury), Adam Scott (poor recent results) and Padraig Harrington (still on a British Open high). With that in mind, let's break down the top 20 contenders for the Wanamaker Trophy:

Ranking the PGA Championship: From 1 to 20
Player Best Finish The Skinny

Cink
1. Stewart Cink
T-3 Call it sweet retribution. Six years ago, Cink could have reached a U.S. Open playoff at Southern Hills, but rushed his 18-inch par putt and missed -- only to watch playing partner Retief Goosen three-putt just moments later. But this is more than just a sentimental pick. Cink obviously plays the course well, shooting three under-par rounds before a Sunday 72 back in '01. And he fits the mold of major champions so far this year. Zach Johnson, Angel Cabrera and Padraig Harrington are all very good players who won their first major, though certainly none was an overwhelming favorite entering his title run. Same goes for Cink, who may finally break through for that elusive major victory six years after his first big chance.

Woods
2. Tiger Woods
Win Coming off a convincing 8-shot victory at the Bridgestone Invitational, Woods is -- as always -- the prohibitive favorite this week. But that doesn't mean he's going to win. Firestone and Southern Hills are quite dissimilar and though his prior record at the latter comes from a small sampling (T-12 at the 2001 U.S. Open; T-21 at the 1996 Tour Championship), it doesn't show any significant expertise on the course. And of course, there's this: Woods is in danger of failing to win any majors in a year for just the fourth time since turning pro. Just throwing it out there, but this is a guy who has twice played in the final pairing at a major this year and has no wins to show for it.

Goosen
3. Retief Goosen
T-6 Don't look now, but Goosen has dropped from sixth on the Official World Golf Ranking entering the season to 17th this week. It's still better than the 44th spot he held prior to winning the U.S. Open here in 2001, but it's well below the standards he's set for himself in recent years. Expect the good memories of Southern Hills to help Goose get things back on track this week, while his ability to work the ball will be a major advantage.

DiMarco
4. Chris DiMarco
T-2 The PGA marks the last chance for players to earn Presidents Cup points, and no one wants to make the U.S. team more than DiMarco. The man who hit the clinching putt two years ago jumped from 36th to 25th on the list with a T-4 finish at Firestone last week. He's been battling a shoulder injury for much of this season, but has shown signs of rounding into form during the past two months.

Clark
5. Tim Clark
3 Let's all say it together: Among PGA Tour members, Clark is still the best player without a victory. But it's coming -- and soon. Battling back from a neck injury, the diminutive South African owns a pair of runner-up finishes in the past month. He also tends to play his best golf in major championships, with three career top-three finishes against the world's best.

Toms
6. David Toms
Win In many instances, Southern Hills calls for target golf and when he's on his game, Toms is among the world's top ball strikers. Never underestimate the importance of a player's ability to think his way around a golf course; Toms' final-hole layup and subsequent up-and-down when he won the PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club in 2001 prove this is a specialty.

Mahan
7. Hunter Mahan
T-22 The world's best golfer over the last month and a half may not be named Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk or K.J. Choi. Instead, it could be Mahan, who owns four top-10 finishes in his last five starts, including his first career victory at the Travelers Championship and a T-6 at the British Open. The Oklahoma State product should have some good memories coming back to the Sooner State.

Rose
8. Justin Rose
T-23 If Clark is the best tour member without a win, Rose is quickly closing the gap. Pronounced as the real deal ever since his T-4 as a 17-year-old amateur at Royal Birkdale, Rose has come into his own this season, with six top-10s in 11 starts. And he appears ready to step up in a major, as evidenced by his results so far in '07: T-5 at the Masters, T-10 at the U.S. Open and T-12 at the British Open.

Singh
9. Vijay Singh
Win A two-time PGA champion, Singh has played four career competitive tournaments at Southern Hills and finished in the top 10 three times (sixth at the 1995 Tour Championship, T-9 at the 1996 Tour Championship and T-7 at the 2001 U.S. Open). He's been hampered by an elbow injury lately, but it hasn't affected his scores; Singh finished second at the Canadian Open two weeks ago.

