As has been the case for the last few events, it's hard to predict what might happen this week. The PGA Tour's highly compressed schedule over the last three or four months has wrecked the neatly organized playing patterns many of the Tour's best are used to following. Some players will likely benefit from the shake-up while others may be running on fumes with no relief in sight... and there's no way to be sure on which side any player might fall.
The length of Bethpage Black would seem to favor the long hitters, so I'm favoring them this week also. I won't be surprised if some of the shorter hitters force their way into the limelight -- I saw what Inbee Park did last week under all that pressure, despite being unable to hit the ball her normal distance -- but all things being equal, a tired long hitter is more likely to score well at the Black than a tired short hitter.
With that being said, here are my "5 to Watch" up in New York:
- Henrik Stenson remains at the top of my list. Despite the crushed schedule, since his W/D at the US Open Henrik has two wins -- the BMW International Open and THE OPEN -- plus that silver medal at the Olympics. He'll have had ten days off when he tees it up Thursday, and I think he's still got some gas in the tank.
- Gold medalist Justin Rose doesn't have that recent run to lean on, but he hasn't played as much golf as Henrik either. He should be much fresher than his silver medalist buddy, and on a serious high after getting that gold. Let's not forget that he's added some distance off the tee as well, which should really help his chances to get his first win of the season.
- Jason Day hasn't played for nearly a month, his last appearance being that runner-up at the PGA Championship. But he's won more than anybody else this year and I'm guessing the month off did him good. Will he have a little rust? Perhaps. But I don't expect it to last long.
- Dustin Johnson is probably in even better shape than Jason. He had arguably the best run up to the Olympics -- two wins (US Open and WGC-Bridgestone), T9 at THE OPEN, and T2 at the RBC Canadian Open before missing the cut at the PGA. Given that time off seems to have very little bad effect on DJ, you have to figure he's in the best position of the four mentioned so far.
- And my flier is Rickie Fowler. I can see the look of disbelief on your faces now, and I understand. Rickie has been, to put it mildly, pathetic this year. He has only two Top10s since missing the cut at the Masters, and even the Olympics couldn't raise his game. But he has the length to make some hay at the Black, and he can go low if he can get that putter of his working.
But I'm taking Rickie as my pick this week, and the reason is very simple: He HAS to play well. He's not in the Ryder Cup automatic picks and he's given Davis absolutely NO reason to pick him, what with Berger and Thomas waiting in the wings. Rickie's back is against the wall and he's got to turn things around NOW. So I'm gambling that desperation accomplishes what mere desire couldn't.
There's only one thing I'm sure of this week: The Black will put on the great show it always does when the Tour shows up. And that will make this a great tournament, no matter what.