Age: 34 Country: England World Rank: 1st Appearances: 8 Cuts Made: 7 Rounds played: 30 2011 Finish: T8 Best Finish: T3 (2006) Low Round: 66 (R3 '06) Scoring Average: 71.50 Money Won: $747,955
Donald comes into the final major of the year as the No. 1 player and one of the favorites. You'll need to hit fairways at Kiawah and the Englishman ranks 11th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy. Donald said he left The Open Championship three weeks ago with "a lot of positive thoughts" after his tie for fifth. It's starting to really feel like Donald is getting what it takes to win a major.
At this time last year, Woods went to Atlanta Athletic Club as the 30th-ranked player in the world. Now, thanks to three wins this year, he's up to second. His record in majors has been sketchy of late. Despite contending at the midpoint at the U.S. Open and on Sunday at The Open Championship, Woods tied for 21st and shared third, respectively. At his best, obviously, Woods is ideally suited for windy conditions or a hard course. Woods hasn't been his best in majors, so who knows?
It's a tale of two 2012s for young Mr. McIlroy. At the beginning of the year, McIlroy won the Honda Classic and had six top 10s in his first seven starts. In his last six starts, McIlroy has four missed cuts, including the U.S. Open, Players Championship and BMW PGA Championship, and tied for 60th at Royal Lytham. Kiawah could be windy and that favors the Europeans who grew up in those conditions. Pre-May Rory is a legitimate contender, if not the favorite. Post-May Rory is an afterthought.
Age: 39 Country: England World Rank: 4th Appearances: 14 Cuts Made: 9 Rounds played: 46 2011 Finish: T8 Best Finish: T3 (2009) Low Round: 67 (R4 '00) Scoring Average: 71.93 Money Won: $981,175
Westwood has enjoyed a sneaky good season with a win at the Nordea Masters and six other top 10s worldwide. If the wind picks up, an Englishman or Australian could sneak into contention, and Westwood makes sense. He's the world's premiere ball-striker, but his short leaves a lot to be desired. Some think that's what held Westwood from major glory. At next year's PGA, Westwood will be 40 and the clock on his chances of winning a major has to be thundering in his ear.
Simpson is playing his first major since his victory at Olympic Club. He missed the Open to be his wife, Dowd, and new daughter, Willow. Simpson passed on the WGC event as well. His form will be off, no way around that and good for him for passing on two events for the birth of his daughter. He's got a lot of golf ahead of him with the PGA, Playoffs and Ryder Cup. If Simpson was on form, he'd be an interesting choice since Kiawah may play as difficultly as a U.S. Open and how could you not like the reigning U.S. Open champion?
Age: 33 Country: USA World Rank: 6th Appearances: 5 Cuts Made: 3 Rounds played: 16 2011 Finish: T26 Best Finish: 2nd (2010) Low Round: 68 (Three times - most recent R2 '11) Scoring Average: 72.87 Money Won: $877,022
The Masters champion is always a threat, not just because of his length, but because of his creativity. Watson is one of the true shot-makers in the game right now. He can move it either way and that will help when you don't know which direction the wind will come from. Since a missed cut at the U.S. Open, Watson tied for second at Travelers Championship, and displayed flashes of brilliance at Royal Lytham. He shared 19th at the WGC after opening and closing with rounds in the 60s.
Age: 32 Country: Australia World Rank: 7th Appearances: 11 Cuts Made: 8 Rounds played: 38 2011 Finish: 7th Best Finish: T3 (2011) Low Round: 67 (R4 '06) Scoring Average: 71.71 Money Won: $1,033,186
What do we make of Scott this week? Could his head possibly be on straight after he bogeyed the last four holes on Sunday to hand Ernie Els the Claret Jug? He also failed to break par in four rounds in Akron. If he's truly put Royal Lytham behind him, Scott should be considered a favorite. He could easily do what Rory McIlroy did at Congressional last year, which was erase the horror of one major, to win the next one. If nothing else, Scott had the best pre-tournament quote about Kiawah. "The front nine is a really nice, playable golf course, and then the back nine is not."
Dufner would make sense as a logical choice based on his playoff loss last year. Now imagine he's won twice and since those two May victories, he's finished second once and shared fourth at, say, the U.S. Open. Dufner was even in the mix at Lytham, but 73-74 on the weekend hurt him. Ranks sixth on tour in greens in regulation and fourth in scoring average. Should be near the top of the leaderboard all week.
Kuchar is the reigning Players Champion. He is coming off a share of ninth at The Open, but didn't play great in the two events in between. He closed with a 66 at the WGC to grab share of eighth. Kuchar, who hasn't missed a cut all year, is the model of consistency and has been for years. The question is, is Kuchar a viable major championship contender? My guess is yes. Plus, he can guarantee another Ryder Cup spot with a victory or good showing.
Rose has missed the cut in his last three PGA Championships. Won the WGC-Cadillac Championship, shared eighth at the Masters, and has three top 10s in Europe. A missed cut at the British was a bit of a shock. Rose is in that group of "are they truly major championship threats?" Seems like he is. His PGA Tour wins have come in increasingly competitive tournaments. A major is next in that progression.
