It’s been a few months longer than initially expected, but a major golf championship will finally be played this week at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. The course will host its first PGA Championship, and after two months’ worth of golf since the PGA Tour returned to play, we have some great storylines to watch ahead of the only major that will be contested in the 2019-20 PGA Tour season.
While this season might not have the same rhythms, you can be sure that — when shots are in the air on Thursday — this PGA Championship will have the same intensity as its predecessors (fans or not). Let’s take a look at what’s at stake, who will play the biggest roles and how this is all going to go down over the next week.
Odds provided by William Hill Sportsbook.
1. Tiger Woods: That’s pretty much all that needs to be said. Woods (28-1) has only made one cut at the PGA Championship since 2014 (this is the same number as Colin Montgomerie), and that resulted in a runner-up finish at Bellerive in 2018 when Brooks Koepka won his first at this event. Woods has also only played one PGA Tour event since February, a T40 a few weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament. I’m bullish on Woods this week because he hit the ball well at Muirfield Village, but if he doesn’t clean up the short game, for the first time in his career when he was actually playing, Woods will go an entire season without making a cut at a major championship.
2. No fans at TPC Harding Park: Two things that are true. First, I’ve enjoyed the fan-less tournaments we’ve seen thus far quite a bit. Second, I’m not sure how this goes at a major championship. The closest thing we have as a facsimile is the Memorial at Muirfield Village where Jon Rahm became the No. 1 player in the world. It didn’t necessarily take away from it, but you did notice it a bit more than at, say, the RBC Heritage. The big question people are asking here is whether this helps or hurts Tiger. I’ve argued that it actually helps him because of the circus he has to deal with at each and every event. Regardless, we’ll get our first major of the year (ever?) without fans. You can be sure the USGA and Augusta National will be watching closely to see how this goes.
3. Struggling stars: Who do you trust in the top 10 in the world right now? It’s been a roller coaster of a ride since the restart. Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson (20-1) are down, then they’re up. Rahm (14-1) goes to No. 1 in the world, then plays like he’s No. 1,000 in the world. Rory McIlroy’s (11-1) approach game is lacking. Bryson DeChambeau (10-1) is all over the place. Even the normally mega-steady Webb Simpson (25-1) has missed a few cuts. The one guy I think you can probably bank on here is Justin Thomas. He’s been fabulous since the restart at the beginning of June and is coming off a big-boy win in Memphis.
4. Spieth slam: This is your annual reminder that the now-buried Jordan Spieth (50-1) is trying to become just the sixth player in history to secure the career grand slam. He played in the final pairing with Koepka on Saturday of last year’s PGA Championship only to stall out in a big way on the weekend. He’s playing (marginally) better golf these days, but I certainly don’t go into this week with a lot of confidence that the slam list will read Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen, Jordan Spieth in a week from right now.
5. Brooks-Brooks-Brooks? Not since Walter Hagen won four in a row from 1924-27 has somebody won back-to-back-to-back PGA Championships. Koepka (11-1), who won at both Bellerive (2018) and Bethpage Black (2019), played well enough to win Memphis last week and suddenly seems like he’s going to be a force once again at the first major of 2020. Whether he can win is a different story (he hasn’t done so in over a year), but we do know that if he does it will be historic.
6. Young contingent: Make way for the Collin Morikawa (22-1), Viktor Hovland (40-1), Sungjae Im (66-1) crowd. Several young studs will be playing the first major championship of their careers, and a few of them will do it as top-50 players in the world. The proclamation might not be here quite yet, but it will come soon as names you may have only seen casually over the last several months start to infiltrate the PGA Tour and the majors in a real way over the next several years.
7. First time’s a charm: Here’s an non-exhaustive list of players still looking for major No. 1: Rahm, DeChambeau, Patrick Cantlay (18-1), Xander Schauffele (22-1), Tony Finau (35-1), Rickie Fowler (35-1), Hideki Matsuyama (40-1), Tommy Fleetwood (50-1), Marc Leishman (66-1), Matt Kuchar (66-1) and Paul Casey (66-1). And those are just the ones ranked in the top 35 in the world. Surely, several of those golfers will have at least one by the end of their careers, but they don’t exactly hand them out for free, and there are only four a year (or in this case, three). Rahm’s resume has the biggest hole as he’s the best player of the bunch, but any one of these guys could really use a big-boy trophy before the younger players start ticking them off.
8. West Coast, best coast: West Coast majors are the absolute best. We get golf in primetime in the rest of the country, and players get to enjoy cooler weather and a variety of agronomy they haven’t experienced yet this summer. Judging from the video of Harding Park’s rough below, I’m guessing they won’t enjoy a lot of it. And while it’s a huge bummer no fans will be allowed into the event, it does mean we’ll get to see more of the sights around this beautiful piece of property, which is separated from Olympic Club (site of the 2012 U.S. Open) by Lake Merced.
9. Bashing Bryson: DeChambeau’s new muscle-bound routine has yet to hit the mainstream, but it will this week at Harding Park where he’ll try to drive par-4s and hit wedges into all the par-5s (most of which are very straightaway). It was working until, you know, he went to a major championship-type course at Muirfield Village where angles mattered more than length. The good news for Bryson is that this course will likely be more wet, more dense and not as fast as Muirfield Village. This is the first true exam for his new strategy.
10. Seven-eleven: This kicks off a run of seven majors in 11 months. Somebody can (and probably will) make a career out of the next 11 months. I have no idea who — maybe Rory gets to six majors, maybe Justin Thomas (10-1) gets Winged Foot and Augusta National, maybe Koepka gets to the slam before Rory and Spieth, maybe Tiger wins two or three more. It’s all in play. And after a year of crappy news and myriad pauses and shutdowns, I’m ready to enjoy a full stretch of the best players in the world knocking off major championship trophies left and right in an incredibly condensed amount of time.
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