Stricker
10. Steve Stricker
2 How does a player rise to 14th in the world despite zero victories since 2001? Just ask Stricker, who owns a pair of runner-up finishes already this season. He's played some of his best golf in majors, with a T-13 at the U.S. Open and T-8 at the British, but his final rounds at those events were disappointing, as scores of 76 and 74, respectively, marred otherwise solid weeks.

Verplank
11. Scott Verplank
T-7 Verplank isn't the longest hitter off the tee by any means, but he is among the PGA Tour's most accurate. And he's been on absolute fire lately, carding five top-10s in his last six starts -- and that doesn't even go back to his win at the Byron Nelson Championship in April. A trip back home to Oklahoma should only help matters.

Mickelson
12. Phil Mickelson
Win Though he's been reticent to use it as an excuse, that inflamed left wrist appears to still be bothering him -- so much so that the rumor mill has Mickelson shutting it down for the season after this week. Of course, while dealing with the injury, he almost won the Scottish Open a few weeks ago, so it's tough to predict right now whether he'll be in the mix on any given week.

Byrd
13. Jonathan Byrd
T-20 Don't look now, but the most prolific American golfer under 30 -- according to victory totals -- is Byrd, who followed four straight MCs with his third career win at the John Deere Classic last month. One main reason to be bullish on Byrd: He's second on tour in putting average, taking 1.731 strokes per green in regulation.

Donald
14. Luke Donald
T-3 Chances are, Donald learned a few things playing in the final pairing last year at Medinah. Chief among them: When paired with Woods on Sunday, don't wear red -- even Rory Sabbatini knows that much. All kidding aside, Donald turns 30 this year and is nearing the point where "potential star" turns into "disappointing player." He's got a game that's major-ready, but can it withstand final-round pressure?

Els
15. Ernie Els
T-3 If you can figure out what's going on with the Big Easy, call us. Please. Els has turned into golf's biggest enigma. One week, he'll hit the ball like the Ernie of old, but fail to convert on any putts longer than 5 feet; the next week, he'll roll the rock beautifully, but struggle to find his swing. It's hard to explain how a player of Els' talent can go five years without a major win -- knee injury notwithstanding -- but all we can say is it's going to happen at some point. The big question is when.

Choi
16. K.J. Choi
T-6 The former power lifter has been among the game's most consistent performers this season, with victories at Jack's tournament (Memorial) as well as Tiger's (AT&T National). Expect his patented fade to play well at winding Southern Hills.

Slocum
17. Heath Slocum
22 Among the most underrated guys on tour, Slocum often gets more ink for being a schoolmate of Bubba Watson and Boo Weekley than anything else. But he's a solid player in his own right, accurate off the tee and solid with the putter -- two components which should serve him well this week.

Garcia
18. Sergio Garcia
2 Are the stars finally aligned for Sergio? This is a course where he trailed by just one stroke before shooting a final-round 77 at the 2001 U.S. Open. It's a tournament in which he's seen plenty of success, with three career top-10s. And it's an uptick in his performance level, following the one-stroke playoff loss at Carnoustie. But will he still be suffering the hangover of the disappointment from the defeat, in which he claimed he "didn't get any breaks"? That remains to be seen.

Durant
19. Joe Durant
T-39 That's right, another peashooter looking to hang with the big guns. Durant is the quintessential fairways-and-greens type of player. Perhaps the most surprising stat is his career history in the majors. In 22 previous starts, he's never finished better than T-24, including MCs at each of the first three this year.

Romero
20. Andres Romero
MC The new darling of the golf world, Romero burst onto the scene at Carnoustie, carding 10 birdies in the final round to finish in third place, then won one week later in Germany. Last week, he played in just his second pro tournament in the U.S. and finished sixth at Firestone, elevating him into 10th place on the International Presidents Cup standings. If he can keep up that momentum at Southern Hills, watch out.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.