ST. LOUIS — Bad weather on Friday at the PGA Championship caused a suspension of play, which will bring ripple effects felt throughout the day Saturday. Our experts weigh in on how the long day Saturday will impact Tiger Woods, the field and Bellerive Country Club.
1. How much does the weather delay hurt Tiger Woods?
Bob Harig: It is a bad break for Tiger, who was playing nicely Friday afternoon and was looking at about an 80-yard third shot to the par-5 eighth hole after having made three birdies in seven holes. The fact that the rest of the round was suspended might be better than resuming play, but then he faces 29 holes on Saturday.
Michael Collins: This hurts a lot. It’s a momentum killer, and now Tiger will have very little time in the morning to get stretched and ready. It also means he’s going to potentially be walking 28-plus holes on a wet course Saturday. That’s not great for his back.
Ian O’Connor: I think it could hurt him a lot. He has played a lot of high-intensity golf lately for a 42-year-old with his recent injury history; he still has to do a lot of high climbing up the leaderboard; and the last thing he needed was to turn Saturday into a 29-hole marathon in suffocating heat. Tiger had some momentum going, and it won’t be as easy as it once was to restart that engine. It’s not mission impossible. More like mission improbable. Count on Tiger, who says he sweats like mad, to need a full supply of shirts.
Kevin Van Valkenburg: It looked like he was on a roll — and on his way to shooting a great score. So it hurts him in that sense, in that he had momentum snatched away from him. It also hurts him that he’ll have to play 29 plus holes on Saturday, not a particularly welcome development for someone who has been taking ice baths to deal with his aching body. Tiger actually has had a better showing at this PGA Championship than I thought he would. He’s not quite in contention, but he’s not entirely out of it either. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see him finish off what could have been a 65.
2. Twelve of first 13 names on the leaderboard got to finish their second round on Friday (Rickie Fowler was the lone exception). How big of an advantage is it for them? How big is the disadvantage is for the players who have to finish their second rounds and play their full third rounds on Saturday?
Harig: It’s always better to be done in a situation like this, when the weather was fine when they played. They get to sleep in on Saturday and then show up for a normal 18-hole round of golf later in the day. Those who still have holes to play have an extremely disjointed day ahead of them, and Fowler will have 26 holes to play. The only bright spot for those still playing the second round is the course ought to be even more receptive.
Collins: It’s a huge advantage for those who finished. You only have to go through your warm-up routine once and only walk 18 holes. So the energy tank will be full. Those who have to finish the second round will have to find a way to eat to keep their energy up but between rounds also stay loose. That is extremely hard to do at a major.
O’Connor: This could be a significant difference-maker. The guys at the top of the board can sleep in and eat a nice breakfast and brunch in some climate-controlled restaurant, while the unlucky ones trudge about in the morning Bellerive mud. This isn’t going to be Ken Venturi nearly collapsing at Congressional while playing 36 holes in brutal heat to win the U.S. Open, but Saturday is going to test more than the players’ hydration habits. It’s survival of the fittest at the PGA.
Van Valkenburg: Definitely a big advantage. The course already was wet, so it’s not as if soft conditions will provide any additional advantage Saturday morning. It makes for a long Saturday for anyone still trying to claw their way into contention. Those chasing better hope that Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson tire themselves out with a Saturday weight room session while they’re out grinding.
3. Which player not named Tiger Woods are you the most interested in seeing how he fares on Saturday?
Harig: Rory McIlroy. He has made 16 straight pars in the tournament, the longest stretch of his career in a major championship without a birdie. This course is seemingly made for him, and the soft conditions offer a great opportunity. But he’s not hitting it close and not making any putts. Now the course will be even softer. Can he make a move?
Collins: Gary Woodland. He slept on the lead Thursday night and came out on Friday and looked comfortable. He didn’t look like a guy who had never even had a top 10 in a major. Can’t wait to see how he comes out for the third round.
