9 players to watch at the 2017 PGA Championship
It's been an incredible major season thus far. Sergio Garcia became the sixth consecutive first-time major winner with his Masters victory in April. Brooks Koepka made it seven straight with his U.S. Open triumph in June and Jordan Spieth snapped the first-timer streak in July with his Open Championship win at Royal Birkdale.
Now, at Quail Hollow at the 2017 PGA Championship, the season's final major, Spieth can become just the sixth player in the Masters era (dating to 1934) to complete the career Grand Slam.
While Spieth will surely be a favorite in Charlotte, plenty of big names will be out to stop him. Here's a look at nine players to watch at the 2017 PGA Championship.
Not since Keegan Bradley at the 2011 PGA Championship has a PGA Tour rookie won a major championship. This year, there are two who we could see hoist the Wannamaker Trophy. Bryan, the trick-shot social media star, turned three-time Web.com Tour winner, turned PGA Tour winner, has been on a steady rise. Since he became the first South Carolinian to win his home-state Heritage in April at Hilton Head, Bryan has cooled off a bit, but his T3 at the John Deere Classic was a step in the right direction. He missed the cut in each of his first two major starts this season — the U.S. Open and the Open Championship — but Quail Hollow is the type of track that Bryan will be much more familiar with. You can't have a rookie campaign much better than the one Bryan has put together, but a major sure would be a cherry on top.
Here's the other rookie you need to look out for. The 22-year-old Spaniard won early this season in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. He followed that with an impressive victory two weeks before the Open Championship at the Irish Open (six shots better than the runner up). In just under a year, Rahm has risen to No. 7 in the Official World Golf Ranking, thanks not only to those wins but to his six other Top 10 finishes on the PGA Tour, including runner-up showings in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and at Colonial and a T3 at the WGC-Mexico Championship. Rahm made the cut in two of the three majors he's played this year. Could he win at Quail Hollow? Absolutely. Will he? That's likely going to depend on whether he can keep his temper in check, something that has been an issue at times.
It's only a matter of time before Thomas is a major champion. And the PGA Championship would be the perfect place for it to happen, seeing as PGA Professionals run in his family (both his father and grandfather). Thomas is a three-time winner on the PGA Tour this season and has collected a total of eight Top 10 finishes. His T9 in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills was the first Top10 in a major of Thomas's career. I expect that he'll build on that at Quail Hollow.
Much like Thomas, a win has to be in the cards at one of the four big ones for Fowler soon, doesn't it? Seven times since 2011, Fowler has finished inside the Top 10 at the majors. Most impressively in that stretch was 2014 when Fowler finished in the top five in each of the four majors. Does he have what it takes at Quail Hollow? Well, based on the fact that he won the Wells Fargo Championship at this course in 2012, you've got to give him a good look. Fowler has been excellent in 2017. Along with his Honda Classic win, the fan favorite also tied for second at Memorial and tied for third at both the Shell Houston Open and the Quicken Loans National. The majors have been solid too. Fowler tied for 11th at the Masters, finished T5 at the U.S. Open and T22 at the Open Championship.
The world's No. 1-ranked player probably deserves to be higher than fifth on this list, but he's admittedly been playing hurt since his Masters-eve fall that forced his withdrawal from the season's first major. Sure, he's been pretty good since — a T2 at the Wells Fargo (in Wilmington) and a T12 at the Players — but he didn't factor in at the U.S. Open (missed cut) or the Open Championship (T54). His form prior to the back incident in Augusta was amazing, with three consecutive victories, including two World Golf Championships. Johnson is a wildcard at this PGA Championship. We just don't know what to expect.
Wouldn't it be something to see Kuchar win at Quail Hollow? For starters, it'd be the first major victory for a guy who's had the kind of career that is worthy of one. Secondly, it would come in his first major start since a heartbreaking (yet career best) runner-up finish at the Open Championship, where he ran into the buzzsaw that was Jordan Spieth over the final five holes of that tournament. A seven-time PGA Tour winner, Kuchar hasn't posted a "W" since the 2014 Heritage. A win at the PGA would be a lot to ask. But it'd be a great story.
The five-time PGA Tour winner and No. 3-ranked player in the world is an absolute stud. With victories in the WGC-Bridgestone, WGC-HSBC Champions and Waste Management Phoenix Open this season, to go along with a T11 at the Masters, a T2 at the U.S. Open and a T14 at the Open Championship, there's no doubt Matsuyama has the game to win a major. The issue for Matsuyama when he's come up short has been a balky putter. If he can get that figured out, he'll be picking up major win No. 1 sooner rather than later.
History is on the line at Quail Hollow. It will be the first of three consecutive majors where a player has the opportunity to complete the career Grand Slam. It all starts with Spieth, who captured the third leg of his career Slam in stunning fashion just a few weeks ago at Royal Birkdale. After losing the lead for the first time all week after the 13th hole in the final round there, Spieth played his final five holes in 5-under par to seal the win. Should he win at Quail Hollow, Spieth would be the youngest player in history to complete a career Grand Slam. If he's putting the way he did at Royal Birkdale, it's probably safe to say the rest of the field stands little chance.
Based on his form lately, some may consider this a crazy pick. But while McIlroy has been lackluster (to say the least) to this point in the season, he's going to have a shot of adrenaline at Quail Hollow. Not only is he going to do his best to block Spieth from completing a career Slam before he gets his own chance at the 2018 Masters, he's still finished in the top 7 at two of the three majors, including a T4 at the Open Championship. And trust me, he's got to be licking his chops going to Quail Hollow. While changes have been made to the course in preparation for the PGA Championship, McIlroy has competed in a PGA Tour event at the course on seven occasions. Six of those have resulted in a Top 10 finish. Two were wins. That's what you call a horse for a course.