PGA Championship: Nick Watney leads by 3 with 18 holes to play

August 14, 2010 | Drew Forrester

Journalists and TV talking heads are trying to make this PGA Championship into another “Tiger story”, but don’t be fooled:  the championship at Whistling Straits is about three kids who can bomb it off the tee and find it in the short grass. 

They’re whistling them straight — and about 325 yards on average — and that’s why Nick Watney has a three-shot lead over fellow youngsters Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy heading into Sunday’s final round.

Woods, who still remains THE story of the tournament based on the content of the websites and CBS Sports, fired and fell back on Saturday, settling for an even-par round of 72 that leaves him at -3 and in no man’s land.  If this event was a horse race, Woods would be eased heading into the far turn.  He can wear red shirts AND red pants on Sunday and he’s not winning.

The real story of the tournament?  It’s not Tiger Woods.  It’s those three big bombers at the top of the leaderboard who kill it off the tee and eat the par 5’s for lunch. 

All three have PGA TOUR victories.  Watney has won twice and has the more complete game of the three.  He’s not as long off the tee as Johnson (3 wins), nor does he have the sizzling iron play of McIlroy (1 win), but his overall game is based on accuracy and a pure-as-can be putting stroke that rarely lets him down.  Johnson, you’ll recall, was the 3rd round leader at this summer’s U.S. Open before spiraling out of control on the front nine of Sunday’s final round en route to an 82. 

All three of these players are going to win major championships in their respective careers. 

One, most likely, will do just that on Sunday at Whistling Straits. 

Watney needs it the most, for a win in this championship also gives him a place on the Ryder Cup team.  Johnson is 9th in points (top 8 make it) and seems a safe bet to catapult into the top 8 barring another one of those 82’s.  And McIlroy will likely be a star on the European Team that seems destined to give the U.S. side a pounding next month in Ireland. 

As for that guy who used to be really good and his chances to make the team on points…it’s not happening.  Tiger would likely have to finish 7th in this event to make it on his own.  Of course, captain Corey Pavin is going to add Woods to the team with one of his four at-large selections on September 7 and Tiger has begrudgingly indicated he’ll accept such an invitation;  but rest assured it will be bittersweet for The Great One, who probably never envisioned he’d have to sink as low as accepting a captain’s pick selection to make a Ryder Cup team. 

So with 18 holes to play, it’s still anyone’s game.  Others lurk at -9 and -8 and all it takes is a great round in the mid 60’s to give yourself a chance to overtake one of the three young guns.

But they look unflappable, those three do, and come Sunday night around 7pm, I suspect we’ll have a new PGA champion out of Watney, Johnson or McIlroy and another one of the TOUR’s promising stars will be the new sheriff in town.

The old TOUR marketing slogan – “These guys are good” – needs to be replaced by “Damn, those guys freakin’ bomb it off the tee.  And it’s in the fairway!”

It’s impressive to watch.