So far, the US PGA Championship has been played 99 times. Reflecting a long-held reluctance to invite anyone other than themselves to play, Americans have won 79 of those.
But here’s the thing. The second-most successful nation in what is – until next year at least – the fourth and last of golf’s major championships, is Australia. Five times an Aussie has hoisted the giant Wanamaker Trophy skyward. Jim Ferrier was first in 1947, followed by David Graham in 1979, Wayne Grady in 1990, Steve Elkington in 1995 and Jason Day three years ago.
Not too shabby. A five percent success rate is never bad in golf. So what of the prospects for another Australian victory here at Bellerive in the 100th playing of the championship?
Well, as ever, it depends on how you look at things. Within the disappointingly small five-strong contingent from Down Under lurk at least three men with the talents to get the job done. Day is obviously one, having already proved himself at this level. Likewise Adam Scott, the former Masters champion. And Marc Leishman has also finished in first-place after 72-holes in a major – in the Open at St. Andrews in 2015.
Those are pretty sound credentials, even if the numbers are against the Aussies (Cameron Smith and club pro Craig Hocknull complete the line-up). Five out of 156 means that, at least statistically, the odds are against a sixth Aussie triumph.
Then again, golf is played on grass, not paper. And this may actually be the most predictable major in quite some time, given the state of the golf course. After heavy rains on Tuesday, expect the likes of Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Day, Justin Thomas and any other “bomber” to thrive at Bellerive.
“The course is obviously very soft,” says Scott. “So it’s likely that we will see the long-hitters and the ball-strikers do well. In saying that, the shorter-hitters won’t suffer too much hitting longer clubs into the greens. They are so soft, the ball is stopping quickly no matter what you hit in there. I’ve seen 4-iron shots reacting just like 7-irons. Everything stops. Which is not to say there isn’t an advantage to be had over four days from hitting wedge approaches instead of 7-irons. That adds up.”
"I still expect a lot of myself. I honestly believe my best golf is in front of me. My body is in great shape. I’m injury-free. I’m just trying so hard to make everything consistent and smooth for a while. I need to play for a while without too much thought." - Adam Scott
All in all, Scott sees the week as being a bit of a shoot-out, the scoring low. With the fairway widths “expanding,” and the rough tough only in spots, the questions asked are all pretty straightforward.
As for his own game, Scott arrived here in need of a boost. As many as 17 PGA Tour appearances this season have produced only one top-ten finish. And the same number of starts in this event have been only slightly more successful: four top-tens, the best of which was a tie for fifth in 2013. Still, the former Masters champion remains hopeful that conditions well suited to his own strengths will see a change in fortunes.
“My game is alright," he insists. “I just haven’t turned the corner. It’s a bit of a process that takes time. Just when I think I’ve got everything in the right spots, something changes. I’m putting well though. I haven’t actually hit the ball that well over the last few weeks. Which is ironic. Earlier in the year I was playing well tee-to-green and not making anything. If it hasn’t been one thing it’s been another. Which has made it hard to build momentum.
“I feel like there is plenty of good in there but I’m not getting anything out of it. I feel like I’m one week away from playing really well. I need to string four solid days together. I need, say, a top-ten just to build some confidence. I need that to feel like I can compete at the top level.”
Such optimism is not completely misplaced. Scott may not have been performing anywhere near the top of his considerable game, but he hasn’t been awful either. In those 17 PGA Tour appearances he has missed only three cuts. And he was a promising T-17 in last month’s Open Championship.
“It’s been interesting,” he continues. “It’s not like I’m shooting millions. I’m not making excuses, but the last couple of years have seen me making a lot of adjustments to my life on and off the course. Professionally and personally, there has been a lot going on. So it’s not been plain-sailing, not just that I’ve had a new family to adapt to. I’ve made changes on and off the course – caddies and coaches, trainers.
“I still expect a lot of myself. I honestly believe my best golf is in front of me. My body is in great shape. I’m injury-free. I’m just trying so hard to make everything consistent and smooth for a while. I need to play for a while without too much thought. I’m a week away. And this would be a good week to do it. The course sets up well for me. There’s a bit of margin for error. Bad shots are not going to get punished as much as they would at somewhere like Augusta.”
Let the squelching begin.