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PGA Championship Preview: Ranking the Top-50 contenders

The majors season finally kicks off Thursday at Harding Park in San Francisco for the 102nd PGA Championship. Brooks Koepka will look to become the first player since Walter Hagen in 1926 to win three PGA Championships in a row. Koepka comes in after finishing runner-up a week ago to Justin Thomas at the FedEx St. Jude Invitational.

Tiger Woods will also be back competing this week in pursuit of his 16th major championship. He will be accompanied by 48 of the top-50 players in the world.

Starting at No. 50, we countdown the best picks for this year’s PGA Championship leading you all the way to the guy we think we will be holding up the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday.

Top 50 Countdown:

50. Henrik Stenson: He’s too good of a ballstriker to not play well here. However, he’s in a bit of a slump. Since his win at the Hero World Challenge in December, he’s played just five times with his best finish coming last week with a T35. The Swede is the 2016 Open Champion who played solid in all four majors last year, his best finish being a T9 at the U.S. Open. As always, putting is the achilles heel with Stenson. He’ll need to have it on track this week.

49. Justin Rose: If Rosey can fix his issues, he is a great pick to win this week. But he comes in ice cold. The world No. 1 just over a year ago, Rose has dropped to 16th. He enters with three straight missed cuts and decided to take the last two weeks off to try and fix what’s been wrong. Just down the road at Pebble Beach a year ago, Rose was in the hunt to win on the back 9.

48. Marc Leishman: It’s been a rough return from the layoff for the big fella. Since his win at Torrey Pines and second at Bay Hill, he’s fallen off the map. Since the return from the virus, he’s gone MC, T58, MC, T40, and T58. Still, Leishman has loads of talent and good experience. He lost in the 2015 Open Championship playoff to Zach Johnson so he’s been there in the heat of the moment.

47. Cameron Champ: He is definitely a young star in the making. Known for his brutish strength, Champ already has a win this year at the Safeway Open. He will undoubtedly try to use his strength to cut corners this week which can have its rewards as well as its risks. Has been relatively quiet since his victory and missed a week due to a scare with the coronavirus, but had a decent week at the St. Jude in preparation for the PGA.

46. J.T. Poston: Poston broke through with his first win on the PGA Tour last August at the Wyndham Championship. Since then, he’s shown up steadily on leaderboards and has produced two top-10s in his last six starts. Had a cold stretch through much of July with three missed cuts but posted a respectable T30 last week in Memphis.

45. Jim Furyk: Just because he’s on the Champions Tour now doesn’t mean he can’t still hang with the young guys. This kind of course allows for an older player to contend, and he should have plenty of confidence after winning his first start on the Champions Tour. He ranks No. 3 in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour and led the 2012 U.S. Open down the road going into the back 9 before crumbling on 16. Do not be surprised to see Furyk on the leaderboard early in this championship. I’m just not sure he can hold it together through the weekend.

44. Chez Reavie: His driving accuracy numbers should give him a lot of confidence going into this week where he ranks 5th on Tour. He has played well in big tournaments over the last year, finishing T6 last week and finishing T3 at Pebble Beach at the 2019 U.S. Open. If he’s on his game this week, he can be a super sleeper.

43. Ian Poulter: While it’s been far from a stellar season for Poulter, he was able to scratch out a top-5 finish at the Workday Charity Open. He will be looking to improve upon poor showings at the majors last year where he missed three out of four cuts. He needs to do a better job of finding the fairway if he’s going to seriously contend. He ranks 121st.

42. Graeme McDowell: He seems to always play out West. He won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2010 and finished 2nd to Webb Simpson at the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club just a few miles down the road from Harding Park. McDowell won the Saudi International earlier this year on the European Tour and finished fourth at the Sony Open in Hawaii.

