European Contenders: Carter's verdict

8/11/2013 5:16:00 PM
The Wanamaker Trophy is the prize on offer to whoever triumphs at Oak Hill on Sunday...  (Getty Images)
The Wanamaker Trophy is the prize on offer to whoever triumphs at Oak Hill on Sunday... (Getty Images)

BBC Golf Correspondent Iain Carter gives his assessment on the European contingent’s chances of victory ahead of the final day’s play at the US PGA Championship.

The Swedish pair of Henrik Stenson and Jonas Blixt are respectively two and three shots behind 54-hole leader Jim Furyk heading into the last round at Oak Hill Country Club, while defending champion Rory McIlory is six shots back with 18 to play alongside Ryder Cup team-mate Lee Westwood.

England’s David Lynn and Scotland’s Marc Warren are the outsiders in the race to become the third European US PGA Champion in four years after McIlroy (2012) and Martin Kaymer (2010), starting eight shots back in Rochester.

Venerable BBC Radio 5Live golf commentator Carter spoke to to give his thoughts on the European challenge as an intriguing day took shape at Oak Hill…

Henrik Stenson (-7)
“I woke up this morning and I did think today could be Europe’s day, I just had that feeling,” said Carter. “And of the European contenders, as much out of his place on the leaderboard as anything, you would say that Stenson has the best chance. Leave aside the scoreboard, though, even if he was two more behind I would still have him as the potential favourite from a European perspective because his form has been so good throughout the summer.

“Really the catalyst came at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, where he played wonderfully well and was unlucky to miss out on the play-off.

“Talking to his coach Pete Cowen this week he is feeling very satisfied with how Henrik has been going about his preparations for some time. Although it feels like something has just clicked into place it has actually been a very gradual process and this is a man, in Cowen’s words, who couldn’t even hit the driving range with his driver to now being in contention at a second consecutive Major.

“He’s one of the best players of the year in the Majors. If you add up his position relative to par he is in the top three or four players in the world in all four Majors.”

Jonas Blixt (-6)
“Someone who is going to be watching Jonas very closely is European Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley and European Tour Chief Executive George O’Grady, because they are going to doing all they can to get him to commit fully to Europe because he has emerged as one of the best European players in the world over the last year or so.

“He’s won twice on the US PGA Tour and plays with a great fearlessness. Some expert summarisers are a bit perplexed by his putting style, the angles don’t seem to add up and certainly aren’t out of the textbook, but my goodness me they are effective.

“Three excellent rounds so far, looks very much at home on a Major leaderboard and it’s going to be fascinating to see how he fares. I began the week talking about fortune favouring the brave and it might be that someone who has no scar tissue at this level could easily come through.”

Rory McIlroy (-3)
“This will potentially go down as a landmark week for Rory whether he wins this or not. He is turning his season around and we are watching it being played out in front of us here at Oak Hill.

“I remember at the start of the week saying he needed a couple of low rounds, the possibility of contending, feeling the heat of competition and he has ticked every one of those boxes so in a way it doesn’t even matter what happens today.

“He’s got two Majors in the bank, he just wants to keep the upward curve going. He’s clearly worked very hard on his game in the last few weeks and it’s just starting to click into place.

“That is his X-Factor, the ability to turn it on suddenly. When he’s not on then it’s not that impressive but when he is it’s almost unstoppable. Certainly has the game to come from six behind with so few players to overtake.”

Lee Westwood (-3)
“You have got to admire the resilience of Lee in the way he has bounced back from Muirfield. His positivity since then speaks volumes for his mental fortitude and the way he has turned it around, got back on the horse and got back in contention is admirable.

“Had a disappointing finish to his second round dropping three shots in two holes but he is right in the mix. The same thing applies to Westwood as it does McIlroy: from this position he can be aggressive with nothing to lose and I think that suits him mentally.

“Could easily fire a 65 or 66, set a target that actually, given the people who are ahead of him, could prove too much. Do not rule him out.”

Marc Warren (-1)
“Two sensational days with 67 and 68 and if he can be par or around par today then he will come away from here saying ‘I can play at the very highest level’.

“Oak Hill is very tough test of golf so for Marc to back up that 67 in the easier conditions on Friday with a 68 yesterday says a lot about his ability.

“Going to be embarking on Ryder Cup qualifying soon and as long as he has a decent day today he can say to himself, ‘I can compete with anyone on any stage’.

“Look out for him to be a Scotsman at Gleneagles. This week could prove the launch pad.”

David Lynn (-1)
“One year on and look, he’s on another Major leaderboard. Finished second at Kiawah Island 12 months ago and that told him he was good enough. It also told all the players on The European Tour that if they can compete on the European Tour they can compete anywhere and David Lynn is living proof of that.

“He has made himself a better golfer by the opportunities that he has created for himself. But the diversity of The European Tour, the challenges of travelling the world playing on different courses, different grasses, all of that offers the best preparation for any professional golfer.

“You are seeing that now with Brooks Koepka and Peter Uihlein, who are really making their way in the world game, and they are doing it as much because they are playing on The European Tour as for any other reason.”