Finally, after waiting more than a year, we will get to see the first golf major of 2020.
And if watching PGA Tour players try their luck at a city-owned municipal course weren’t enough, we’ll get a rare glimpse of Tiger Woods, who has played only four competitive rounds since February.
Woods, 44, will be back in action at the 102nd PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, where he will try to win for the 83rd time in his storied career, which would break his tie with Sam Snead for most in tour history. Woods will also try for the fourth time to win his 16th major championship, which would put him two behind Jack Nicklaus, the only golfer he’s trailing.
Woods hasn’t claimed a PGA Championship since winning at Southern Hills in 2007, and the 4,746 days between victories would be the most in PGA Championship history, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.
Of course, Brooks Koepka is the two-time defending champion, and he’ll try to become the first player to three-peat at the PGA Championship in the stroke-play era (since 1958).
Who will be Koepka’s biggest challengers? Here’s a look at each of the players in the field, divided into groups from the legitimate contenders to dreamers to the PGA club pros:
Tier I: The guys who can win
Here are the legitimate contenders to win the PGA Championship. They have the games, guts and nerves to handle four pressure-packed rounds filled with Pacific winds and juicy, thick rough.
The 28-year-old tied for third at last year’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, 6 shots behind Koepka, after finishing tied for ninth at the Masters. The California native, regarded as one of the game’s best ball strikers, is more than ready to break through at a major.
The 2015 PGA Championship winner broke up with his longtime swing coach and has looked good in three straight tournaments. His chronic back woes are always a concern.
Lions, tigers and ants, oh my! It would be almost criminal if the PGA doesn’t pair DeChambeau with Koepka — they have traded barbs the past few months — in the first two rounds. Talk about must-see TV.
Clearly, Finau is no Mariano Rivera. He has 30 top-10s since his lone tour victory at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, tied for the fourth-highest total on tour since the start of the 2016-17 season.
After a three-month layoff and mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arriving in the U.S. from England, Fleetwood has looked a bit rusty in two starts. He is the highest-ranked player in the Official World Golf Rankings (No. 13) not to have won a tournament on U.S. soil.
Since Fowler hired John Tillery as his new swing coach, there have been encouraging signs in his game. If you hadn’t heard, he’s trying to end an oh-for-39 drought in majors. He has made the cut in 14 straight majors, second to only Koepka’s 22 among active players.
The Englishman is controlling his temper and has complete control of his game. He won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March and had two top-5s after the restart. He has finished in the top 10 in five majors in the previous four years.
After winning the Travelers Championship in June, DJ was a mess before a respectable showing in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational this past week. He nearly chased down Koepka in the final round at Bethpage Black last year before losing by 2.
Just when we thought Koepka was in trouble, he returned to form at TPC Southwind. Nobody plays better in majors — just ask him. Koepka is 70 under in 12 majors since the start of 2017, 36 strokes better than everyone else.
The former world No. 1 doesn’t have a top-10 in five starts after the long layoff and has looked out of sorts. He won the last tour event at TPC Harding Park — the 2015 WGC-Match Play. If McIlroy gets his short game in order, he’ll be a threat to win a third PGA Championship.
Winning a major in his first 14 months as a pro might be asking a little too much from Morikawa, but everything has come fast for the 23-year-old. He already has two wins and is ranked No. 12 in the world.
With his dominant victory at the Memorial, Rahm joined Seve Ballesteros as the only Spaniards to hold the No. 1 ranking in the world. He’s also only the third golfer to reach No. 1 without a major championship win; Lee Westwood and Luke Donald were the others. Rahm finished tied for 11th or better in five of the previous eight majors.
Schauffele is still searching for his first major title and hasn’t won in 19 months, but he’s typically in the mix on golf’s biggest stages. He tied for third at the 2019 U.S. Open and tied for runner-up at the 2019 Masters and 2018 Open Championship. It’s only a matter of time until he finally closes one out.
The 40-year-old Australian hasn’t played on American soil since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the tour in March. He spent the past two weeks working with his team in North Carolina. Scott finished in the top 10 at the past two PGA Championships, including a tie for eighth at Bethpage Black.
Simpson added a suddenly reliable putter to his world-class irons and has two tour victories to show for it this season. He isn’t very long off the tee, but it doesn’t matter much when the rest of his game is so good.
He is coming off a win at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, his 13th victory. All of those have come in the past five seasons. Nobody on tour has more wins than he does over that stretch.
A year ago, Todd was ranked No. 797 in the world. He already has two tour wins, held the 54-hole lead in Memphis and is a legitimate contender for PGA Tour Player of the Year. It’s his first PGA Championship start since a missed cut in 2015.
Tier II: If everything goes right …
Here are the dark horse candidates to lift the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday. The list includes a four-time winner, rising stars and other players whose games have been works in progress so far this season. Will it all come together at TPC Harding Park?
He already has two runner-ups this season and two other top-10s. He tied for 16th at Bethpage Black at 3 over par.