41. Danny Willett: The 2016 Masters champion has showed signs this past year of returning to the player he was a few years back. Hampered by injuries the better part of 2017 and 2018, Willett has fought back to No. 38 in the World Golf Rankings. Willett finished T6 at The Open last year and won the BMW PGA Championship. He went to The Memorial in 3rd place but faded on the back 9.

40. Rickie Fowler: He showed some promise a week ago of returning to his old form, but then faded on Sunday. I do think Fowler can play well this week but I just don’t know if he can hold it together for four rounds. He has great a major championship resume, finishing with a runner-up in three of the four majors. However, he still has yet to break through with that first major title.

39. Christiaan Bezuidenhout: Perhaps the guy with the hardest last name to try and pronounce outside of Jazz Janewattenond. The young South African has tons of talent and a beautiful swing. He hopes to follow in the recent footsteps of Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Charl Schwartzel, Trevor Immelman, and Louis Oosthuizen who also started out as young South African prodigies with beatiful golf swings and won a major championship. Bezuidenhout ranks No. 47 in the world and has two wins in Europe. He also finished second in Dubai and third at the BMW PGA.

38: Billy Horschel: He comes in decent form, going to T7, T13, and T25 in his last three tournaments. His best finish in a major was a T4 at the 2013 Open Championship. He ranks in the top-30 in strokes gained off the tee this year.

37. Tiger Woods: This is actually a bold pick because this means he’ll make the cut which he’s only done once in this championship since 2014. Cool conditions won’t help his back any and he doesn’t have a lot of tournament reps coming in, playing just four rounds of tournament golf in six months. That being said, the media seems to be writing him off and he’s a guy you never want to write off. Give him motivation and he may just surprise you. But I’m not going to bank on any surprises. If he’s in contention at any point over the weekend, I will be surprised.

36. Gary Woodland: The U.S. Open champion has shown flashes of greatness this season, but just hasn’t been able to put four good rounds together. He had a great chance at The Memorial a few weeks back but had an awful weekend and dropped down the leaderboard. Still, Woodland has played great in majors, finishing in the top-10 in three of his last five major starts. He also won his major title just an hour south from Harding Park in Pebble Beach so that should spark some confidence. He’s struggled with his driving this year, but shouldn’t have to hit too many drivers at Harding Park.

35. Hideki Matusuyama: It was at the PGA Championship three years ago where Matsuyama had perhaps his best chance to win a major championship. Coming in red hot to the PGA winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational the week before, he led at Quail Hollow going into the back 9. But the pressure got to him and he fell down the leaderboard on the back 9, falling victim to a balky putter. It opened the door for Justin Thomas to win his first ever major championship. Since that slip up, it doesn’t seem like Matsuyama has bee the same The putter still has shaky moments and he hasn’t won a tournament in three years, since that Bridgestone Invitational. He does come in having a decent year, however, with four top-6 finishes this season.

34. Sungjae Im: If the PGA Championship was in March, Im would probably be in my top-10. He was on fire earlier this season and won his first tournament at The Honda Classic. But he’s cooled off since the return from the layoff. In his last six tournaments, his best finish is a tie for 35th.

33. Phil Mickelson: The best part about Harding Park is Phil can put his driver to the side, which as we know has gotten him in trouble more times than not. He’s seen a resurgence in his game, finishing 3rd at Pebble Beach earlier this season and T2 a week ago. He’s striking the ball as well now as he he did in his prime. It’s just a matter of can he get the putter to work. He’s put himself in contention a lot this season but has fallen off on the weekend. If he can hold it together on the weekend like he did in Memphis, he can actually be a real threat to win.

32. Matt Wallace: He finished 3rd at last year’s PGA Championship and also scored a T4 at the Memorial a few weeks back. Hasn’t played as consistent as you’d expect but does show up in big tournaments.

31. Tom Lewis: As advertised a week ago, Lewis showed up and came away with a T2 in Memphis. He’s a guy that’s going to become a lot more prevalent over the course of the next year. His putting down the stretch showed nerves, though. He’ll have to clean that up in order to be a serious contender in San Francisco.

