There is no denying the PGA Championship, which starts Thursday at Southern Hills, has its headliners. That would be the 9:11 a.m. time on Thursday: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. But there are others worth discussing, from world No. 1 and reigning Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, to previous No. 1 Jon Rahm and more.
Also, what should we expect from Southern Hills? And who else besides the obvious big names should we keep an eye on in the year’s second major? We gathered our experts to answer those questions and more.
Woods, McIlroy and Spieth are all paired together for the first two rounds. Come Sunday, who will have had the best week of the three?
Mark Schlabach: I’ll go with Spieth. I heard someone say earlier this week that he’s really good when he’s confident and pretty bad when he’s not. He’s playing with a ton of confidence right now, after his victory at the RBC Heritage in April and runner-up finish at the AT&T Byron Nelson last week. He’s one of the better scramblers on Tour. That will come in handy at Southern Hills, where the run-offs are going to leave guys in some pretty precarious positions. You never know about Spieth’s putter, but I like his chances more than Tiger and Rory. I just don’t think Tiger is physically ready to win again — the fact he’s even out there is a medical miracle. I’d love to see Rory win another major because I think he’s one of the more insightful players on tour.
Kevin Van Valkenburg: I think this is Spieth’s best chance for the next five or six years to win the career Grand Slam — future venues don’t set up as well for his game. So I’m going to stick with my prediction that he wins this week. Everyone is going to be chipping this week, and he’s still one of the most creative minds there is around the greens. Rory has a real shot to win, too, but something about this course is whispering Jordan to me.
Matt Barrie: Jordan Spieth. He’s my official pick to win the PGA Championship this week and become the sixth player ever to win the career Grand Slam.
Paolo Uggetti: Seeing as to how I picked Spieth to win the whole thing, my hands are tied. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see McIlroy in contention through the weekend. Coming off that sensational Sunday run at the Masters, Rory seems like he’s back to enjoying golf again. It’s now been eight whole years since he’s won a major, and though that task feels tougher now than it did back then given the depth of the field, the momentary flashes of peak Rory he shows from time to time are tantalizing reminders that he can still tap into that version of himself. If Rory has actually found something in the last few months to help him turn the corner, this would be as good a weekend to unleash it as any.
Tom VanHaaren: I feel like when Spieth gets on a roll, he really gets on a hot streak. I want to put Rory down as my answer, but Spieth was 25 under this past week to finish second at the AT&T Byron Nelson. It’s time for him to win another big tournament. Like I said, I kind of feel like the answer is Rory, but something is pulling me to say Spieth. If he wins this one, he completes the Grand Slam and would be the third-youngest to do it behind Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
Speaking of Tiger, what do you expect out of him this week?
Tiger Woods outlines the progress he’s made since playing at the Masters ahead of the start of the PGA Championship.
Schlabach: I think he’ll perform better than he did in Augusta. But, like I said earlier, I don’t think he’s physically ready to compete for a major championship victory. I’d love to be wrong, of course, because it would be one heck of a story. He says his surgically repaired right leg is stronger than it was at the Masters. It’s been six weeks. It’s going to be a lot warmer in Tulsa than it was at Augusta. I wondered if his putting woes at the Masters had as much to do with his back and the cold weather as much as anything else. A top-25 finish would be a step in the right direction, which should be enough for Tiger to keep working to get back on top.
Van Valkenburg: Some better putting than the Masters. We are all so in awe of the comeback, it overshadowed how truly bad he was with the flat stick over the weekend. I think he’ll putt better, although he admitted in his pre-tournament news conference he simply can’t practice putting the way he once did, for hours at a time. His back just won’t allow it. I think a top 25 is realistic, though. The moderate rough means misses off the tee won’t be automatic bogeys, and he’s still really good at judging how a ball is going to come out of a tricky lie.
Barrie: I always believe that when Tiger Woods plays he’ll be a factor. I do expect much like Augusta, he’ll be very much in the conversation through Friday. Come the weekend, fatigue will set in again. Anything inside the top 30 would be an amazing accomplishment.
