Ranking the PGA Championship field
SHEBOYGAN, Wis. -- Thirteen years.
That's how long it's been since there was a major championship field that included Tiger Woods but didn't have him listed as the prohibitive favorite.
Until this week.
With Woods coming off a T-78 finish (in an 80-player field) at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the 14-time major winner has seen his listing drop below that of Phil Mickelson in the eyes of most oddsmakers. Such news is interesting, though it underscores the real story here: There is no favorite.
Let's break it down. Woods is coming off the worst four-round tourney of his career; Mickelson shot 78 on Sunday to drop from 10th to 46th; Lee Westwood has withdrawn due to a calf injury. We're left with a field of elite players from which to choose, but really, is Steve Stricker -- with no career major wins -- worthy of being No. 1 in his home state this week? Or Jim Furyk, who owns a scoring average of 74.75 in the previous three majors? Or Rory McIlroy, who is 21 and has only two career wins? Or Ernie Els, who can't seem to be able to put everything together at the big events anymore?
Each of those players is capable of winning this tournament, but none are necessarily worthy of being called the favorite, which means things are wide open here at Whistling Straits going into the event. And speaking of this week's host venue
Here's a fun little party game if you have the time and resources: Blindfold a buddy, strap a parachute to his back and drop him out of a plane, right into the middle of this 7,514-yard behemoth.
Chances are, the experimentee will believe he has somehow jumped continents, figuring Lake Michigan for the North Sea, the gusting winds for those in the U.K. and the entire scene for something more often found in Scotland or Ireland.
It's true that this track looks unlike most other U.S.-based courses, thanks to conditions that are usually unique to Open Championship sites.
As if the European contingent needed any further help.
Players from the other side of the pond represent some of the hottest golfers in the world right now, with nine of 'em in the top 20 of the most recent Official World Golf Ranking. That correlation has carried over into the majors, too. At each of the three so far this season, the number of U.S.-born players in the top 10 has decreased, while the number of European players has increased.
Don't be surprised if the contingent from that continent thrives once again this week. My ranking of the top 50 in the field begins with one of Europe's best who is searching for a first career major title.
|1. Rory McIlroy||Those still doubting the unique talents of the Boy Wonder were silenced not only by his record-tying 9-under 63 in the opening round of the Open Championship, but his impressive bounce back from a second-round 80 to finish T-3 overall.||T-3, 2009|
|2. Phil Mickelson||Can he build off the 66-68 start at Firestone? Or did he lose momentum with a 71-78 weekend? After finishing 2 shots out of the playoff here six years ago, it's difficult to imagine Lefty not being in the mix come Sunday.||Win, 2005|
|3. Padraig Harrington||Exactly two years ago this week, Paddy won his third major title of the last six that were played. Since then? He's failed to earn a trophy on any major circuit, but Harrington is playing better of late and should feel at home on the Ireland-inspired links.||Win, 2008|
|4. Paul Casey||Was still in the hunt -- well, sort of -- heading to the back nine at St. Andrews, only to finish with a share of third. One of the game's better ball strikers appears ready to win a major, though, and this could very well be the week.||T-15, 2008|
|5. J.B. Holmes||Somewhat quietly, the long-hitting Holmes has enjoyed a massive season so far, with 18 made cuts in 19 starts. Played in the final group at this event two years ago only to shoot 81 and finish T-29. If he gets into contention again, expect him to stay there.||T-29, 2008|
|6. Stuart Appleby||Let's see he's a very good wind player has renewed confidence coming off his final-round 59 to win the Greenbrier Classic and has finished in the top 25 in eight of the past 10 editions of the year's final major. Yup, consider Appleby among the serious contenders.||T-4, 2000|
|7. Charl Schwartzel||Don't know much about this young South African player? Think Louis Oosthuizen only better. The two good friends play plenty of practice rounds together, and Schwartzel actually stayed behind the 18th green at St. Andrews to watch his buddy win. That might give him confidence that he can pull off the same feat soon, too.||T-43, 2009|
|8. Nick Watney||Any list of the best 20-something American-born players needs to include this two-time PGA Tour champion, who is enjoying a terrific year so far. With 11 top-25 results in 18 starts, plus seventh-place finishes at Augusta and St. Andrews, Watney has proved he's ready to win a big one soon.||MC|
|9. Matt Kuchar||Just call him Mr. Consistency. Kuchar has earned that moniker this season, posting finishes of 17th or better in every single month, while co-leading the PGA Tour in top-10 finishes with eight. All that's missing from his yearlong résumé is a third career victory.||MC|
|10. Jason Day||Now that his first PGA Tour win (at the Byron Nelson Championship) and his first career major start (T-60 at St. Andrews) are both out of the way, expect this ultra-talented 22-year-old to start seriously contending at more big-time events.||First appearance|
|11. Justin Leonard||Just when it looked like his disappointing season was about to turn around at Firestone, he posted a final-round 76 that dropped him from fourth place to a share of 22nd.||2, 1997, 2004|
|12. Jeff Overton||Simply put, no one's been better over the past three months: Overton has put together seven finishes of 12th or better in his past eight starts.||T-32, 2009|
|13. Ernie Els||In 2004, he missed the playoff by a stroke, failing to convert a midrange putt on the final hole. Six years later, those putts are still the biggest issue in his game.||3, 1995, 2007|
