Those empty-crowd COVID-19 days of 2020 are quickly appearing further and further away in the PGA Tour’s rear-view mirror, and this week’s PGA Championship should feel the closest to what we once knew as “normal” of any major since the pandemic that stopped the world in its tracks.
The entirety of the top 50 in the OWGR, in addition to the traditional group of qualified club pros, will be in attendance at this week’s second major of 2021, being held at the Ocean Course at South Carolina’s famed Kiawah Island.
It is a course that is due for big-time drama after its only previous PGA event was an 8-stroke blowout by Rory McIlroy in 2012. Given the thrilling nature of recent majors, and the entire PGA Tour season at large, it feels impossible that this year’s event will not be decided until the very end.
What also feels impossible is ranking such a prodigiously-deep field, but here is our best attempt at top 20:
20. Abraham Ancer
Still searching for his first PGA Tour victory, it may seem crazy to have Ancer on this list ahead some significantly higher-regarded players, but the 30-year-old from Mexico looks sooooo close to landing in the winner’s circle with back-to-back top five finishes, the most recent being a runner-up to Rory McIlroy two weeks ago at the Wells Fargo Championship.
In his last eight starts, Ancer’s WORST finish was a T26 at The Masters, where he rebounded nicely from an opening 75, with some of that being imputed to a late-added two-stroke penalty that many considered questionable at best.
He is third on Tour in driving accuracy, 12th in greens in regulation, and some of his best performances have been in big events.
World Rank: 19
Last 6 Starts: 2, 5, 18, 26, 23, 18
Recent PGAs: 43 (’20), 18 (’19)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: 56, 21, 26
19. Louis Oosthuizen
A second-place finish to Justin Thomas in 2017 is the lone top-10 of Oosthuizen’s PGA Championship career, the former Open Champion Golfer of the Year has made a habit of reaching the first page of the leaderboard at the majors.
Since the beginning of February, the 38-year-old South African has four finishes of T11 or better, and most recently had a stellar 66-69 weekend in a T8 three weeks ago at the Valspar Championship, a weekend that was bettered by just one player.
Most impressively, Oostie leads the Tour in strokes gained: putting. In fact, his +1.089 is the best by anyone since Jason Day’s otherworldly 2016 season. Day took runner-up in the PGA Championship that year.
World Rank: 31
Last 6 Starts: 8, 2, 26, 61, 41, 6
Recent PGAs: 33 (’20), 60 (’19), 2 (’17)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: 3, 23, 26
18. Paul Casey
At 43 years of age, the amiable Brit showed a sense of urgency at TPC Harding Park last August, shooting four rounds of 68 or better and finishing the week as one of the two runner-ups to Collin Morikawa.
Still lacking a major championship for his resume, Casey has continued to play well since that prolific week in San Francisco, and from January through March had a stretch of play where he posted four consecutive top 10s.
In fact, he has finished worse than T26 in just one stroke play event since the calendar flipped to 2021.
When his iron game is on, which has been the case for most of the past nine months, he is very dangerous. If his stats stay close to where they are now, this will be his eighth consecutive season inside the top 13 on Tour in strokes gained: approach-the-green.
His game is there, but is his head? He looks improved in that regard over recent seasons.
World Rank: 20
Last 6 Starts: 21, MC, 26, 28, 5, 10
Recent PGAs: 2 (’20), 29 (’19), MC (’18), 13 (’17)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: 17, 38, 26
17. Corey Conners
With seven top 10s, the 29-year-old from Canada was a surprising contender to most last month at The Masters, where he finished T8. But those paying closer attention saw that he arrived at Augusta off three consecutive very positive results (3, 7, T14) in stroke-play events, and a T4 in his post-Masters start at the RBC Heritage was his 7th top 10 of the season.
Conners ranks inside the top 12 on Tour in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation, and boasts the caliber of shotmaking that has been characteristic of most recent major champions.
Taking last week off was probably a smart move, as he looked like he was just kind of going through the motions over the weekend at the recent Wells Fargo Championship.
World Rank: 39
Last 6 Starts: 43, 21, 4, 8, 14, 61
Recent PGAs: MC (’20), 64 (’19)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: MC, 8, 10
16. Marc Leishman
A T21 in Dallas last week was a solid outing for the 37-year-old Aussie, making his first start in an individual event since contending at The Masters last month, where he finished T5.
He teamed up with fellow countryman Cam Smith to take the Zurich Classic three weeks earlier, although that is a difficult event to make any conclusions from.
It is beyond admirable that Leishman has been able to go from playing historically-bad golf last summer to flashing major-ready form again. Is this his major, though? That T13 in 2017 sticks out like a sore thumb among his last six PGA Championship starts, where his other five results were three missed cuts, a T60 and a T71.
Even at that commendable result at Quail Hollow, he opened with a 75 and did almost all his damage when the title was out of reach.
World Rank: 37
Last 6 Starts: 21, 1, 5, 28, MC, MC
Recent PGAs: MC (’20), MC (’19), 71 (’18), 13 (’17)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: MC, 13, 5
15. Stewart Cink
A top-20 ranking for the 47-year-old would have seemed unthinkable last August, as Cink had not won on Tour since 2009, but here we are.
