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12 players to watch at the PGA Championship

12 players to watch at the PGA Championship

With the PGA Championship approaching, let's take a look at 12 players who could hoist the Wanamaker Trophy at Bellerive Country Club.

Jason Day

Top PGA moment: Winner, 2015 
PGA record: Eight starts, one victory, five top 10s 
Skinny: Day has two victories this season and has played consistently outside of a poor showing at the U.S. Open. He won at Farmers, made a good run at Pebble Beach, and won again at Wells Fargo. He's always a force at the PGA, where he has a little more freedom with the driver and has more openings to attack. Day shot 20-under 268 at Whistling Straits on the way to his lone major in 2015, setting a championship scoring record. Day comes in fresh (14 starts) and hasn’t been far off of late (four finishes of T-17 or better in his last six starts). He ranks inside the top 10 on the PGA Tour in birdies and scoring average and leads all players in around-the-green performance and putting.  

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Tony Finau

Tony Finau, PGA ChampionshipTop PGA moment: Tied for 10th, 2015 
PGA record: Three starts, one top 10, one MC
Skinny: The powerful Finau, who ranks third on the PGA Tour in driving distance (317.1 yards), continues to find his way on the biggest stages. He owns top-10 finishes in all three majors this season, which includes a T-10 on a bum ankle at Augusta and a solo fifth at the U.S. Open. Bellerive will mark only his 11th major start, but he’s primed to win something big. A good finish also could land Finau on his first U.S. Ryder Cup team.

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Rickie Fowler 

Top PGA moment: Tied for third, 2014 
PGA record: Eight starts, two top 10s, one MC
Skinny: He hits it beautifully, has plenty of length and has a dazzling putting stroke. So when is Rickie going to win his major? This will be his last major start in his 20s, and his 36th overall. Everyone knows he can do it – as does Rickie – but as the clock ticks the pressure only intensifies. Fowler tied for third at Valhalla in 2014, staying in the mix until the end, and was solid at Quail Hollow last summer, tying for fifth. He’s in nice current form, and there was his runner-up finish at Augusta this spring to serve as his springboard. There's no better time for Rickie than right now.  

Dustin Johnson

Dustin Johnson, PGA ChampionshipTop PGA moment: Tied for fifth, 2010 
PGA record: Eight starts, with four top 10s
Skinny: It seems as if Johnson has had a quiet year, but then you look up and see he’s won three times (including Sunday in Canada) and has ten top-10 finishes in 15 starts. He leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained: total, birdies, eagles, and in scoring (68.60). He’s been held back in each of the majors this season by one poor round. When Johnson is on, few players can keep up. Do we expect him to be there Sunday at Bellerive? An emphatic yes. 

Zach Johnson

Top PGA moment: Tied for third, 2010
PGA record: 14 starts, three top 10s, four MCs
Skinny: OK, let’s take a flyer here. Johnson is 42 years old and hasn’t won since the 2015 British Open. But if you look down the roster of champions in big events at Bellerive, it’s seldom a bomber who prevails. Those players holding the trophies are middle-range hitters (Gary Player, Nick Price, Peter Jacobsen, Kohki Odoki) who keep the ball in play, plod along and make fewer mistakes than most. Johnson ranks 150th on Tour in driving distance, but is 27th in strokes gained: total, and is a better than average putter. He’s a Midwest guy (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) who will have lots of support and can tolerate the August heat. Johnson owns but one top 10 in the PGA since that T-3 in 2010 ... but has been T-19 or better in his last five starts and can grind with the best. 

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Brooks Koepka

Top PGA moment: Tied for fourth, 2016 
PGA record: Five starts, two top 10s 
Skinny: Koepka has become a force not just in the U.S. Open, which he has now won in back-to-back years, but in all the majors. His tie for 39th at the Open Championship marked the first major since the 2016 Masters that Koepka had not finished T-13 or better. He has a nice progression going at the PGA Championship; he’s been T-15 better in each of the last four, including a T-5 at Whistling Straits (2015) and T-4 at Baltusrol (2016). He’s long and thrives in the bigger events. 

