There’s not going to be a Scheffler Slam, Tiger won’t contend and if defending champion Phil Mickelson does play, he won’t make the cut.
Those are the main storylines headed into golf’s second major of the year, the PGA Championship, to be played May 19-22 at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It’s a famous golf course that will be hosting its eighth major championship – and record fifth PGA – but it’s the first since 2007, when Tiger Woods won his fourth PGA Championship. The golf course has undergone a makeover to keep it competitive with modern equipment and low-spinning golf balls. It now stretches more than 7,500 yards, meaning for recreational golfers, most of the par-4 holes would play like par 5s.
There’s plenty of intrigue heading in, and here’s my list of the big names and what I think of their chances.
- Scottie Scheffler – The world No. 1 and freshly minted Masters champion comes in as a favorite. Interesting tidbit: Southern Hills is supposedly among Scheffler’s favorite courses. That means he thinks it suits his game and that means count him in the mix on Sunday afternoon. I didn’t think he’d win the Masters but he did, and I don’t think he’ll win golf’s grand slam because he won’t get the second leg at the PGA. Take from that what you may.
- Jon Rahm – He’s the betting favorite over Scheffler, a nod to Rahm winning his last start and to that widespread belief that it’s Rahm who is the most consistent of the world’s top players, and if his putting is on he’s hard to beat. Rahm rolled it very well in winning the Mexico Open two weeks ago, but let’s not overlook the field was somewhat soft. If I had to choose I’d take Rahm over Scheffler, but neither is my winner.
- Rory McIlroy – His runner-up finish at the Masters was stirring, but he still fell three shots short, again a victim of too many mistakes forcing him to play catch-up the entire event. It’s McIlroy’s biggest challenge. If he could come out and simply not shoot himself out of it early, he is playing as well as anyone in the world. If he’s among the leaders after the first round, he’s my pick to win.
- Patrick Cantlay – He’s won a FedEx Cup and he’s won PGA Tour Player of the Year, but Cantlay has yet to win his first major. I’d like him here if the course was not so long, but he did just pick up a team win at the lengthy TPC of Louisiana at the Zurich Classic. You know what offsets his above-average distance? Cantlay is a tremendous putter. In a major that will put you in contention and I believe Cantlay is as determined as any guy in the field.
- Justin Thomas – He’s got it all and yet something seems to be missing. This guy gets too many solid birdie looks and comes away empty-handed far too often. When I see him, he doesn’t look like a guy who putts like he expects it to go in. He also comes up with the inexplicable wild drive at inopportune times. For JT, it’s not about his best, it’s about cleaning up his worst.
- Tiger Woods – His presence at Augusta took a lot of pressure off Scheffler, and Tiger is always the story when he shows up. But what we saw at the Masters looked like a player whose golf game is way ahead of his body’s health. Tiger believes he can do it, and we all want to believe he can do it. And for 18 holes, he showed at the Masters he can do it. But I don’t believe his leg is that much stronger one month after he limped to a 47th-place finish. Contending over 72 holes with a bad leg and a field far more formidable than the Masters? I don’t see it happening.
- Phil Mickelson – He should be the feel-good story after winning the 2021 PGA Championship at age 50, but we don’t even know if the defending champion will tee it up in Oklahoma. Mickelson is officially in the field, but he has yet to end a hiatus after he became embroiled in controversy over his role in working to recruit other PGA Tour players to join him in moving to a rival golf league funded by the government of Saudi Arabia and headed up by Commissioner Greg Norman. Coupled with reports of Mickelson blowing through $40 million in gambling losses, it has not been a good look. Forgetting all of that, his golf game is struggling. It’s a shame if the defending champ does not play, but he’ll be done after two rounds if he does.
- Max Homa – He’s quietly won four times on Tour – three in the past 16 months. It’s time to jump on the Max Homa bandwagon. To some he may be known as the most entertaining Tour player on social media, but to those who follow the Tour closely, Homa is an elite striker of the golf ball. He’s got easy power and now he’s got confidence. He’s never finished in the top 25 in a major, but that streak ends in Tulsa. A top 10 would not be a surprise.
- Cameron Smith – No list of contenders is complete without Cam Smith. The Australian is somewhat like Justin Thomas in that it’s Smith’s worst shots that knock trophies out of his hands. His best is unbelievably good. What separates the two is Smith is one of the best putters in the world. Will be interesting to see how he responds to his Sunday fade at the Masters. I say this time, he’s in it til the 72nd hole.
- Collin Morikawa – He’s already won his first PGA Championship in 2020 and he is the defending champion of The Open, so we know he can do it. Morikawa is as good as it gets tee to green. His putting is not weak, but it is his weakness. He can fall into patterns where he two-putts every hole, and that won’t get it done. If you see Morikawa rolling in putts, you can pretty much lock in a top five finish.
- Sam Burns – My personal list of best players who have yet to win a major but someday will would be Burns, Cantlay and Viktor Hovland. Of that trio, it’s Burns I think could breakthrough first. He’s big and strong but has great hands – his touch around the greens is beautiful. Has the ability to run off a string of birdies and no course is too long for him. One to watch at all times.
- Xander Schauffele – His team win with Cantlay in New Orleans was Schauffele’s first Tour win in more than three years. That’s surprising for a player of his level, but let’s also not forget it was the seventh Tour victory of his career. Most players never win one and most who win one will not win two. Picking up that victory could be the confidence boost Schauffele needs to get that first major.