FARMINGDALE, NY — As the final hours of preparation for the second major of 2019 wind down, it’s time to take a closer look at the field of 156. As Brooks Koepka pointed out on Tuesday, not everyone has a real chance at winning this golf tournament.
“One-hundred and fifty-six [players] in the field, so you figure at least 80 of them I’m just going to beat,” said Koepka. “From there, the other — you figure about half of them won’t play well from there, so you’re down to about maybe 35. And then from 35, some of them just — pressure is going to get to them. It only leaves you with a few more, and you’ve just got to beat those guys.”
A few more. I’ve got it down to nine. Let’s take a look at who can win.
1. Brooks Koepka: Oh what do you know, the man himself. Koepka has won three of the last seven major championships he’s played in, and this place seems built for him. Even if he’s not accurate, he’s going to be long enough that he’ll have short irons or wedges out of the rough to a lot of these greens. There’s a big difference between hitting 9-iron and hitting 6-iron out of the thick stuff here,
2. Rory McIlroy: It seems odd (and sounds odder), but I think the best player in the world in 2019 and somebody who has two PGAs in his career is flying under the radar this week. That won’t be the case after he shoots 66 on Thursday afternoon.
3. Tiger Woods: Happy PGA Championship Eve, here is a stat.
4. Francesco Molinari: Why are we not talking about this guy? Three straight top 10s at majors and four in his last six. If you’re playing well at Carnoustie, Bellerive and Augusta National, you can get it done anywhere. Much of the talk this week has been about the importance of driving accuracy. That’s good news for The Metronome.
5. Jon Rahm: Another guy I think we should be talking more about. He finished T4 at last year’s PGA Championship and has been the second best golfer on the PGA Tour off the tee so far this season. He’s also won all over the planet — Louisiana, Ireland and Dubai — and it’s not difficult to envision him closing out another big star (or stars) late on Sunday.
6. Jason Day: Only two golfers have finished in the top 10 at both the Players and Masters so far this year, and Day is one of them. I’ll let another major winner explain the best case for Day this week. “The greens are not extremely diabolical, either,” said Jordan Spieth. “There’s a couple that are tricky, but for the most part they’re just gentle slopes. They’re so pure that somebody can really get … hot with a putter this week.” Nobody gets hotter with the putter than Day. When you combine that with a length he can dial up and a nice history at this course, it becomes clear that he can take home his second PGA Championship.
7. Tony Finau: A monster off the tee, and he’s got fuel to burn. He’s one of the handful who can be so long this week that it won’t matter as much if he’s in the fairway or the rough. No missed cuts and four top 10s in his last seven major championships.
8. Dustin Johnson: D.J. is a handful of (short) strokes away from having won the Players and the Masters this year. He lost to Tiger by one stroke at Augusta, and he missed every single putt he looked at on Sunday at TPC Sawgrass. He’s the other of those two golfers to finish top 10 in both of those events.
9. Rickie Fowler: Two straight top 10s including a T9 at Augusta. He led at Bethpage after three rounds at the 2016 Barclays before folding late with a 74 on Sunday.
So who will win the 2019 PGA Championship, and which long shots will stun the golfing world at Bethpage Black? Visit SportsLine now to see the 2019 PGA Championship projected leaderboard — from the model that nailed the winners of four golf majors — and find out.