Rory McIlroy

Top PGA moment: Winner, 2012 and 2014  
PGA record: Nine starts, two victories, three other top 10s
Skinny: With the exception of one hot putting week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, McIlroy appeared to be among the missing for most of this season. But he barged into the mix on Sunday at the Open Championship at Carnoustie (T-2), and you can bet that has put a nice bounce in his step with momentum to carry to Bellerive. He already has a terrific record at the PGA Championship, with victories at Kiawah Island (2012) and in a wild shootout at Valhalla (2014). If his putting is there, he’ll be right there, too. 

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Francesco Molinari

Francesco Molinari

Top PGA moment: Tied for second, 2017 
PGA record: Nine starts, two top 10s, no missed cuts
Skinny: How could we leave out the hottest guy on the planet? Molinari might not have been one to watch necessarily a few months ago – too often his putting held him back – but he has been on a tear that cannot be ignored. Winner at the BMW PGA in Europe, winner at Quicken Loans, runner-up at John Deere and winner at the Open Championship, where he went bogey-free on the weekend at Carnoustie. Molinari made a nice run at Quail Hollow last summer, shooting 4-under 67 on Sunday to finish two shots behind winner Justin Thomas. 

Justin Rose

Top PGA moment: Tied for third, 2012 
PGA record: 15 starts, three top 10s, six MCs
Skinny: The PGA has been a hit-and-miss championship for Rose, who has mixed in some solid performances with a half-dozen missed cuts. He tied for third when fellow European Rory McIlroy won at Kiawah in 2012 and finished alone in fourth three years ago when Jason Day and Jordan Spieth dueled at Whistling Straits. Rose has a mature game and presence and at this point in his career very much wants to peak at the majors. This major season has been strong: Finishes of T-12 (Masters), T-10 (U.S. Open), T-2 (Open Championship). Rose ranks third in birdie average and second in scoring on the PGA Tour, and has had an exceptional year with the putter (eighth in strokes gained: putting). He knows it's all about getting into position late Sunday and has learned how to get there.

WATCH: Spieth goes for career grand slam at PGA

Jordan Spieth

Top PGA moment: Runner-up, 2015 
PGA record: Five starts, one top 10, two MCs
Skinny: This season has been an odd one for Spieth, who turned 25 on July 27. He hasn’t won in a year now, his last triumph being the 2017 Open. But he showed at Carnoustie two weeks ago that he has the ability to will himself into the mix at the big events, as he entered Sunday at the Open with a share of the lead before fading to T-9. Spieth has been fine tee to green; the problem has been his woeful putting. He uncharacteristically ranks 165th in strokes gained: putting and needs to be much better on the big greens at Bellerive. There’s extra incentive to turn his season around: A win at the PGA would give him a career Grand Slam.  

Justin Thomas, PGA Championship

Justin Thomas

Top PGA moment: Winner, 2017 
PGA record: Three starts, one victory, no missed cuts  
Skinny: Thomas had been relatively quiet since a semifinal appearance at the WGC Match Play in late March (eight starts, one top 10), before this past weekend's WGC Bridgestone Invitational title. But he has plenty of firepower, as the world witnessed at Quail Hollow in Charlotte last August. He ranks third in strokes gained: total and and scoring, while ranking fifth in birdie. He’s enjoyed his time with the Wanamaker Trophy and would love nothing more than to hold on to it. 

WATCH: Tiger Woods' greatest moments from the PGA Championship

Tiger Woods

Top PGA moment: Winner, 1999, 2000, 2006, 2007 
PGA record: 18 starts, three victories, four other top 10s, three MCs
Skinny: Well, the Big Cat certainly has our attention again, doesn’t he? At 42, Woods was a mystery because of his health heading into 2018, but he has shown some brilliant flashes. The biggest step was seizing the back-nine lead on Sunday at the Open Championship. We’ve seen some great moments – a nice run at Valspar, a big Sunday at Bay Hill, his steely performance at Carnoustie – but we have yet to see Woods finish things off. He’ll certainly be trying to do that at Bellerive, where he’ll have to hit the driver more than he did across the pond. Interesting note: Woods hasn’t played on the weekend at the PGA since 2013.