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How do PGA champions fare the weekend before?

How have past PGA Championship winners fared the weekend before?

Defending PGA Champion Justin Thomas entered the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive coming off of a win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He then tied for sixth at the PGA Championship.

We recently broke down how success at The Open Championship does (or doesn’t) translate to PGA Championship success.

The season’s final two majors are usually separated by a few weeks, though. So, in an effort to get as specific as possible, we asked ourselves: how have previous PGA champions fared the weekend before they hoist the Wanamaker Trophy?

Here’s what we found:

-First, an important note: Of the last 39 PGA champions (dating back to 1980), 14 of them sat out the week before the festivities. That leaves us with 25 winners to study.

-Since 1980, TWO of those 23 have won the tournament preceding the PGA Championship. They are: Tiger Woods (2007, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational) and Rory McIlroy (2014, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational).

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-On the flip side, THREE players have failed to make the cut in their tournament leading into the PGA Championship. Those guys are: Bob Tway (1986 Western Open), John Daly (1991 Buick Open) and Davis Love III (1997 Buick Open).

What a difference a week makes for all of these guys, but especially Tway. From not making the Western Open cut to this at the PGA Championship:

-It would seem logical that a player might put forth a strong showing at the PGA Championship prelude, but ultimately fall short. In turn, this would set up a Wanamaker Trophy run – a mini-redemption story, if you will.

Our research would tell you to pump the brakes on that. Since 1980, FOUR players have finished between second and fifth in their event prior to the PGA Championship. They are: Lee Trevino (fourth, 1984 Buick Open), McIlroy (fifth, 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational), Jason Dufner (fourth, 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational) and Brooks Koepka (fifth, WGC-Bridgestone). That’s right – of the past 37 PGA Championship winners, nobody has come in second place the weekend before the festivities and gone on to hoist the Wanamaker.

Coincidence? Most definitely. A random tidbit to keep in mind, nonetheless.

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-It doesn’t get much denser in positions six through 10. Since 1980, just TWO men have finishes between sixth and 10th the weekend before the PGA Championship: Vijay Singh (eighth, 1998 Buick Open) and Phil Mickelson (10th, 2005 International).

-So, where do most of these guys land? That’d be somewhere between 11 and 20; eight PGA champions have finished in that range since 1980. Most notable of them are: Jimmy Walker (14th, 2016 RBC Canadian Open), Jason Day (12th, 2015 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational), Tiger Woods (11th, 2000 Buick Open) and Nick Price (19th, 1992 Buick Open). Adding the others, that’s a about third of the past 23 Wanamaker winners. What it does it mean? Perhaps nothing. But it could mean that the 11-20 range is stocked with potential breakout challengers – they played well, but not that well, and they’re just a rung below achieving personal peak performance.

A few key players that finished in that range at the 2017 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.

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-FIVE players have made the cut, but finished higher than 20th the week prior to the PGA Championship. Larry Nelson did it twice (23rd at the 1981 Canadian Open, and 29th at the 1987 Federal Express St. Jude’s Classic). Most recently, Justin Thomas finished tied for 28th at WGC-Bridgestone Invitational before winning the 2017 PGA Championship.

In total, here’s the breakdown of the past 39 PGA Championship winners and how they finished the week prior.

Won: 2
Finished between 2-5: 4
Finished between 6-10: 2
Finished between 11-20: 8
Finished 20th or higher: 6
Cut: 3
Did not play: 14

Analytics experts will tell you that momentum is a myth. The truth is, it must be judged on a case-by-case basis. For some players, momentum helps. For others, what they did a week ago has no impact on what they’ll do in the future.