30. Scottie Scheffler: I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets off to a hot start and is on the front of the page of the leaderboard through the first two rounds. He is the Korn Ferry Player of the Year and already has three top-5 finishes this season. Finished a respectable T15 last week at Memphis.

29. Sergio Garcia: It was 21 years ago this week when then 19-year old Sergio Garcia became a household name when he tried to chase down Tiger at Medinah in the 1999 PGA Championship. Little did we know it would take him 18 years to finally win a major championship, but he finally broke through at the Masters a few years back. He’s had an up and down season thus far. He’s put himself in contention but hasn’t been able to hold it together.

28. Adam Scott: If I would have made these rankings in February, Adam Scott may be number 1. However, he’s been out since March for safety concerns and will make his long-awaited return at the PGA. Need I remind you that Scott won in back-to-back tournaments earlier this year at the Australian PGA and the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles. If Scott can shake off the rust earlier rather than later, the sky’s the limit come Sunday.

27. Victor Hovland: The 2018 U.S. Amateur champion is part of the youth movement that’s swept through the Tour this season. Since the restart, he’s played every week but one, finishing T-23 or better every week. He ranks inside the top-10 in strokes gained off tee and strokes gained on approach. His breakthrough moment is coming sooner rather than later.

26. Jordan Spieth: One of the underlying stories this week is Jordan going for the career grand slam. If he can come out victorious, he will have won all four major championships. Once this seemed like a given it would one day happen. Now I’m not so sure. Spieth has been all over the place the last few years. Once the world No. 1, Spieth has dropped to 62nd in the world. He hasn’t won a tournament in three years now.

26. Patrick Reed: It was all going great for Patrick before the layoff. Since then, he’s failed to find the same consistency. The 2018 Masters champion won the WGC-Mexico Championship earlier this year, but since the return at Colonial, his best finish is a T7. He can get hot at any time, though, and plays his best golf in big settings.

25. Erik Van Rooyen: If you’re looking for good sleeper value, here you go. Van Rooyen first burst onto the scene when he contended at the 2018 Open. Like Bezuidenhout, he’s one of the young and upcoming South Africans in the game. Van Rooyen finished 3rd this year playing with the best in the world at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

24. Dustin Johnson: DJ will have to play disciplined golf this week and depend on his ball-striking rather than his driving distance. He played really well at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Championship and went head-to-head down the stretch with Brooks Koepka at last year’s PGA Championship, finishing 2nd. DJ needs to show some patience this week. If he does, he can definitely win it.

23. Tommy Fleetwood: Tommy is always a threat at a major championship. He has three top-5s in majors including a runner-up at the last major championship held overseas. He was having a solid season before the layoff but hasn’t been able to find his form since. Showed signs of finding it, though, a week ago, including a final round 66.

22. Ryan Palmer: Not known for being a serious major championship contender, but he’s playing very well coming into the week. He nearly chased down Jon Rahm at the Memorial where he finished runner-up and then added a top-15 finish in Memphis.

21: Shane Lowry: If the weather forecast pans out and it’s cool and windy, Lowry will feel right at home. Similar conditions a year ago vaulted him to his first major championship at The Open. He finished T6 in Memphis to shake off what has been a disappointing season thus far.

20. Tony Finau: If you’re asking me who will be up there after the first two rounds, Finau would probably be in my top-5. But he’s struggled to hold it together on the weekends too many times, most recently The Memorial and 3M Open. He needs to find a breakthrough and perhaps this weekend will be it, but I wouldn’t count on it.

19. Tyrell Hatton: Up until last week, Hatton was on a roll, piling up two wins and five top-6 finishes in six events. He came back down to earth a bit last week tying for 69th. Hatton was in prime position for his third win of the season a month ago at the RBC Heritage before Webb Simpson passed him on the back 9. He’s having one of the best seasons in golf, and while his major record is anything but stellar, he has all the tools to win one.