Uggetti: It’s still strange to be in a position to not expect much from Tiger, but as he said Tuesday, his biggest challenge isn’t even golf related, but rather walking, which will be an issue “for the foreseeable future.” Coming to terms with that reality, for him and for us, is inevitably reframing the conversation around him. Every positive shot, finished round and cut made feels like a win. With a long course ahead and plenty of hills — literal and figurative — in his path this week, the task to get to the weekend feels tougher than it did at the Masters. Of course, Tiger did also say that he feels stronger. Even if expectations have to be restrained now, it doesn’t mean there should be much doubt that he will always be capable of getting in the mix.
VanHaaren: Tiger won the PGA Championship on this course in 2007, but this is a different Tiger Woods. I’m not expecting a ton from him this week. He said he thinks he can win, and I believe him when he says that. But the course is playing at almost 7,600 yards this week, and he’s still trying to come back from his injuries. He made the cut at the Masters, but finished 47th. I would expect something similar from that week at Southern Hills, where he starts off playing well but gets tired by the end of the week.
There are a lot of intriguing groups over the first two days of the PGA Championship. Which other one interests you the most?
Schlabach: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay are interesting to me because we’ve been waiting for each of them to do something at a major for a while. DJ hasn’t done much of anything on U.S. soil since winning the Masters in November 2020. His second major victory seemed like it was going to be a big breakthrough, but then he missed the cut in two of four majors last year. Cantlay is probably the best player in the world without a major championship win. It’s going to come at some point. JT should have more than one major championship victory — the 2017 PGA Championship — and he knows it.
Van Valkenburg: I love the Viktor Hovland, Will Zalatoris and Cameron Smith pairing because it’s three incredible ballstrikers who have one part of their game that can go totally squirrely at any moment: Hovland’s chipping, Zalatoris’ putting and Smith’s driving. Each of them has the game to win here. If I were into wagers, I would grab Smith in an instant.
Barrie: I’ll go with Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and Collin Morikawa. The last three major championship winners are grouped together, which means all of them understand what it takes to win on the game’s biggest stage. And each of them has a great shot of winning this week. Scheffler has said Southern Hills is his favorite course. If that’s the case, we could be on Grand Slam watch after Sunday.
Uggetti: I’m with KVV. Give me the youth. The Zalatoris, Hovland and Smith group has an average age of 25 and contains all the makings of a sneaky entertaining watch. Personally, I think Hovland’s style can be one of the more compelling watches on tour. I’m shocked that he hasn’t had a top-10 finish at a major yet. Meanwhile, Smith is a metronome who feels like he’s long overdue to win one. And Zalatoris, well, there will be putts.
VanHaaren: I would watch a live feed of the Tyrrell Hatton, Bryson DeChambeau and Max Homa group, especially if they were mic’d up. I can’t think of three more different personalities to put together than those three. So maybe this isn’t so much about the golf as it is who is playing with each other. If there’s any way to sneak microphones near those three throughout the round, they should do it. For purely popcorn and entertainment, those three would be my pick. If we’re talking about actual golf, then I want to see Rahm, Morikawa and Scheffler. Those three all have a shot to win.
What will see from world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler? Another win? A strong week but not trophy? A post-Masters letdown?
Schlabach: I’d be surprised if he’s not in contention for the Wanamaker Trophy. He came up to Southern Hills a couple of weeks ago and shot 6-under 64 in a practice round. He has called it one of his favorite courses in the world, and he has some experience here from playing at the University of Texas. The odds are that Scheffler won’t win again. Few heaters last that long, especially ones in which you win the first two majors of the season and win five times before May. But the guy is playing with a ton of confidence and more than likely thinks he’s going to come out on top again.
Van Valkenburg: I’d lean toward a strong week but not a trophy. Winning back-to-back majors is ridiculously hard, and winning your second major is actually way harder than we seem to grasp. (Remember, it took Tiger almost 3 years after his dominant Masters win in 1997 to get it done.)
Barrie: Because I didn’t want to pick the same guy twice — I did pick Scheffler to win the Masters. So, this time, I went with another Texas player — Jordan Spieth. I won’t be the least bit surprised when Scottie Scheffler is in one of the final three groups come Sunday. In fact, I expect it.