Berger was red-hot before the pandemic and then picked up where he left off, winning the Charles Schwab Challenge, the first event back after the shutdown, and tying for third at the RBC Heritage. He tied for 12th at the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive.
The Englishman hasn’t played well coming out of the break, missing cuts at the Memorial and 3M Open. He also played poorly in Memphis, where there wasn’t a cut. He has been dreadful on the greens lately.
English has been as consistent as anyone on tour with 10 top-25s in 15 starts this season. He hasn’t done much in the majors, however, with a tie for 15th at the 2013 Open Championship being his lone top-25.
The 25-year-old Englishman has putted extremely well, which is starting to show in his results. He finished solo third at the Memorial.
After three straight missed cuts, Homa gave up Twitter and tied for third at the 3M Open. For whatever reason, he’s back tweeting again.
The rookie won the Puerto Rico Open in his 17th tour start — after he tied for 32nd at the Masters and tied for 12th at the U.S. Open as an amateur in 2019. The big stage doesn’t faze the ultra-talented Norwegian.
The South Korean had a sizzling Florida swing before play was halted, including a win at the Honda Classic and solo third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He struggled when play resumed before improving in Memphis.
The 2019 WGC-Match Play champion, long regarded as one of the tour’s best putters, needs to get his “moneymaker” going to have a chance.
Kuchar doesn’t hit it very far and his ballstriking hasn’t been great lately, but his short game can still keep him in the mix. He finished tied for eighth at Bethpage Black, which was equally as tough in terms of gnarly rough.
After winning the Farmers Insurance Open in January and finishing solo second at the API, the Australian hadn’t played well before a better showing at TPC Southwind. He’ll have to keep his ball in the fairway, which has been a challenge so far this season.
Given his slow start, it seemed that Lowry was still celebrating his Open Championship victory a year ago in Northern Ireland. He started to find his form this past week.
At what point does Na start sprinting to the hole before his putt goes in?
All the South African does is quietly pile up top-25s at majors, which he has done 12 times in his past 19 such starts. He tied for second at the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.
The 44-year-old still has something left in the tank despite missing the cut in each of his past three starts in majors after tying for 12th at the Masters in 2019.
Reavie’s season has been relatively quiet, but he has shown an ability to rise to the occasion. Last season, he tied for third at the U.S. Open and tied for 14th at the PGA Championship.
Reed has the short game and attitude to be a contender at any major. He missed the cut in his past two PGA Championship starts after tying for second at Quail Hollow in 2017.
The Englishman was ranked No. 1 in the world in early 2019, but he has struggled to find his form. He has three straight missed cuts (Memphis didn’t have a cut) and six in 10 tour events with cuts this season.
Talk about feast or famine. The 26-year-old Australian won the Sony Open in January and then missed five of eight cuts. He didn’t play much better in Memphis.
The 39-year-old hasn’t played well since the tour resumed, missing the cut in three of four starts before Memphis.
Spieth’s most recent top-5 was a tie for third at Bethpage Black. There have been signs of hope, including a tie for 13th at the Memorial. He’s still missing too many fairways, though, which could spell doom at TPC Harding Park.
Thompson made the PGA field with a 2-shot victory over Adam Long at the 3M Open, which was his first victory in seven years, four months and 23 days since winning the Honda Classic in 2013.
Erik van Rooyen
The South African ground out a tie for eighth at Bethpage Black, his best finish at a major. He has one top-10 in 10 tour starts this season.
The Englishman plays well in tough conditions, as evidenced by a tie for third at Bethpage Black a year ago. If his ballstriking continues to improve, he’ll be more of a factor.
The two-time Masters winner hasn’t had much success in the PGA Championship lately, missing the cut in his past three starts.
It will be the 21-year-old’s first start in a major. He was solo second at the Rocket Mortgage and then added a pair of top-25s, so his game seems to be trending in the right direction.
The reigning U.S. Open champion has been working with a new swing coach, Justin Parsons, and getting good results. He has consecutive top-10s at the PGA Championship, tying for eighth at Bethpage Black after tying for sixth at Bellerive in 2018.
Tiger has missed the cut in three of his past four PGA Championship starts going back to 2014, after missing only one in the previous 16. Will his back hold up?
Tier III: Hey, miracles happen
They are the long shots. This tier includes a handful of aging former champions and some first-timers.
Rafa Cabrera Bello
Charles Howell III
Si Woo Kim
Tier IV: Happy to make the cut
They aren’t expected to be among the contenders unless something magical happens. There are former champions who are still playing because, well, they earned the chance to keep playing.
Davis Love III
Tier V: PGA club professionals
They finished in the top 20 in points among PGA club pros in 2019 and were invited to TPC Harding Park because this year’s PGA Professional Championship was canceled because of the pandemic. Three of them — Rob Labritz (T60), Ryan Vermeer (T80) and Marty Jertson (82) — made the cut at Bethpage Black last year.
Rich Berberian Jr.
Zach J. Johnson