18. Patrick Cantlay: Cantlay is a California guy, growing up there and going to school at UCLA. He’s played in San Francisco many times and had a great major championship season last year, having the lead at the Masters late on Sunday for a short time and finishing 3rd at the PGA. He hasn’t done anything special this season but did have a couple good rounds last week, enough to give him some confidence this upcoming week.

17. Rory McIlroy: Rory won The Match Play Championship at Harding Park in 2015 which was the last time any of these players competed in a tournament there. His finishes this year have not been stellar mostly because the former world No. 1 has not been able to put together four good rounds in a week. His final round 67 in Memphis vaulted him to a T47 finish, which still is unsatisfactory. He needs to find his game this week.

16. Matt Kuchar: In 2012, Kuchar played in his first U.S. Open at The Olympic Club not too far from Harding Park. He finished T27, just a stroke behind then amateur Jordan Spieth. The usually consistent Kuchar has struggled this season, failing to post a top-10 since February in Los Angeles. However, there’s enough signs out there that his game is coming around. He contended a week ago in Memphis and his game is suited for this style course.

15. Brendon Todd: Ranking third in driving accuracy this season, Todd’s consistency should make him a factor at Harding Park. He has two wins this season and is quietly becoming better every week. The question on Todd is can he hold it together in the final round. He’s held the 54-hole lead twice in the last month and went birdieless in his final round, dropping down the leaderboard.

14. Louis Oosthuizen: Here’s a trivia question for you: Besides Tiger Woods, who is the only other active PGA Tour player to finish second in all four majors while also holding a major championship? You guessed it. Louis, Louis. Granted, the talented South African is known for inconsistency week-to-week, but he’s always a good play in a major championship. Louis finished 15th or better in three of the four majors a year ago and got a good tune up with a T6 last week at The St. Jude Invitational. The tougher the course, the better Louis’ chances and Harding Park should provide a good challenge for the field this week.

13. Kevin Streelman: If you’re looking for a super sleeper this week, this is it. Streelman has put up four top-10 finishes this season, including a second back at The Travelers last month. He ranks 25th in accuracy and his fairways and greens game is perfect for Harding Park. Not a long hitter, but that’s not a necessity this week. Accuracy is, and that’s Streelman’s strength.

12. Abraham Ancer: Don’t look now, but Ancer has nine Top-15 finishes this season, including three top-5s. He finished 4th earlier this year at the WGC-HSBC Champions and finished T16 at last year’s PGA Championship. He’s been steady and consistent and should make some noise this week in San Francisco.

11. Bryson DeChambeau: In order to contend this week, he needs to find fairways and play disciplined golf. Trying to bomb drives and get good lies out of the rough is not going to cut it this week. Shooting for fairways is the only way to win. If he can hit fairways and keep his temper in check, he not only can contend, he can win. He grew up in California so he should feel comfortable in San Francisco.

10. Jason Day: The 2015 PGA Champion is grinding his way into contention again. Despite a bad back that at times is tough to watch, he is striking the ball the best he has in a long time. He has three straight top-10 finishes coming into this week and is rising back up the world golf rankings after falling out of the top-50.

9. Daniel Berger: What a run he’s been on. In his last seven tournaments, he’s gone T9, T5, T4, 1st, T3, MC, and T2. He’s one of the game’s hottest players right now and winning this week would be a surprise to no one. After a horrible start in Memphis, he shot his way into contention with a 66 and 65 over the weekend. He doesn’t have a great major record, however. He has just two top-10s in majors, his best finish being a T6 at the 2018 U.S. Open.

8. Matthew Fitzpatrick: The young Brit is brimming with confidence, finishing 3rd and 6th his last two starts. A five-time winner in Europe, he is still looking for his breakthrough win in America. In order to do that, he’s going to have to get off to a better start. He ranks 117th in first round scoring average this season.

