PGA Championship Preview: Tiger talks while Phil walks

Golf’s PGA Championship has always had to fight for its spot in the sun. Even though it’s not the newest of the Majors (it had an 18-year start on the Masters), the PGA is often viewed as the red-haired stepchild, the Australian Open of Golf or the Ringo of Majors (and before the Beatles came to the U.S., the Zeppo Marx — look him up at your leisure).

In the 21st century. we should probably update the PGA as the … “Joey?” I can see golf’s elite cringing hearing Matt LeBlanc’s “How you doin’?” in their heads as they process this.

The move from August to May in 2019, while departing from a tradition in place for over 60 years (they held the 1971 PGA in February due to anticipated oppressive August heat in Palm Gardens, Florida … go figure) made sense and should help this tournament on multiple fronts.

One, the courses, in theory, will be in much better shape during May than in August (think heavy heat and scorched greens). Second, clubs reluctant to apply for an August date due to losing two weeks in the summer (and a Major tournament is big enough to take over everything, from the course to the tennis courts to the locker rooms) won’t mind losing two weeks in May when their members’ kids are in school. Lastly, the PGA in May means they won’t have to compete with the NFL Preseason.

Speaking of the spotlight, the 21st century has given us two players who have commanded it with their play and personalities. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have combined to win 21 Majors with different trajectories. Tiger had already captured the career grand slam before Phil won his first Major, but once Mickelson started winning at age 33, he posted five more Major victories while Woods has taken just one Major after turning 33.

Each also stole the stage from the next generation with recent victories (Tiger in the 2019 Masters and Phil last May in the PGA). But instead of defending his title in Tulsa’s Southern Hills Country Club, Phil is nowhere to be found and Tiger is the senior statesman of the Tour.

Mickelson’s absence can be traced to comments leaked by the author of the recent book, “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar.” Mickelson was talking about leaving the PGA Tour for the startup, Saudi Arabia-backed Super Golf League and managed to insult the Saudis as well as the Tour. Instead of celebrating a victory lap for being the oldest man to win a Major, Mickelson is conspicuous by his withdrawal last Friday from the event.

Meanwhile, Tiger is sticking with the PGA Tour.

“I understand different viewpoints, but I believe in legacies, I believe in Major Championships, I believe in big events … comparisons to historical figures of the past,” Woods said at Tuesday’s news conference. “There’s plenty of money out here, the tour is growing.”

Woods’ four PGA Championship victories are second-most to his five Masters (and one behind Jack Nicklaus/Walter Hagen’s five PGAs for the most at that Major). He’s repeated as champion not once but twice (1999-2000 and 2006-2007), and his 2007 victory came at Southern Hills. But that course measured 7,131 yards, and this year, it’s measuring 7,556.

“It has a lot more shot options, that’s for sure. And we’re going to be tested around the greens a lot,” Woods said. “But it still puts a premium on putting the ball in play and on the fairway and keeping the ball somehow below the holes in the right spots. There’s still a lot of slope in some of these greens — a lot of pitch.”

Tiger tied for 47th at last month’s Masters, fading on the weekend with back-to-back 78s. And he’s only 15 months removed from a crash where he suffered multiple leg injuries, including open fractures in his right leg. Will he ever get back to his pre-crash form?

“I don’t know. There’s going to be limitations … there’s a lot of ‘hardware’ in there, and there’s going to be some limitations to what I’m going to be able to do,” Woods said. “But I’m going to get stronger. I don’t know how much that is or how much range of motion I’m ever going to get back, but it sure was a hell of a lot better than it was 12 months ago.”

And he has won on this course. While he may never be 100% again, the four-time PGA Championship winner in his mind can compete this week on a course where he’s previously won a Major.

“I feel like I can, yeah. I just gotta go out there and do it, I gotta do my work,” Woods said. “It starts on Thursday and I’ll be ready.”

Other contenders

Let’s start with Tiger’s grouping (9:11 a.m. Thursday), a power trio if there ever was one.

Rory McIlroy

On the green: Rory finished second at the Masters and placed fifth at the Wells Fargo Championship at TPC Potomac, plus he’s won the PGA twice (2012 & 2014) and is a four-time Major champion.

In the rough: His last Major victory was at the 2014 PGA (20 different golfers have won a Major since) and he finished outside the top 30 at the PGA the previous two years.

Jordan Spieth

On the green: The 2015 runner-up currently ranks ninth on the money-list and won earlier this year at the RBC Heritage.

In the rough: Spieth missed the cut at last month’s Masters and tied for 30th in the PGA last year. There’s nothing wrong with not winning the PGA keeping you from a career grand slam (just ask Tom Watson).

Recent Winners

Colin Morikawa (2020, 2:36 p.m.)

On the green: He tied for eighth as defending champ and finished fifth at the Masters.

In the rough: His other three tournaments since the start of March have ended with 26th and 68th place finishes plus a missed cut.

Brooks Koepka (2018-19, 2:03 p.m.)

On the green: He’s won it twice and tied for second last year.

In the rough: Koepka missed the cut at the Masters as well as in two of his other four starts since the start of February, and he pulled out of last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson.

