ESPN golf analysts Andy North and Curtis Strange, both former U.S. Open champs, offered up their views on the upcoming PGA Championship. The two, along with ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, discussed Tiger Woods’ chances, the course and conditions, the kind of players likely to succeed and more.
TPC Harding Park, site of this year’s PGA Championship, has hosted the Presidents Cup and WGC events in years past. At the WGC, Tiger Woods defeated John Daly in a playoff after Daly missed a three-foot putt on the second playoff hole. But does that give Woods any kind of advantage?
Andy North thinks it does, saying that’s why there’s the phrase horses for courses.
“You have it in your computer in your head that you can pull off these shots because you did it there,” North said about Woods advantage from winning in the past and playing well at the Presidents Cup. But he thinks Woods lack of recent good play and the potential for cool weather will be negative factors.
San Francisco is noted for its gloomy summers. Fifty degrees and drizzle are two conditions not out of the question. Fog delays may occur.
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Curtis Strange doesn’t like Woods chances at all, citing his inability to practice as much as he used to.
“Let’s be honest, when he’s played, he hasn’t played well,” he said. “Is that because he hasn’t played or he couldn’t practice, the back, we don’t know.”
Of course, Strange added, Woods has been the best player to ever play. That counts for something. But his recent play is not encouraging, Strange noted.
Harding Park has been criticized for being short for a championship course, but it has sufficient length and one more factor: It’s going to be a 7251-yard, par 70 course which means there are two fewer par fives for the longest hitters to make birdie.
The course has many doglegs, just bendy enough that, along with tall cypress and pine trees, can cause havoc on many holes. In addition, according to North, distances are going to be different due to the typical coastal weather, and that will make it play longer than it might if the course were in Chicago in August.
“The ball doesn’t go as far there. That’s going to be a big adjustment,” North insisted “If your normal 8-iron is 165, it might only go 155 there.”
That means getting distance control for that location will be significant, not unlike going to Mexico City for the WGC event where the ball flies farther.
North said when looking for a likely winner, watch for players who have their distances down on Thursday.
Scott Van Pelt said he was already asked to pick a winner and he chose Xander Schauffele.
That ignores the fact that Brooks Koepka has a chance to go for three in a row, a feat last accomplished by Peter Thomson at the British Open from 1954 through 1956.
The only six golfers have achieved a three-peat at a major:
Young Tom Morris, British Open, 1868-72 ( no tournament in 1871)
Walter Hagen, PGA Championship, 1924-27
Jamie Anderson, British Open, 1877-79
Bob Ferguson, British Open, 1880-1882
Willie Anderson, U.S. Open, 1903-05
Peter Thomson, British Open, 1954-56
But Koepka has been injured. He has knee problems, a torn patella tendon that has not recovered. It has hampered his play this year, enough that he expects to have stem cell therapy after the end of this season.
“It will get sore if I beat balls long enough, and I’ve had some lengthy range sessions over the past two weeks where it’s been five-plus hours,” he explained.
At that point he goes to the ice. The injury is also limiting the kind of cardio he can do. For example, he can’t really run. Biking more than once a week is painful, he explained at Memphis. Amazingly, he is playing well at the WGC Memphis tournament.
Strange is looking forward to the event and to watching golfers play to their personal strengths.
“It’s going to be fun to watch, and it’s fun to watch some strategic moves off some tees,” he explained. “If this particular player thinks it’s important for him to put it in the fairway on this particular hole, then he’ll hit something other than a driver. If he thinks he can bomb it out there and get it on the green out of the rough, then so be it, as well.”
Shot Tracer will be available during the telecast, and Strange is a big fan.
“When I watch golf now, if Tracer is not on, I miss it,” he said. “And I’m saying on every long shot there is, honestly. I miss it.”
ESPN is returning to the PGA after an absence of 30 years. The sports channel will be on for 12 hours on both Thursday and Friday. Coverage will continue on Saturday from 1-4 PM and Sunday from noon – 3 PM.
Scott Van Pelt will anchor ESPN’s coverage, joined in the 18th tower for analysis by former world No. 1 David Duval. Hole announcers will be Sean McDonough, Bob Wischusen and Dave Flemming while Tom Rinaldi will conduct player interviews. On-course reporters will be Andy North, Billy Kratzert, Colt Knost and Olin Browne.
Matt Barrie, Andrew Catalon, Brian Crowell and Luke Elvy will host Featured Group coverage with analysts Curtis Strange, Jason Bohn, Stuart Appleby and 1996 PGA Championship winner Mark Brooks. On-course reporters will be Jane Crafter, Ned Michaels and Olin Browne. ESPN+ will have the featured group coverage.
CBS Sports will have coverage of the PGA beginning at 4PM on Saturday and 3 PM Sunday.