O’Connor: Rickie Fowler. Always Rickie Fowler. I’m not going to mention why, because everybody already knows why. Outside of Tiger, Rickie is the intriguing player to watch in the morning, even though he’s dealing with an oblique injury that will complicate his pursuit. He still has a very good chance to be right around the lead after 36 holes; and at age 29, banged up or not banged up, he certainly has the stamina to work overtime Saturday afternoon.
Van Valkenburg: Adam Scott. This is the first time he has been in the mix in a major in a long time. He hung around in the 2017 Masters and finished T-9, but he was never a true threat after a first-round 75. Other than that, he has no top 10s in majors since 2015. I don’t see a scenario in which he putts well enough to win (he’s currently ranked 192nd on Tour in strokes gained putting), but it’s nice to see him finding his swing again.
4. Bellerive Country Club already had to deal with heavy rains this week, before Friday’s deluge. The conditions are soft. The players have been critical of the greens. Is the golf course going to be an issue on the weekend?
Harig: The greens will not be any better for this after dozens of golfers start playing on them. They are bound to get even more chewed up as Saturday progresses. The course itself was never going to get completely dried out, so it will be more of the same in that regard. It is a long course, one that is tough if you don’t find fairways. Still, it can be had if you give yourself an opportunity to fire at pins.
Collins: Ironically enough, on Thursday I spoke to one of the guys on the top leaderboard and asked how the greens were. He shrugged, shook his head and said, “Not good.” This weather guarantees by late Saturday afternoon the greens are going to be extremely bumpy. The good news is everyone has to play them. The bad news is everyone is going to play on bad greens.
O’Connor: Yes and no. Yes, the players are going to complain even more about the greens. No, that’s not going to determine who wins and loses this championship. Remember all the complaints about Shinnecock Hills during the U.S. Open? In the end, it didn’t matter. The best man (Brooks Koepka) won because he didn’t give a you-know-what about the course; he just played. The winner at Bellerive will conduct himself accordingly.
Van Valkenburg: I suspect the golf course will be OK, because Bellerive has a SubAir system that can suck water out of a saturated course. People who set up major championships know how to scramble and get the job done. But this is a good example of why the PGA Championship never should have come here in the first place. Apologies to the fine people in the St. Louis area, who have turned out in big numbers and have been eager to see a major return to this area, but this is not a venue that should ever host a major again. It is long and boring and requires almost no strategy. Gary Woodland and Kevin Kisner set the 36-hole scoring record at the PGA Championship, and it barely registered. The players don’t hate it; they just don’t fear it. It feels like a regular Tour stop. Charl Schwartzel had a makeable putt to shoot 62 on Friday, and no one in the sparse crowd following him seemed to know or care. There are no memorable shots here, no dramatic holes, nothing that anyone will remember a week after this is over. The city and the people are nice. The course represents everything that’s boring and broken about professional golf.
5. You had a chance to pick a winner before the tournament. Are you sticking with him or do you want/need a mulligan?
Harig: It’s hard to stick with Tony Finau, despite his attempt to rebound in the second round with eight birdies through 11 holes. I might have stuck with him had he not thrown a triple-bogey in there, meaning he still has work to do to make the cut. Given a reboot, I’ll go with Dustin Johnson, who is lurking three shots back and playing some excellent golf of late. The No. 1-ranked player in the world has a strong advantage on a soft course that only is more pronounced now, and he has his 36 holes completed.
Collins: I picked Tony Finau too, so I am going to need that mulligan. I’ll take Dustin Johnson. Power, consistency and experience win major championships — and throw in his fitness. He will keep his world No. 1 ranking heading into the FedEx Cup playoffs.
O’Connor: I’m standing by my man. Justin Thomas isn’t even winning his own group (at 2-under, he is 1 behind Tiger), but it’s too early for this captain to abandon the good ship JT. The defending champ is quite capable of coming back, but he needs to get going — and fast.
Van Valkenburg: I picked Patrick Cantlay, and he’s currently T-9, five shots off the lead. Pretty good! That said, I’m going to switch to Brooks Koepka, who I think is going to close with a pair of 65s and claim his third major. Dustin Johnson should win; but Kopeka is a better closer, and I predict he’ll suddenly thrust himself into the conversation as the best player of the post-Tiger generation.