Justin Thomas (2017, 2:14 p.m.)

On the green: Three top tens in his last four tournaments, including tying for eighth at the Masters.

In the rough: He missed the cut last year and tied for 37th in 2020.

Jason Day (2015, 2:25 p.m.)

On the green: He has good rounds in him, having taken the lead at -10 after two days in less-than-ideal conditions at the Wells Fargo Championship.

In the rough: His 15th place finish at the Wells Fargo is one of two top-tens in eight 2022 tournaments, and Day has missed three of his last five cuts.

Recent Major Champions

Masters Winner Scottie Scheffler (2:36 p.m.)

On the green: The PGA’s money-leader and World No. 1 has two other wins and a total of five top-five finishes in the current season. He’s posted four straight top-10 finishes in the Majors, beginning with last year’s eight place tie at the PGA.

In the rough: The Ridgewood, New Jersey-born Scheffler grew up and lives in Dallas. My college football buddy “Sooner Bob” will attest that people from Texas have had trouble winning in Oklahoma lately.

2021 U.S. Open Champion Jon Rahm (2:36 p.m.)

On the green: He’s finished in the top 10 twice previously at the PGA and is coming off of his victory at the Mexico Open where he carded four rounds in the 60s.

In the rough: Beware the fade, as Rahm has posted higher scores over the second half of three of his last four tournaments (and was even at the Masters where he tied for 27th).

2021 Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama (8:38 a.m.)

On the green: He’s currently third on the PGA’s money list and finished third in the AT&T Byron Nelson. He’s posted a pair (2016-17) of top five finishes in the PGA.

In the rough: It was his Masters win, but Matsuyama’s had just one top-10 finish at a Major since 2017.

2016 U.S. Open & 2020 Masters winner Dustin Johnson (2:14 p.m.)

On the green: You’d think after three runner-up finishes, the two time Major champ might be due. And Johnson finished 12th in last month’s Masters.

In the rough: That was just one of two top-20 finishes in eight tournaments this season (he’s got a pair of missed cuts in the mix too).

2020 U.S. Open winner Bryson DeChambeau (8:49 a.m.)

On the green: Wasn’t he going to change the face of golf just two years ago after his win at Winged Foot?

In the rough: DeChambeau’s missed three straight cuts and hasn’t had a top-25 finish at a Major since winning the U.S. Open two years ago.

Other top money-earners on Tour

No. 2 Cameron Smith (9 a.m.)

On the green: He’s won twice on the Tour this year, including The Players Championship in March. Smith also finished third at the Masters.

In the rough: Smith missed the cut in the RBC Heritage and hasn’t really played well at the PGA, tying for 59th and 43rd the last two years.

No. 4 Sam Burns (9:44 p.m.)

On the green: He’s won twice this season and has posted six top tens to burst upon the scene.

In the rough: Two missed cuts in a row at The Masters and the AT&T Byron Nelson, while he’s yet to finish higher than a tie for 29th at a Major in his career.

No. 6 Patrick Cantlay (2:14 p.m.)

On the green: Three wins last year on Tour plus two losses in playoffs this year means he’s no stranger to playing late on Sundays, and he did tie for third at the 2019 PGA Championship.

In the rough: Cantlay tied for 39th at The Masters and missed the cut at The Players Championship this year. He also doesn’t have a top 10 finish in a Major since 2019.

No. 7 Max Homa (8:49 a.m.)

On the green: Two wins on the Tour this season, including a victory at the Wells Fargo Championship where he overtook Keegan Bradley over a weekend filled with wicked weather. He’s finished in the top 20 six times in eight 2022 starts.

In the rough: Homa’s reached the weekend just three times in 10 Major starts, and his best finish at the PGA was tying for 64th in 2019.

No. 8 Viktor Hovland (9 a.m.)

On the green: He’s also won twice this season while posting three other top 10 finishes.

In the rough: Hovland has twice played the PGA, tying for 30th and 33rd the last two years.

No. 10 Tom Hoge (9:39 a.m.)

On the green: He captured his first Tour win by firing four rounds in the 60s to win the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. And talk about a “volume shooter”: his 21 tournaments are second-most by anyone currently in the top 50 on the earnings list (and he’s finished 12 of those under par).

In the rough: Talk about a long-distance dedication: Hoge has finished inside the top 40 just once at a Major in his career.

Closing Windows: The trio of Lee Westwood (19 top-10 Major finishes, 9:55 a.m.), Rickie Fowler (12 top tens with runner-up finishes in the other three Majors), 2:25), and Matt Kuchar (12) are running out of time to win their first Major. The PGA Championship is often as good as any for a first-timer, as you’ll read below.

Beginning with a Bang: It’s not the ceremonial start at Augusta National, but three older former champs will tee off the tournament at 8 a.m. when Y.E. Yang (2009 winner, hasn’t made cut since 2015), Shaun Micheel (2003, last made cut was 2011) and John Daly (1991, hasn’t reached the weekend since 2012) promises to provide plenty of theatrics to start the PGA Championship.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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