Golf’s four majors have their own hierarchy.
While there are those who bleed Masters green above all else, those who rightly consider the U.S. Open the national championship and those who feel the British Open goes back to the birthplace of the game, nobody clamors for the PGA Championship as the number one.
Thus I’ve often referred to this tournament as the “Ringo of Golf Majors” — it’s in the fab four but only gets one song per album, and they’re not all “Yellow Submarine.” Blame the fact that the tournament used to be held deep in the dog days of August, when the NFL preseason would take much of the available oxygen and the summer heat would wear down courses.
There also was a time when golfers had to choose between competing in the British Open and the PGA because they were held roughly the same week. The recent reshuffling of the calendar puts the tournament in May, where the Players Championship (often referred to as the “fifth major”) used to reside. What goes on?
Like it or not, this is the major with the least pizazz. While Greg Norman is haunted by his three near-misses at Augusta National, and Phil Mickelson’s six runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open likely keep lefty up at night from time to time, the PGA Championship doesn’t have the same sting.
While the Masters and U.S. Open have often served as springboards for champions to win other majors (like Brooks Koepka or Jordan Spieth), there doesn’t appear to be that sort of momentum generated from the PGA. Six of the last 10 PGA Championship winners were first-time major champs, with none winning another major. Even Rory McIlroy (2012) and Brooks Koepka (2018) would stop winning after another PGA (McIlroy in 2014, Koepka in 2019). It doesn’t come easy.
This year’s field
… and keep in mind I didn’t list eventual Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama as a “contender” last month (odds courtesy cbssports.com):
Rory McIlroy (11-1): The two-time winner was the champ the last time it was played at the Kiawah Island Course in 2012. He missed the cut at last month’s Masters, but more recently won the Wells Fargo Championship two weekends ago. Rory tied for 33rd last summer at the PGA, and while he hasn’t won a major in seven years, McIlroy has missed fewer cuts at this event than at the other three.
Justin Thomas (14-1): The 2017 winner is the leader on the PGA’s earnings list. The 28-year old made a splash in March by winning the Players Championship (Stu Sutcliffe? Klaus Voorman?) and tied for 21st in the Masters. Since winning the PGA, he’s tied for sixth, missed one due to injury and tied for 37th last August.
John Rahm (16-1): The 26-year old tied for 13th last year while tying for fifth at the Masters. He also had top 10 finishes at The Genesis Invitational and the Players Championship. But May has not been kind to the Spaniard who has a missed cut and a tied-for-34th this month.
Jordan Spieth (16-1): The 2015 runner-up needs the PGA to complete his career grand slam. He’s won the Valero Texas Open this year and has five other top 10 finishes, including tying for third at the Masters. His PGA history also includes tying for third in 2019, but tying for 71st last summer.
Bryson DeChambeau (16-1): The reigning U.S. Open champ tied for fourth last year and won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but has also missed three cuts in six PGA’s played. He tied for 46th last month at Augusta National and is also coming off of tying for 55th at the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship.
Dustin Johnson (18-1): The two-time runner-up tied for 48th the last time the tournament was played at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. He missed the cut while defending his Masters win last month and tied for 48th at The Players Championship.
Recent major winners
Collin Morikawa (30-1): The defending champ joined Keegan Bradley and Shawn Micheel as players who won the PGA Championship in their first attempt. The 24-year old hasn’t played since finishing seventh at the RBC Heritage one week after tying for 18th at the Masters. His one win this year came in Bradenton, Florida at the WGC-Workaday Championship in late February.
Hideki Matsuyama (33-1): The Masters winner has a pair of top five finishes at the PGA, but none since 2017. He tied for 22nd in 2020 and although he won his first major last month, he’s also finished 30th or worse five times in 2021 (including a 39th place showing last weekend at the Byron Nelson).
Brooks Koepka (33-1): The two-time winner had knee surgery earlier this year and has missed the cut in his last two tournaments (The Masters & Byron Nelson). He tied for 29th last year in his pursuit to become the first man in the stroke-play era to win three straight PGA’s (Walter Hagen won four straight from 1924-27 during the match-play era).
Big names on the money list
Xander Schauffele (22-1): Ranks fourth on the PGA’s earnings list but has yet to win on tour this year. He does have three runner-up finishes since tying for fifth at last fall’s U.S. Open. The 27-year old does have five top tens in his last seven major appearances, including tying for 10th in the 2020 PGA and tying for third in last month’s Masters.
Viktor Hovland (25-1): Ranks third on the money list with his victory at December’s Mayakoba Golf Classic (and the $1.296 million check) boosting his numbers. In the last four months the 23-year old Norwegian has posted five top-five finishes in eight events. His best finish at a major was tying for 12th as the Low Amateur in the 2019 U.S. Open. Hovland tied for 33rd at last year’s PGA Championship and tied for 21st at last month’s Masters.
Sam Burns (40-1): He may be somewhat of an unknown, but the 24-year old is coming off of a runner-up finish at the AT&T Byron Nelson after winning the Valspar Championship to start the month. He’s currently ninth on the money leader board and has a top-five finish at The Genesis Invitational, but he also has missed three cuts in his last six events and last played in a major when he finished tied for 29th at the 2019 PGA Championship.
Billy Horschel (125-1): The 10th ranked earning player on tour won the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play event in March. He’s your classic grinder: 18 cuts made in 23 Majors entered in the U.S. with only one top-20 finish (tied for fourth at the 2013 U.S. Open). His best finish at the PGA was tying for 23rd two years ago but he hasn’t missed the cut since 2013.
… if you’re going to place a bet, make sure you have the correct last name!
Cameron Smith (35-1): The Australian is fifth on the PGA’s money list and his 2021 boasts two top 10 finishes (including tying for 10th at last month’s Masters after being the runner-up in 2020) and five top 20s. His best finish at the PGA was tying for 25th in 2015. Smith also has a mullet.
Cameron Champ (125-1): Both of his PGA Tour wins came at the expense of Canadians: Corey Conners in the 2018 Sanderson Farms Championship and Adam Hadwin at the 2019 Safeway Open. The 25-year old finished tied for 10th in last year’s PGA Championship.
Cameron Tringale (125-1): The 33-year-old finished 72nd in 2012 at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. His best finish would have been tying for 33rd in 2020, but he disqualified himself after realizing he signed an incorrect score card.
Cameron Davis (200-1): Also from Australia, the 26-year old is making his PGA Championship debut. A third-place finish at January’s The American Express is his high water mark in 2021.
Hey, isn’t that?
Former champs and contenders try to conjure up one more magical weekend.
Sergio Garcia (66-1): As a teenager he finished second to Tiger Woods in 1999. Garcia’s posted three other top tens, but none since 2008 and has missed the cut every year since 2016. But I still like the Smirnoff Ice ad. Still works. Did you say … Sergio? Yes, indeed!
Rickie Fowler (125-1): The kid is still only 32 but hasn’t had a top-five finish at a Major since the 2018 Masters. He’s missed five cuts in nine events played since the end of January. The time is running out for Leonardo DiCaprio to play Fowler in the biopic.
Phil Mickelson (200-1): The 2005 champ finished second in 2014 and has tied for 71st each of the last two years. The two previous years he missed the cut and tied for 36th the last time the PGA was held at Kiawah.
John Daly (2,000-1): The 1991 Cinderella story celebrates his 30th anniversary going from alternate to champion. Awesome. He has a 7:44 a.m. tee tie Thursday. Not awesome.