Over the past three years, we’ve seen eight first-time major winners crowned. Will the PGA Championship mark number nine?
The last several years of PGA TOUR golf have given us tons of entertainment. We’ve seen the “youth movement” on the rise (I’m still waiting on my invitation to #SB2K18), golf’s return to the Olympic Games in Rio, and some incredible Ryder Cup competitions. We’ve also had more than a few first-time major winners crowned. Will the PGA Championship extend that trend at Quail Hollow?
Since 2015, 11 major championships have been played. Eight of those went to players who had never previously won one. That number could easily have been ten, if Jordan Spieth could take more than two or three of these things off without winning. Go back to 2010, and that number is 19 of 31.
While many of us long for the days of Tiger winning everything in sight, there’s something to be said for the incredibly deep level of competition we get to witness on the sport’s biggest stages.
There hasn’t been a major yet this season where the drama was truly lacking, and we have two new members of the major-winner club to show for it. How great was it to watch Sergio shed nearly 20 years of frustration at Augusta? Or to watch Koepka’s uncommon journey around the world complete at the U.S. Open?
This week at the PGA Championship, some of the favorites have established their major legacy – Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson. But so many more are looking for one more shot at glory, whether it’s a young star on the rise, or a veteran shedding the “best without a major” label.
As you prepare to take in the last major of the year, these are some of the higher-profile players on that major hunt.
Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood lead strong English contingent
The United Kingdom has produced eight of the last 31 major champions, but just two of them – Justin Rose in 2013 and Danny Willett in 2016 – have hailed from England. Two strong Britons will be looking to change that trend in Charlotte.
Paul Casey, who just turned 40 in July, will likely have the best shot at the title. Over the course of
his 15-year career, he has nine top-ten finishes in majors to go with 14 victories between the European and PGA Tours. He’s ranked 18th in the world and heads to Quail Hollow in outstanding form, with no finish worse than 26th in a major this year.
Not to be forgotten is rising star Tommy Fleetwood. Ranked just ahead of Casey at 15th in the world, Fleetwood has won twice on the European Tour in 2017. With two more runner-up finishes, the 26-year old has all the potential to be a force for years to come.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a major if we didn’t talk about Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter. Westwood, 44, has 18 career top-tens in majors spread over the last 20 years. Poulter, who was fighting for his Tour membership earlier this year, has eight in the last ten years. Both have come close, but will likely be on the outside looking in this week.
Matt Kuchar out to finish what he started at Royal Birkdale
Matt Kuchar is too good of a person to reveal just how much that loss to Jordan Spieth at The
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Open had to hurt. A lesser sportsman would have blamed the 20-minute delay on 13, or blamed just plain bad luck. But that’s not Kuch, the consummate professional, who shook Spieth’s hand,
hugged his family, and moved forward.
The 39-year-old has enjoyed the best major season of his career, with top-five finishes at the Masters and the Open. He could probably compete until he’s 50, but you never know when that “window” is going to close for good.
Kuchar will get his crack at Quail Hollow, and it would be one of the all-time feel-good stories in golf if he were to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday afternoon.
Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama among young stars with bright futures
The major-winner club is going to get some new, young members very soon. Whether it happens at Quail Hollow remains to be seen, but if you’re a betting person, you’ll find some great odds here.
Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm, and Rickie Fowler are all inside the World Top Ten. At 28, Fowler is the “grizzled veteran” of that crew. Add in 24-year-old Justin Thomas, at No. 14, and you’ve got four legitimate stars who look like they’ll be the base of the PGA TOUR for the next ten years.
Any of those four could easily win the PGA Championship on Sunday, but right now, I think it comes down to Matsuyama or Fowler. Both have been playing outstanding golf in 2017.
Matsuyama took the lead in the FedEx Cup race with his dominating victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, his third win of the season. His ball-striking has been nearly flawless, as usual, and he looks ready to match his results to his limitless potential.
Fowler, meanwhile, has taken a more reserved approach to his season. He’s done nearly all there is to do in golf, and the only thing missing from his resume is a major title. What better place for him to validate all he’s done, than the course where he earned his first TOUR victory?
Who will etch their name in history this week at the PGA Championship? We’ll keep up with all the action from Quail Hollow this weekend.