HERE'S A FUN FACT: For the first time in 31 years, the season's three major winners -- Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy -- enter this week's PGA Championship with at least two career majors to their name. And with none of the shameful one-hit wonders of yore sullying our major trophies (we're looking at you, Ben Curtis, Michael Campbell, Todd Hamilton ...), the stakes are high. Watson, Kaymer and McIlroy would almost certainly claim player of the year honors with a win. So who's got the edge? Glad you asked ...
Watson registers a par breaker 23.9 percent of the time, good for fourth on the tour -- and he's done that deed by dominating the par 4s and 5s (see first chart above). Good news for him: It just so happens that the PGA Championship loves it some birdies. The last 10 winners of the Wanamaker Trophy racked up 18.2 birdies or better per tournament, the most among golf's four major championships.
The mystery of Bubba's putter
Then again ... Watson sits outside the top 80 in make percentage from every distance, with one noteworthy exception. The dude makes everything from 15 to 20 feet -- and usually nothing else (see second chart above). But when he makes, he often contends: In Bubba's five top-three finishes this season, his average putting rank was 15th, compared with 50th in his seven other tour events.*
The Masters is Augusta National. The British is all linksy and stuff. But ever notice that U.S. Open and PGA Championship courses look a lot alike? And so have their leaderboards. Since 2004, golfers who placed in the top 10 at the U.S. Open were 11 percent more likely than top-10 finishers at the other two majors to finish 10th or better at the PGA. And in case you forgot, or slept through it: Kaymer strolled to victory at this year's U.S. Open.
Here's a bizarro stat: When Kaymer has missed the green this season, he's gotten up-and-down 51.6 percent of the time. That's good (or not good, as the case may be) for 182nd among 189 players. But in Kaymer's two wins this season, he's been a stellar scrambler, ranking fourth and first at The Players and U.S. Open. Go figure! Note Kaymer's scrambling percentage after his first round at the PGA and you will surely know his future.
Starting with a bang
It's been a tough decade for wire-to-wire major winners -- only six of the past 40 major winners led after Round 1. McIlroy, however, accounts for two of those instances (2011 U.S. Open, 2014 British Open), and in his other major victory (2012 PGA) he was tied for second after 18 holes. The kid stays in the picture ... so long as he starts out in the picture.
Dude can score
What McIlroy also does is get low when the gettin's good. There have been seven majors since the 2011 U.S. Open in which the top five finishers averaged five-under or lower; Rory has won three of them. Now consider that of the 59 majors played since Y2K, the 2000 PGA at Valhalla, this year's site, yielded the lowest scores. That year, the top five finishers averaged 14.2 under par.
OUR PICK: RORY McILROY
Not that we condone gambling, but if the field is firing at flags the first day and Rory starts dropping birdies ... it might be worth a quick call to your neighborhood bookie. Just sayin'.