It’s time to leave the boredom of The Heritage, the sleep-inducing Zurich team event, the unspectacular Wells and the nap-time Nelson behind us. Time for some real live golf with real live stars in front of us this week at a total big boy of a golf course. Time for the PGA Championship at Bethpage’s brutal Black course, a real test of championship golf. For your scrutiny today, we turn to the inexact science of predicting (guessing) who might contend for the 101st PGA title when it’s ball-in-the-air on Thursday.
First, this weather report: Rain hit Bethpage Sunday as part of a huge front moving through the northeast. More rain today, meaning a good chance of no prep work or practice. Cloudy with chilly (42-51 degrees) temperatures on Tuesday and again on Wednesday.
So let’s get to it, shall we?
Brooks Koepka: The defending champion shot rounds of 65-66-68-65 at the Byron Nelson. “My game’s turning the corner,” Koepka declared, who said that he’s been spending time with his first putting coach — Jeff Pierce. Koepka looked pretty sharp on the greens and finished solo fourth after an unimpressive T22 with younger brother Chase at the team event. He lost to Tiger Woods by a shot at The Masters and that tee shot into Rae’s Creek on 12 Sunday afternoon has no doubt been haunting him. He’s the man to beat this week.
Tiger Woods: Tiger got his prep work in last week, which bodes well, no way he’s out there in the rain and chilly temperatures on Monday. He might play nine on Tuesday but that’s about it. He hasn’t played since The Masters but it will surprise most if he’s not in the hunt next Sunday afternoon.
Xander Schauffele: Exemplifies the perfect underdog. This kid has enormous talent and isn’t afraid to get in the thick of it at major championships. Not sure what the state of his game is right now but we haven’t seen him since an unimpressive T63 at The Heritage — post Masters hangover?
Rory McIlroy: Of course he let everyone down once again at Augusta. A tie for 21st? Seriously? He did tie for eighth at the Wells but there’s no telling what he’s got going this week. He is supposed to be an excellent wet-course player. Augusta National was damp and he didn’t do squat. Bethpage Black will be damp this week. Time for Rory to show up with his “A” game. But the sad fact is, you can’t trust him lately when the heat’s on in a major.
Tony Finau: After a top five at The Masters, he missed the cut in New Orleans and was an unimpressive 60th (tie) at the Wells Fargo. Grew up on public courses, would be fitting if he wins a major at a public venue.
Jon Rahm: Won the team with Ryan Palmer and tied for ninth at The Masters. Is he the best player in the world without a major? Would be surprising if he didn’t contend this week.
Justin Rose: After an embarrassing MC at The Masters, he finished third at the Wells Fargo last time we saw him. Not sure if or when he’ll win another major.
Dustin Johnson: After finishing in that tie for second at The Masters, he did a total face-flop on the back nine on Sunday at The Heritage. Bad last impression. We put D.J. in that “can’t trust him in a major this year” category with Rory.
Francesco Molinari: Schooled by El Tigre at The Masters. That evens the score between those two at one-each when playing with each other on Sunday at a major. Has the game to contend, cooler weather suits Europeans quite well.
Rickie Fowler: Waiting for Rickie to win a major is kind of like waiting for it to snow in south Florida. Still Rickie got a top 10 at The Masters and a T4 at the Wells Fargo. Top 10 at Bethpage? More likely than a win.
Justin Thomas: We haven’t seen J.T. since he finished tied for 12th at The Masters. Like Rory, many had higher expectations for J.T. at Augusta.
Jason Day: His name gets thrown around too often as a contender at majors when he hasn’t done much lately to earn that. Are his best days behind him?
So there you have them, our Dirty Dozen. The list looks too much like that old saying — “Round up the usual suspects.”