The 2018 PGA Championship is almost here. Though there are obvious contenders for the 100th PGA Championship, there are some who could surprise.
Here are seven sleepers for the 2018 PGA Championship. Each Official World Golf Ranking is through The Open Championship.
Top PGA Moment: Champion, 2011
PGA record: Seven starts, one MC, three top 20s.
Skinny: Despite still struggling with his putting since the U.S. Golf Association’s 2016 ban on anchoring (he departed the British Open ranked 199th in strokes gained: putting), Bradley, champion of the 2011 PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club, has been playing nicely this season. Dating to 2016-17 season, he has missed only four cuts in 31 starts, and he leads the PGA Tour in total driving, which will be important at Bellerive. The U.S. Open marked his only missed cut in an individual stroke-play event since Genesis in February.
Top PGA moment: (Waiting for it)
PGA record: One start, MC at Quail Hollow last year
Skinny: At 33, List continues to show a nice line of progression, and he is enjoying his finest season to date. His five top 10s include a playoff loss at the Honda (to Justin Thomas), and he had 10 top-25 finishes through the British Open. At Carnoustie, he made his first cut in a major; a closing 69 lifted him to a tie for 39th. A long hitter off the tee (fifth on the PGA Tour in driving distance, at 315.1 yards), List ranks fifth in strokes gained: tee to green. A hot week with the putter, and he can make some noise.
Top PGA moment: Finished 86th, 2016
PGA record: Two starts, one MC
Skinny: Having climbed as high as 23rd in the world heading into last year’s PGA Championship, Pieters hasn’t had the season for which he has hoped. But one solid week can change that in a hurry for the 26-year-old Belgian. He hasn’t played great this season (two top 10s) but also doesn't seem all that far off, either. Only twice in 17 worldwide starts has he failed to make the 36-hole cut. Since the Italian Open in June, Pieters’ play has been solid, highlighted by a tie for sixth in the Scottish Open and tie for 28th at the British Open. He’s long, can make lots of birdies, and is no stranger to summer Midwest heat, having played collegiately at Illinois.
Top PGA moment: Tied for third, 2006
PGA record: 17 starts, seven finishes of T-15 or better, four MCs
Skinny: Scott hasn’t won since back-to-back weeks in early 2016 in Florida (Honda, Bay Hill) and has been held back by some balky putting (he ranked 195th in strokes gained: putting after the British Open). But his confidence appears to be on the rise since returning to the long putter this spring. Here’s why he can be a factor: Scott still can strike the ball beautifully, and that will be a huge key at Bellerive, which is a big ballpark. He ranks seventh in strokes gained: tee to green and is fourth on Tour in greens in regulation (71.53 percent). Scott tied for 17th at the British Open.
Top PGA moment: Tie for 13th, 2016
PGA record: Seven starts, two top 25s, three MCs
Skinny: OK, so maybe it’s a stretch to call a man who has risen to 21st in the world a “sleeper,” but Simpson still hasn’t landed squarely on everyone’s radar after rebuilding his game following a dip to 90th in the world in late 2016. Simpson already won once this season on a difficult layout – capturing The Players in May – and has had a nice run at the 2018 majors. His highest finish at a major this season is a tie for 20th at Augusta, and he was T-10 and T-12 at the summer Opens. He’ll have to get his driver in play, avoid the rough, and hit more greens than usual, but once there, Simpson has been effective, ranking seventh on Tour in strokes gained: putting.
Top PGA moment: Tie for 30th, 2014
PGA record: Six starts, four made cuts
Skinny: OK, this one is a bit of a flyer, but Willett’s work with instructor Sean Foley seems to be gaining some traction. In a six-tournament run through the British Open, he had four finishes of T-24 or better, including a T-8 at the Italian Open and T-6 at the Irish Open. He answered the tough exam at Carnoustie by tying for 24th, and he’s making progress. At 30, the 2016 Masters champion is fighting his way out of a terrible patch of golf and has struggled with injury. Remember, only two years ago, Willett ranked as highly as ninth in the world. It’s in there.
Top PGA moment: Tied for 12th, 2011
PGA record: Six starts, two top 25s, two MCs
The skinny: He hasn’t been able to generate momentum from his hot start to 2018, which included a tie for seventh at the Sony Open, a T-12 at Farmers and a victory at the Phoenix Open. But Woodland’s prodigious length off the tee and ability to keep a stinger 2-iron in play would seem to be a nice fit for Bellerive. Plus, at 34, if he wants to make a run at his first Ryder Cup team, this is the time to make his move.
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