Stricker could use a good week to automatically make Davis Love III's U.S. Ryder Cup team. Chances are, Stricker will be a pick anyway, but a good PGA, after a runner-up finish at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, means Stricker would play on to his third team. This year hasn't been stellar for Stricker with a win to open the year in Hawaii and five other top 10s.
Age: 33 Country: Northern Ireland World Rank: 12th Appearances: 7 Cuts Made: 3 Rounds played: 20 2011 Finish: Missed cut Best Finish: T10 (2009) Low Round: 68 (Two times - most recent R3 '08) Scoring Average: 73.05 Money Won: $293,009
McDowell played in the final group on Sunday in both the U.S. Open and Open Championship, and a quick glance at his mantle shows neither trophy. He had a chance to win at Olympic Club, but a 75 on Sunday at Royal Lytham dropped him into a tie for fifth. With conditions expected to be brutal, that favors McDowell who has turned into a bona fide major force. Hasn't fared well at this major, but with its rotating schedule, that just means he's had off weeks. Hard not to like McDowell some this week.
Age: 36 Country: USA World Rank: 13rd Appearances: 8 Cuts Made: 5 Rounds played: 26 2011 Finish: T59 Best Finish: T3 (2010) Low Round: 69 (Four times - most recent R1 '10) Scoring Average: 71.84 Money Won: $714,526
Not only is Johnson a 2-time winner this season on the PGA Tour, but he's also been a runner-up twice and shared ninth at The Open Championship. He controls his ball so well (18th in driving accuracy) and leads the tour in strokes gained via putting. Some call Kiawah Island "Whistling Straits South." If that's the case, Johnson shared third at Whistling Straits two years ago. So, yes, it's easy to like Johnson a lot this week.
Mahan won twice before the Masters, but has one top 10 since. A ball-striking wizard, Mahan should be contending to majors at this point, and he isn't. Mahan ranks in the top 10 on tour in both greens in regulation and fairways hit. Logically, Mahan should be a prime choice on a difficult track, but if you had to put your own money on it, would you have faith in Mahan?
It wouldn't be fair to say Bradley stunned the world one year ago. John Daly stunned the world in 1991. Bradley won the Byron Nelson before his PGA victory. Bradley has only four top 10s this year though. Prior to rallying to win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, his last top-10 was in Houston the week before the Masters. His win last week all but locked up his spot on the American Ryder Cup team.
Age: 29 Country: South Africa World Rank: 16th Appearances: 4 Cuts Made: 1 Rounds played: 10 2011 Finish: Missed Cut Best Finish: 73rd (2008) Low Round: 71 (R1 '10) Scoring Average: 75.20 Money Won: $16,231
This has not been Oosthuizen's best major. He won The Open, lost a playoff this year at the Masters, but three missed cuts and a share of 73rd at this championship is not a glowing portfolio. But he has two European Tour victories this season, and perhaps, the prettiest swing in golf. He had four sub-par rounds at the Bridgestone last week en route to a 4th place finish. Commitment is the key and he's focused and ready, Oosthuizen has become a perennial contender.
Age: 42 Country: South Africa World Rank: 17th Appearances: 19 Cuts Made: 15 Rounds played: 68 2011 Finish: Missed Cut Best Finish: 3rd (1995, 2007) Low Round: 65 (R2 '95) Scoring Average: 71.30 Money Won: $1,727,522
In the spring, Els was battling like hell just to make the field at The Masters. He played great, narrowly missed out and was in a funk. The Big Easy was difficult, snapping at reporters and the like. Then, as his close buddy stumbled, Els' fortunes changed. He won his second Claret Jug and was back. Els has played hideously in the two events between majors, but Els is still riding the clouds from Royal Lytham. Probably unrealistic to expect much out Els this week.
Johnson has had a huge impact on this event and there isn't even a peg in the ground yet. The PGA of America announced early that all sandy areas will be considered "through the green." Basically, a player can move anything in a bunker, ground his club or take practice swings. Johnson can take solace in that knowledge early after what happened at this event in 2010. Back to Johnson, he's missed significant time this year with an injury, but won when he returned and tied for ninth at The Open. Johnson, when healthy, is a threat at any major now and with Kiawah in South Carolina, Johnson will sort of be at home.
Mickelson hasn't missed a cut at the PGA since 1995, but his most recentmissed cut in a major came three weeks ago. Lefty was horrendous at The Open Championship, and not much better last week in Akron as he tied for 43rd at 4-over par. Mickelson is a huge wild card this week. He is 164th in driving accuracy, 95th in greens in regulation and only 69th in distance. Think of it this way, if you saw those numbers, but didn't see a name attached to them, would you think that man stood any chance?
Fowler finally collected his first PGA Tour victory this year. It came at the Wells Fargo Championship and smack dab in the middle of a run of four straight top 10s. Since a share of fifth at Colonial, Fowler hasn't finished in the top 30 and that included two majors. Would it shock you to learn that Fowler doesn't rank in the top 50 on the PGA Tour in driving distance, driving accuracy, greens in regulation or putting? Pair those numbers with two PGA appearances and zero top 50s and Fowler doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
World Rankings as of August 6th, 2012 Appearances are through the 2011 PGA Championship Open Photographs provided by Getty Images