For the first time in over 12 months, a major — the PGA Championship — will be played this week at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. With a shorter-than-normal runway leading into this major after golf restarted in early June, it’s time to take a look on who’s thriving (and who’s not) heading into the first major of 2020 (and the only major of the season).
Ranking the field at these majors is always a balancing act, even more so when we haven’t seen championship-like golf in over a year.
Sometimes, I lean heavily on past performance at majors, but in the case of the PGA Championship, I normally gravitate toward recent play in general as this event is the least unique setup of the four majors.
So let’s look at who’s been hot since the restart and rank golfers as I would handicap them for this event from most likely to least likely to win.
1. Brooks Koepka (Best finish: Win in 2018, 2019) — I cannot believe I’m putting Koepka here after the year he’s had, but he’s been outstanding for two straight weeks from tee to green. Last week at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, he was first in approach shots and top five from tee to green. Thick rough and a long course could reduce the number of players that can win to only a handful, and that’s where he thrives.
2. Justin Thomas (Win in 2017) — It’s fitting that the top two players on this list have combined to win the last three PGA Championships. Thomas has been the best player in the world since the PGA Tour restarted in June, and he’s coming off a big World Golf Championship win. He’s finished T6 and first in his last two PGA Championships.
3. Bryson DeChambeau (T33 in 2017) — I’ve questioned whether his “literally just hit it as far as your body will allow you to hit it and worry about the rest later on” strategy will work at majors, but this seems like the major where it could work best. If the greens are mega-firm and fast, there could be issues like there were at Muirfield Village a few weeks ago, but he’ll likely thrive because it’s going to be so advantageous to be hitting wedges out of the rough at Harding Park instead of longer irons.
4. Jon Rahm (T4 in 2018) — I’m not super concerned about the bad week last week at the WGC. He painted a masterpiece at Muirfield Village when he became No. 1, and he’s also had multiple top 10s at major championships in each of the last two years. His ability to work the ball both ways will come in handy with the doglegs present at TPC Harding Park.
5. Rory McIlroy (Win in 2012 and 2014) — In theory, he should thrive here. In reality, he hasn’t played very clean golf since the restart. McIlroy has been marginally involved in a few of the tournaments since coming back, but his approach play has not been up to his own standards. Still, he can become just the 20th player ever with five or more major wins if he takes this week’s event.
6. Patrick Cantlay (T3 in 2019) — It’s time for Cantlay to start showing out in major championships. He did so last year at Bethpage, and he’s been mostly solid since the PGA Tour restarted. He’ll grind like a madman, and he’s sneaky good off the tee which will be vital.
7. Xander Schauffele (T16 in 2019) — As my colleague Chip Patterson recently pointed out, Schauffele has five (!) top-six finishes in 11 major starts as a professional. The problem is that as much as I trust him to finish in the top 10, I don’t actually trust him to win.
8. Webb Simpson (T13 in 2016) — Simpson only has three top 10s at majors in his career, but he’s also never played golf consistently for extended periods of time at the level where he’s currently playing. The name of game for Simpson will be hitting every single fairway, which he’s built to do considering he’s 19th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy.
9. Daniel Berger (T12 in 2018) — You could argue that Berger has played the best golf in the world over the last two months. His last four finishes look like this: T2-MC-T3-1. I get a little wary because he’s mostly been riding a hot putter, but don’t be surprised at all if he pops here this weekend.
10. Jason Day (Win in 2015) — Day has three consecutive top 10s and knows how to win major championships. He’s hitting the ball consistently better than he has all year, and his distance (if the back can hold up) will play well at Harding Park.
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11. Tiger Woods (Win in 1999, 2000, 2006, 2007) — I have mixed feelings about Big Cat this week. He’s actually hitting the ball pretty well, but TPC Harding Park could be a slog on his back if he can’t find fairways. On the other hand, nobody is better at grinding out 70s on tough tracks than Woods. On the other (other) hand, the cool weather might not be great for his body this week. Basically, I have no idea what we’re getting from him, which normally doesn’t end all that well at major championships.
12. Dustin Johnson (2nd in 2019) — I just don’t trust him right now. He played well in Memphis last week, but that was after rounds of 78-80-80. He’s another “in theory” guy that I don’t totally believe in going into the week. If it does turn into a Bethpage west situation, though, that’s a place where he contended late in the week and nearly usurped Koepka at the very end.
13. Viktor Hovland (n/a) — One of the small handful of best drivers in the world, and he’s been maybe the best overall ball-striker since the restart. I would have him higher (possibly in the top 10) if he hadn’t faded a bit over the last few tournaments.
14. Tyrrell Hatton (T10 in 2018) — He’s leveled out since pacing to have one of the great strokes-gained seasons in PGA Tour history (not a typo!). Still, he’s finished top 10 in two of his last three events.
15. Collin Morikawa (n/a) — Morikawa is right where I’d like him to be coming into this event and following his win at Muirfield Village over Justin Thomas a month ago: under the radar. The 23-year-old is already maybe the best tee-to-green player in the world. It will simply come down to whether he putts and whether he can mentally withstand a weekend while contending at a major. I suspect he can, and I hope we get to find out.
16. Sergio Garcia (2nd in 1999) — Quietly (very quietly!), Garcia has been playing some really solid golf over the last two months. An elite mover of the ball both ways (which will come in handy), he hasn’t made the cut at a PGA since — checks notes — 2015, but I’m not going to let that dissuade me!
17. Jordan Spieth (2nd in 2015) — Spieth is going for the career grand slam this week, and don’t look now, but his play has been better of late. He’s finished in the top 30 in each of his last two events and played in the final pairing with Koepka in Round 3 of this tournament last year. He went on to finish T3 behind Koepka and D.J. on a track not really suited to his strengths.
18. Rickie Fowler (T3 in 2014) — He looked great for long stretches of last week’s WGC event, but that’s really the first time his swing tweaks have clicked into place. I should probably have Tommy Fleetwood, Adam Scott or Justin Rose up here instead of Fowler, but I can’t ignore the work he put in for three rounds at TPC Southwind.
19. Hideki Matsuyama (T4 in 2016) — He’s currently having his second-best strokes-gained season ever while embroiled in his worst putting season as a pro (which is saying something!). Still, he quietly has three top 25s in his last four starts and can ball-strike it with anyone at the top of this list.
20. Tony Finau (T10 in 2015) — His driver should be an absolute weapon at a place like this, but if he can’t close out the Memorial Tournament or 3M Open, what should I expect with real chips down at TPC Harding Park?