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8 Outsiders to Follow at the US PGA

By: | Thu 16 May 2019 | Comments

With 99 of the Top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking competing, this year's PGA Championship has brought together a striking field to compete on the revered (and somewhat feared) Black Course at Bethpage State Park on Long Island, New York. Unquestionably the least distinctive of the majors, the PGA of America's showpiece has been somewhat elevated this week due to the switch in date from August to May. This is no longer 'Glory's Last Shot' as painfully unimaginative PR folk had coined the event for a time. Benefiting from the wash of Tiger Woods' extraordinary, transcendent victory at the Masters, there is considerable intrigue around the battle for the Wanamaker Trophy, which is at least in terms of mass, the biggest in golf.

This formidable layout has hosted the U.S. Open in 2002 and 2009, with the Ryder Cup on its way for 2024. Significant rainfall in the weeks leading into the championship has ensured that the Black will play every inch of the 7,436 yards it measures on the scorecard, with narrowed fairways and accompanied juicy rough placing eyes on those who drive the ball long and straight. Consequently, much attention has been placed on the favourites, notably defending champion Brooks Koepka, world number one Dustin Johnson, twice winner Rory McIlroy, and the aforementioned Woods. It's hard to look beyond the leading 20 or so players, but the likes of Shaun Micheel, Rich Beem and Y.E. Yang have shown that an outsider can upset the odds and grasp the trophy. 

With such an impressive field, it's hard to identify genuine outside contenders, but we have decided to pick out a group - all ranked outside the Top 20 in the OWGR - who may just be in with a chance on Sunday.

Gary Woodland

The 34-year-old American possesses all the required tools to become a major champion, albeit coming into this week following somewhat uncertain form. However, his prowess with the driver in hand will be a significant asset, which has him sitting seventh in this season's Strokes Gained statistics, and he also has a positive record at Bethpage, finishing fourth in The Barclays three years ago. He recorded a top ten finish in last year's PGA Championship at Bellerive.

Jhonattan Vegas

The big-hitting Venezuelan has been in tremendous form throughout 2019, statistically and with his results. His tie for third at The Players Championship is a standout, but he was also in a high position at the recent Wells Fargo Championship, played at the 2017 PGA venue Quail Hollow. Vegas was in a tie for 22nd when Bethpage hosted The Barclays, a performance that included an opening round of 68, so he is capable on this layout.

Hideki Matsuyama

Twice a World Golf Championship winner, the Japanese star's glow has dimmed somewhat in recent times, but there are signs of life. He recorded a top ten finish at TPC Sawgrass in March, and he was third in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, a public layout with some similarities to Bethpage. The 27-year-old is 19th in Driving Distance and 26th overall on the PGA Tour in 2019, so he has the game with the driver to play well here.

Ian Poulter

The career renaissance has been among the most impressive achievements of the past two years, form that he carried into 2019 with remarkable consistency, with five top tens in 11 events, including a third place in the WGC Mexico Championship. The veteran Englishman was also in contention at the Masters, part of that fated grouping with Tiger Woods, but while a maiden major triumph - especially at a venue like Bethpage - may seem unlikely, the 43-year-old has proven many sceptics wrong before.

Scott Piercy

The American, quite astonishingly, went bogey-free in last week's Bryon Nelson at Trinity Forest in Texas (21 birdies, 51 pars), a rare feat not seen in a decade on the PGA Tour, ultimately coming up just short of Sung Kang. This followed a tie for third at the recent RBC Heritage. The 40-year-old is a four-time winner on the circuit, and while his relative lack of distance off the tee may prove inhibitive at Bethpage, he has an edge to his game that could see him surpass expectations.

Matthew Fitzpatrick

Making his way in the United States, the young man from Sheffield has taken several weeks off but was buoyed earlier in the season by his runner-up in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. Like Piercy, he is not one of the biggest hitters, but his combined accuracy and solid all-round game may find favour at such an unrelenting and demanding course.

Ryan Moore

Former Ryder Cup player, Moore finished inside the top ten at Bethpage in the U.S. Open a decade ago, and he was seventh in The Barclays in 2016, so he clearly enjoys the challenge of the Black. The highlight of his season was a recent third place at the Valero Texas Open, and his accurate style of play is a solid fit for most major venues. With five PGA Tour victories, a breakthrough on such a grand stage would be a fine way to cap what is now a lengthy career.

Lucas Glover

In 2009, Lucas Glover won the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. Those memories will carry him this week but picking him out to play well is more than just a case of sentimentality. Since regaining his tour card, the 39-year-old has tallied up four top ten finishes this year, and his consistent long-game has been admired, albeit frailties on the greens may prevent him from adding a PGA to his sole major.

Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography

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