10 Players to Watch at the US PGA
13 months on from Shane Lowry's atmospheric victory at Royal Portrush, major championship golf has finally returned to our screens during this most extraordinary of years, albeit in the undoubtedly compromised spectator-less environment demanded by these remarkable times.
However, within the contained bubble of the 102nd PGA Championship at San Francisco's TPC Harding Park, there is an opportunity to become part of history, joining the list of storied names permanently residing on the Wanamaker Trophy.
Brooks Koepka has taken ownership of that prize for the past two years and is seeking a historic treble in 2020, the American determined to win this event for a third consecutive occasion.
Not even Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods have accomplished that. Australian legend Peter Thomson was the most recent figure to complete a hat-trick of triumphs at the same major, winning The Open in 1954, 1955 and 1956. Before that, you must turn back to the clock to the 1920s and the stunning four-straight victories of Walter Hagen in the PGA, then a match play tournament.
Scotland Willie Anderson (1903-05) was the only other player to claim this rare feat in the 20th century, at the U.S. Open, while those early luminaries, Bob Ferguson, James Anderson and Young Tom Morris set the standard in the formative days of The Open Championship.
If Koepka, the former world number one, was to submit his membership into that most exclusive of clubs on Sunday, it would be an achievement deserving of the fanfare that the pandemic has deprived.
However, should there be a different name on the Trophy, who is the most likely to snatch the crown from Koepka? We take a look at some key stars to look out for at the PGA.
New world number one and winner of the PGA Championship in 2017, the son and grandson of golf professionals, Justin Thomas has a deep connection with this event, and comes into the week on the back of his victory at the WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational, his third title of this warped season.
The 27-year-old possesses all the required tools for Harding Park, but more than that, he has the edge to his game on a Sunday that sees him convert more opportunities than most players. It could be the right time for his second major.
When the PGA Tour resumed, Bryson DeChambeau dominated headlines due to his striking physical change and the prodigious distances that he was hitting the ball, stunning onlookers and delivering a win at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit. However, there have many controversies too, including incidents with cameramen and rules officials, but it underlines that the American is simply box office.
Despite the attention, his major record is unremarkable, and this is the first test for the "new" Bryson on a grand stage. It will certainly be interesting - whatever happens.
When lockdown began, Rory McIlroy sat as the world's top ranked player and was primed for an assault on the majors, but since the PGA Tour resumed, the Northern Irishman has lacked a spark, putting together a string of mediocre results. However, this championship - which he won in 2012 and 2014 - should provide a touch of added inspiration.
The 31-year-old won the WGC Matchplay at Harding Park in 2015, so he has a positive memory of the venue, whether that's enough to see him contend remains to be seen, but McIlroy is capable of igniting his game on any given week, and he is certainly overdue in the four marquee events on the calendar.
The Englishman claimed his maiden victory on the PGA Tour at the Arnold Palmer Invitational before the shutdown, and returned from the break in strong form, recording top fives at the Heritage and Rocket Mortgage Classic. The 28-year-old is tenacious and plays well at difficult venues, finishing inside the top ten at five major championships.
Some may question whether he has the firepower to compete with the main favourites on this layout, but his excellent iron play should create good scoring opportunities.
The 26-year-old from San Diego has only played in 11 major championships but has finished in the top five in four of them, including runner-up finishes at the Masters and The Open. Despite his impressively consistent play, the former Tour Championship winner hasn't tasted victory since early 2019.
However, his game is robust, and he seems primed to become a major champion.
The experienced American won the U.S. Open in 2012 at The Olympic Club, which is in view of Harding Park, but he is almost certainly a better player now than he was then, recently picking up his second triumph of 2020 at Harbour Town. While he isn't the most powerful of golfers, he has a terrific all-round game, knows how to win, and is ranked 4th in the OWGR for a reason.
It could be a San Francisco major double for the 34-year-old.
Making his debut in the PGA Championship, the 23-year-old appears to have it all, the technique and temperament to be one of the world's best golfers, a sense underlined by reality, having already won twice on the PGA Tour, including his dramatic victory over Justin Thomas at Muirfield Village. The American is destined for major things.
Whether experience matters is debatable, but being a first-timer didn't stop Keegan Bradley from winning in 2011.
The reigning U.S. Open champion has fond memories of life in California, lifting his first major last year at Pebble Beach, and he returns to the state in decent form, recording two top tens since the restart. There is no doubt that he has the length, but should he find enough fairways, the 36-year-old is strong enough with his irons to contend here.
Having lost a considerable amount of weight during the shutdown, he is lean and ready to build on his win at Pebble.
The 25-year-old former U.S. Amateur champion is quietly growing in stature as a professional in the United States, yet to win on the American circuit, but showing his class with a third place at The Memorial and sixth at the recent WGC, he comes to Harding Park in excellent form.
His record in the majors has been solid if unspectacular, but this could be the week for the man from Sheffield to change that.
The most unusual major "slam" is still in play for the popular Irishman, who remains the most recent major winner in men's golf. His game is statistically solid across each category, apart from on the greens this season, but should he find sharpness with the putter, the 33-year-old is more than capable of being a factor at Harding Park.
Following his agonising runner-up in the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, Lowry has unfinished business in the American majors and it would not be a surprise to see him contend in California.
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