Uggetti: Golf is so deep right now that even though Scheffler has shown he’s worthy of being the No. 1 player in the world and a favorite at this tournament, it doesn’t mean he can pull off back-to-back wins. He might play even better than he did at Augusta and could fall short of another trophy if a different guy has a ridiculous week. And there are so many guys who can do that. Still, it would be shocking to not see Scheffler inside the top-10 come Sunday.
VanHaaren: I think he’ll play well, but won’t win. There’s a lot of emotion that comes with winning the Masters. Jumping back in to try to win another major ends up being too much. If he were to win, he’d be just the 10th player to win each of the first two majors of the calendar year, so that tells you how rare of a feat it is. It would also give Scheffler five wins on the season, and no player has had five wins in a season by the end of May since Tom Watson did in 1980. So, I’m not going with Scheffler this week just based on odds and history.
Does Southern Hills favor a specific player?
Schlabach: I think you’ve got to have all the tools: distance and length off the tee, precision on approach shots, creativity around the greens and a consistent putter. I think it favors the players who are great with a wedge in their hands, and that means Justin Thomas, Spieth, Daniel Berger, Tiger and Scheffler. Players who have figured out the swirling winds will have an advantage, too.
Van Valkenburg: I kind of feel like we’re just speculating on this one because we don’t know what the course will play like since the Gil Hanse redesign. It feels like you have to have a complete game, not just be elite in one area, which would favor guys like Scheffler, Rahm, Thomas and McIlroy.
Barrie: The fairways are a good bit wider after the redesign, and trees have been removed. However, it’s still very much a course you need to be in the right spot off the tee with the driver. So, the players who gain most strokes off the tee — Rahm, Rory, Cam Smith — should all have a great week.
Uggetti: All the discourse around the course seems to be that this setup will elevate the best players in the game to the top of the leaderboard. As recently as a few months ago, the best of the best was thought to be Rahm. The Spaniard won in Mexico earlier this month, leads everyone in strokes gained off the tee in 2022, and yet he feels a bit under-discussed in the face of Scheffler’s dazzling run to the top of the world rankings. Rahm’s game is built to win at any course, though, and Southern Hills could be where he steps back into the spotlight.
VanHaaren: I know the course is playing long, but the greens are going to be difficult all week, so approach shots and short game are going to win. Morikawa comes to mind with his iron play. Cam Smith has been playing well as of late, but has never finished in the top 20 at a PGA Championship. Smith leads the PGA Tour this season in birdie average at 5.38 per round, though, so if he can continue that pace, he should have a shot. Thomas always finds greens; he’s third in strokes gained from tee-to-green in 2021-2022, but he’s 82 in putting. If the putter is working, Thomas should be right there at the top of the leaderboard.
Who is the sleeper who could make some serious noise this week?
Schlabach: There’s going to be a lot of attention on Talor Gooch, who grew up in Midwest City, Oklahoma. He also played collegiately at Oklahoma State. He talked about living out a dream this week by playing the PGA Championship at Southern Hills. The guy is a pretty damn good player, too. He is ranked 35th in the world and has 11 top-25s in 18 tour starts. He won for the first time on Tour at the RSM Classic in November. He ranks seventh in shots gained around the green and hits it plenty far enough. If his putter gets hot, he might be a real factor.
Van Valkenburg: Cameron Young has a chance to be a star on Tour, and most casual fans don’t know who he is yet. The PGA Championship has a history of crowning longshots, so I honestly wouldn’t be totally stunned if he shocked the field.
Barrie: Gary Woodland. The 2019 U.S. Open champion at Pebble Beach was born and raised in Kansas. He played his college golf at KU. This is to say, he knows what it’s like to play golf in this area of the country. He said he feels confident in his game and with his putter. At 90-1, Woodland qualifies as a sleeper.
Uggetti: Joaquin Niemann. The Chilean put on a wire-to-wire clinic at Riviera earlier this year and has been building on that since. He’s only 23 and has yet to really pop in a major since turning pro in 2019, but it feels like his game is bound to translate to a big stage sooner rather than later.
VanHaaren: I think I talked myself into Cam Smith when I said above that he is averaging 5.38 birdies per round. He hasn’t done well in past PGA’s, but he started the season at 21 in the official world golf rankings and is now up to No. 4. Smith and Scheffler are the only two players this season with multiple wins and a top-10 finish at The Masters, so I’m going with Smith.