7. Jon Rahm: The world No. 1 had a letdown last week which was expected and predicted in our countdown to the St. Jude Invitational. He should be back in top form this week. Rahm has all the game and talent to win here. The biggest obstacle he’s got to overcome is keeping his emotions in check in critical moments down the stretch. He’s thrust himself into contention in majors only to go backwards on the weekend as his temper gets the best of him. If he get can in the hunt and stay cool, he can win his first major championship.

6. Kevin Kisner: It’s not been a good season for Kisner who has five missed cuts and has no win. But he’s showing signs of getting his form back and has the perfect game to excel at Harding Park. He’s a good wind player and is straight and accurate from tee to green. He ranks 31st this year in driving accuracy. Kisner also has growing confidence, finishing 3rd in Detroit a few weeks back and shooting a final round 65 on Sunday in Memphis. These kinds of courses that don’t require length are the ones that Kisner can succeed on, and when it turns into a game of accuracy and consistency instead of length, Kisner’s a serious contender. The question is whether he can get the putter in form?

5. Xander Schauffele: If Brooks Koepka is the best major championship player over the last few years, Schauffele is number 2. In a big-tournament setting, Schauffele is always there. In 11 major starts, he has five finishes of T6 or better, including a runner-up finish at last year’s Masters. He is also brimming with confidence with five rounds in the 60s over his last six times teeing it up. He made a late charge and contended a week ago in Memphis. In order to win this week, he needs to drive it better off the tee, though. He ranks 95th in driving accuracy.

4. Collin Morikawa: It’s a 34-minute drive from where Collin Morikawa played college at Cal-Berkeley to Harding Park. He will have the home course advantage this weekend as he strives for his first major championship. Morikawa is in solid form, winning in Ohio a few weeks back and shooting 66-67 over the weekend in Memphis to score a top-20 finish. He also had a second place finish to Daniel Berger at Colonial two months ago. I would not be surprised in the least to see Morikawa beating out the best in the world to win the title on Sunday.

3. Justin Thomas: The No. 1 player in the world and 2017 PGA Champion is fresh off a victory at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. He’s won three times this year already and is as confident as any player in the field going into the week. To win a second PGA title, he will have to keep the driver straight. He leaked some oil with it on the weekend but was able to scramble and birdie the holes he needed to in order to win. Beating the best in the world two weeks in a row is tough but he’s too good not to be in the hunt late on Sunday.

2. Brooks Koepka: History can be made this weekend in San Francisco. Just like at the U.S. Open a year ago, Koepka will be going for his third straight PGA Championship, something not done in nearly 100 years. He finished 2nd to Gary Woodland at last year’s Open trying to win his third straight there. Koepka is a major championship machine and got his confidence back a week ago at The St. Jude Invitational where he finished T2. In his last seven majors, Koepka has finished 1st, T39, 1st, T2, 1st, 2nd, and T4. He shows up where it counts most and you can bet he will be hunting down the Wanamaker this weekend. But like the U.S. Open, winning three straight is a massive task. His driving accuracy is the biggest concern going into the week. He will need to drive it straighter to win this title again.

1. Webb Simpson: The last time a major championship was played in San Francisco, Webb Simpson prevailed the winner. Granted it was eight years ago and at a U.S. Open, but given how well he has played of late, just that extra bit of confidence knowing he can win in that city could be enough to propel him to his second major championship. Harding Park is also a very similar course to The Olympic Club where Simpson won. Simpson is one of the game’s hottest players this season, winning twice and accumulating seven top-12s in his last 10 tournaments. He has the perfect pedigree to win a major championship and showed that again two years ago when he won “The Fifth Major” at The Players Championship. He’s extremely consistent and scores when he needs to. A course that demands accuracy, Simpson ranks No. 19 in keeping it straight off the tee which will pay dividends this week.

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