|14. Robert Karlsson||He has not only made the cut at each of the year's first three majors; he's improved his standing, too.||T-20, 2008|
|15. Retief Goosen||Other than his two major wins, the Goose is playing some of his best golf since turning 40, with 13 top-10s in the past two seasons.||T-6, 2005|
|16. Ryan Moore||Playing some very solid golf over the past two months, with four finishes of 16th or better in his past six starts.||T-9, 2006|
|17. Steve Stricker||Home-state advantage? Yes. Home-course advantage? No. The Wisconsin native had only been to Whistling Straits once before last week.||2, 1998|
|18. Bo Van Pelt||Turning into a top-10 machine during his best season on the PGA Tour to date.||T-27, 2005|
|19. Tiger Woods||Your guess is as good as anyone else's. He checks in here on the list because, well, any higher didn't feel right, but any lower didn't, either.||Win, 1999, 2000, 2006, 2007|
|20. Luke Donald||Owns the best sand save percentage on the PGA Tour this season -- and no one else is even close.||T-3, 2006|
|21. Sean O'Hair||Many competitors at the PGA will have to go through O'Hair this week. Oh, wait. Sorry, meant O'Hare. Or maybe both||T-12, 2006|
|22. Anthony Kim||In his first event back after thumb surgery, AK sounded optimistic following his performance at the Bridgestone.||T-50, 2007|
|23. Graeme McDowell||Since winning the Open, GMac has finished T-23 at St. Andrews and T-22 at Firestone.||T-10, 2009|
|24. Ross Fisher||Fresh off a win at the Irish Open, a strong week here could solidify his spot on Europe's Ryder Cup team.||T-19, 2009|
|25. Boo Weekley||One of many players given a special exemption into the event, Boo could put a scare into some of the competition.||T-9, 2007|
|26. Chad Campbell||Players from Texas have fared well here in the past, including Leonard's runner-up finish in 2004 and Brad Bryant's Senior U.S. Open win in '07.||2, 2003|
|27. Dustin Johnson||Everyone knows about his collapse at Pebble Beach, but remember: He had to have the game to get into that position in the first place.||T-10, 2009|
|28. Adam Scott||He owns just four top-10s in 38 career major starts, but one of them was a T-9 here in 2004.||T-3, 2006|
|29. Rickie Fowler||PGA Tour rookie has no fear of the spotlight, as evidenced by his sublime final three rounds at last month's Open Championship.||First appearance|
|30. Jim Furyk||A pair of top-10s in his past two starts have to instill some confidence in one of the game's most consistent players.||T-6, 1997|
|31. K.J. Choi||Gotta wonder about a guy who tinkers with a gimmicky putting style at the Open Championship, then goes conventional at the Scandinavian Masters.||T-6, 2004|
|32. Trevor Immelman||The 2008 Masters champ is starting to regain his form after a few injury-riddled seasons.||T-6. 2007|
|33. Zach Johnson||Has made the cut at all three majors this year, but followed with weekend scores averaging 76.33.||T-10, 2009|
|34. Ryo Ishikawa||This kid looks more mature every time he tees it up. His game does, too. Big things on the horizon for Ryo.||T-56, 2009|
|35. Hunter Mahan||Coming off the biggest win of his career, it might be asking too much of Mahan to expect him to seriously contend again this week.||T-16, 2009|
|36. Geoff Ogilvy||Only two players have more than two top-10s at the PGA in the past five years. One is Woods. The other is Ogilvy, with three.||T-6, 2005, 2007|
|37. Stewart Cink||Results don't show it, but he's hitting it much better off the tee, going from 97th in total driving last year to 32nd this season.||T-3, 1999|
|38. Jerry Kelly||As if he isn't fiery enough already, Kelly will be ultra-pumped to compete in front of the home folks in Wisconsin this week.||T-26, 1999|
|39. Ricky Barnes||Former amateur wunderkind is turning into the rarest of players -- a guy who doesn't contend much on a week-to-week basis, but often finds the leaderboard at majors.||First appearance|
|40. Tim Clark||Lengthy course shouldn't suit his game, but Clark knows how to get around with plenty of pars on his card.||3, 2003|
|41. Brendon de Jonge||The big man is getting accustomed to seeing his name on major championship leaderboards -- at least for a little while.||First appearance|
|42. Bubba Watson||Yes, he booms it a long way, but Bubba also owns a more creative arsenal of shots than almost anyone else out there.||70, 2008|
|43. Louis Oosthuizen||It was difficult to watch him at St. Andrews and not think his game is built for majors, but seven MCs in eight previous appearances suggest otherwise.||73, 2008|
|44. Justin Rose||His breakout PGA Tour season has included two victories, but he may need another big week to wrangle his way onto Monty's roster for the Ryder Cup.||T-9, 2008|
|45. Angel Cabrera||Here's a beguiling stat: Should El Pato win this week, he'd be three-quarters of the way to a career Grand Slam -- something Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Padraig Harrington can't say.||T-19, 2000|
|46. Ben Crane||Never discredit a guy who rolls the rock as smoothly as Crane.||T-9, 2004|
|47. Y.E. Yang||Hard to believe it was only one year ago when he took down the previously invincible Tiger during the final round at Hazeltine.||Win, 2009|
|48. Fredrik Jacobson||Owner of one of the game's more unconventional swings, Freddy Yock finished T-17 here six years ago.||T-17, 2004|
|49. Carl Pettersson||Riding a current hot streak that culminated three weeks ago with his fourth career victory at the Canadian Open.||T-47, 2008|
|50. Vijay Singh||Will either feel good vibes from his victory here in 2004 or will be reminded by them that he hasn't won a big one since.||Win, 1998, 2004|
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.
2010 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
Course: Whistling Straits
Where: Sheboygan, Wis.
Yardage, Par: 7,362 yards, par-72
Topics: Whistling Straits
Topics: PGA Championship