Usually, the “First Major of the Year Preview” articles start rolling out in mid-March. Jim Nantz’s dulcet tones pause March Madness to remind everyone that Augusta will be hosting another iteration of The Masters. Every commercial break on ESPN ends with a reminder to tune in the week after the Final Four. It’s everyone’s dad’s favorite weekend and it’s a great cooldown after the madness. Of course, everything changed this year. Instead, the first major is mid-August. It’s not a tradition unlike any other at Augusta, but the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park.
The first leg of what some (really only me) are calling “the Championship Gauntlet” begins today at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. With no one winning more than one tournament since the restart, it’s anyone’s tournament to win. Here are five names looking primed to make some noise, good or bad, in San Francisco and beyond.
Bryson DeChambeau is the single most entertaining golfer on the planet right now. The once quirky but lovable nerd has quickly become the Tour’s biggest villain. His controversies over the years started small, with the USGA determining his side-saddle putter was non-conforming and the compass he used to read greens was against the rules. Post-restart, however, his antics have grown exponentially.
It all started when he came back with a comically absurd amount of new muscle. He started hitting the ball 400 yards and won the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club. During the third round, he began to berate a cameraman who filmed him after a bad shot and worse reaction. He tried to justify it by saying, “I understand it’s his job to video me, but at the same point, I think we need to start protecting our players out here compared to showing a potential vulnerability and hurting someone’s image.”
He didn’t do much to help his image two weeks later, as at Muirfield GC everything seemed to fall apart. A
disagreement with a rules official led to him asking for a second opinion on an out of bounds ruling. The second opinion, of course, had the same result as the first. One quintuple-bogey 10 later, Bryson was counting strokes on the green in an all too relatable moment. Then, a hole later, his caddy got in front of the camera following his group and refused to move. To top it off, last week DeChambeau asked for free relief from an ant hill in the woods. If nothing else, Bryson’s antics should be more than enough reason to watch the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, regardless of how he plays.
As the saying goes, every hero needs a villain, and the opposite seems to be true as well. While Bryson is getting whatever edge he can, Brooks has admitted to finding golf boring and not caring about non-majors. This relaxed strategy seems to work for him. Four of his seven wins on the PGA Tour have been majors, including the last two PGA Championships. So despite his struggles—no wins and two missed cuts since the Tour restarted—he cannot be overlooked. His success in majors, combined with his second-place finish last week at the WGC – FedEx St. Jude Invitational, give him with the joint-best odds to win the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park.
His performance on the course is not the only reason to watch him, though. His hatred of slow play has led to a rivalry with DeChambeau. This rivalry heightened after Bryson’s antics in Detroit, leading to Koepka tweeting out a gif implying DeChambeau was suffering from “roid rage.” Whatever happens this week, on or off the course, no one needs to worry about Brooks, though. He’s Gucci, bruh.
Between Bryson’s antics and Brook’s major dominance, people have been overlooking the number one golfer in the world. And why shouldn’t they? All he’s done is finish top-10 four of six times after the restart and win last week’s WGC – FedEx St. Jude Invitational. But Thomas has been a bit inconsistent in 2020, with some very high highs and very low lows. He’s coupled four top-5 finishes with three missed cuts, but he’s only finished outside the top-10 in one tournament that he made the cut.
The question is, which Justin Thomas will we see at TPC Harding Park? Last week he won by three strokes, but only a little over a month ago, he missed the cut at TPC River Highland’s Travelers Championship by five. Odds makers seem to think Thomas’s recent strong form will continue, with him also having the joint-best odds to win the tournament. Will he be able to take home his second Wanamaker Trophy this weekend?
The defending FedEx Cup Champion will be one of Thomas’s playing partners in the tournament’s featured group this week. A hot finish to 2019 and start to 2020, featuring one win and eight straight top-5 finishes, seemed to be a sign of big things to come, but Rory has struggled post-restart. Despite being the world’s top-ranked golfer for most of the year, he has only one top-30 after the restart.
While he has struggled to find wins this year, he’s still finished in the top-10 in four out of nine tournaments. This is after an astounding 2019, where he finished in the top-10 19 out of 25 times with four wins. He will be looking to end his major drought, as he hasn’t won one since the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club. Even if he isn’t in contention, don’t be surprised if Rory slips into the top-10 with a low round Sunday.
He’s the last man in the tournament’s featured group, and let’s be honest, he’s the only reason most people watch. If he’s in contention, the tournament immediately becomes must-watch TV. While Tiger’s comments on aging have scared fans, his record at TPC Harding Park bodes well for his performance there.
While it’s an admittedly small sample size and not exactly recent, Tiger Woods has never lost at TPC Harding Park. In 2005, Woods defeated fellow star John Daly in a playoff in the WGC – American Express Championship. Four years later, Woods went 5-0-0 at the 2009 Presidents Cup, despite his notoriously poor record in international team tournaments. It may be wishful thinking, but Woods has the joint-seventh best odds to take home the Wanamaker Trophy. While it would certainly be great for the game if he won, Woods simply being in contention brings more eyes to the new stars. If nothing else, the Sunday red strutting down the fairway in the last group of the weekend would be a welcome familiar sight in such unfamiliar times.
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