Absolutely rejuvenated, Cink took the season-opening Safeway Open, and then added a landslide victory at last month’s RBC Heritage, just one week after a T12 outing at The Masters.
Do not let his age fool you into thinking he is a dink-and-dunk guy; he ranks 23rd on Tour in driving distance, and that is while leading the Tour in greens in regulation. He missed the cut in each of the four editions from 2012-2014, the last four years of his exemption for winning the 2009 Open, but certainly looked capable in the one PGA Championship he has qualified for since: a T4 in 2018 where he shot all four rounds in the 60s.
He is in phenomenal form, seems to be just enjoying life, and is not likely to put significant pressure on himself. He definitely can contend this week.
World Rank: 43
Last 6 Starts: 37, 1, 12, 19, MC, MC
Recent PGAs: 4 (’18), MC (’14)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: DNQ, DNQ, 12
14. Daniel Berger
In the past year, Berger’s best has been as good as anyone on Tour, as he has two victories, a runner-up, and three third-place finishes among an absurd 20 top 25s since February of 2020.
At third on Tour in birdie average, the Florida State product has shown an ability to explode with birdie blitzes at any time.
That was on display just this past weekend, where a final-round 8-under 64 meant a T3 finish at the AT&T Byron Nelson.
We are still waiting on him to contend down to the 72nd hole at a major (although he did make the final Sunday pairing at the 2018 U.S. Open), but that feels imminent, with a T12 and a T13 among his last three PGA Championship starts.
World Rank: 16
Last 6 Starts: 3, 13, MC, 18, 9, 35
Recent PGAs: 13 (’20), 71 (’19), 12 (’18), MC (’17)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: 34, DNP, MC
13. Cameron Smith
The 27-year-old has not placed worse than T17 in a stroke play event since January, and bounced in and out of contention a month ago at The Masters, where he finished T10 five months after finishing co runner-up to Dustin Johnson in November.
His short game is immaculate and he looks very, very close to big-stage win, but is he consistent enough to take the PGA?
Despite all the great finishes, he cannot seem to avoid that one big number, and this major has not treated him especially well; he has followed his missed cut in 2017 with finishes of T56, T64, and T43, respectively.
World Rank: 25
Last 6 Starts: 1, 9, 10, 28, 17, 11
Recent PGAs: 43 (’20), 64 (’19), 56 (’18), MC (’17)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: 38, 2, 10
12. Patrick Reed
The putting magician has more or less been able to stay out of the headlines for negative reasons in recent months, and his results have benefitted.
The 30-year-old former Masters champ shows little weakness in his current game, boasting a victory at January’s Farmers Insurance Open among four top 10s in 10 2021 calendar year starts.
Reed has been hit-or-miss at the PGA Championship, mixing in two missed cuts with a runner-up and two T13s in his last five attempts. He is even riding a streak of five consecutive top 13 finishes in majors, including a T8 at last month’s Masters, where he was an early contender.
World Rank: 8
Last 6 Starts: 6, MC, 8, 28, 22, MC
Recent PGAs: 13 (’20), MC (’19), MC (’18), 2 (’17)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: 13, 10, 8
11. Brooks Koepka
As the old saying goes, when it’s a major, just “bet on Brooks”. The 2018 AND 2019 PGA Champion is in a special zone in these elite events, but should this current version of the 31-year-old be awarded the same kind of leeway as usual?
Nobody knows what percent his knee is at, something he went under the knife for just months ago. The less-rugged terrain of Kiawah Island should be more knee-friendly than Augusta, where he missed the cut. He also missed the cut by three strokes at last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson, although it should be considered encouraging that he was even there.
This could be like February’s Waste Management Phoenix Open where Brooks decides to let everyone know that they should not have forgotten him. Having just the 11th-best odds feels wrong.
World Rank: 13
Last 6 Starts: MC, MC, 2, 38, 1, MC
Recent PGAs: 29 (’20), 1 (’19), 1 (’18), 13 (’17)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: DNP, 7, MC
10. Collin Morikawa
The 24-year-old prodigy has the honor of being the tournament’s defending champion, posting a weekend for the ages at TPC Harding Park last August: a 65-64 clinic that emphatically showed the world that he had arrived.
However, despite four wins in barely 40 career professional starts, Morikawa has been shockingly hit-or-miss in 2021. He won the WGC-Workday Championship At The Concession in February, but ended any hopes of contention with poor Saturday rounds at both THE PLAYERS Championship and The Masters.
In his most recent start, he was tied for second through 54 holes (granted, that was still six shots back of Stewart Cink) before looking lost in a Sunday 1-over effort that dropped him into a share of 7th.
Shotmaker does not even begin to describe Morikawa, but his short game in 2021 has left a lot to be desired.
World Rank: 6
Last 6 Starts: 7, 18, 56, 41, 1, 43
Recent PGAs: 1 (’20)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: MC, 44, 18
9. Hideki Matsuyama
The Masters champion arrives in South Carolina to play a major as a major champion for the first time. Matsuyama put on a shotmaking clinic after a rain delay on Saturday changed everything, and he then looked more than comfortable holding onto a considerable Sunday lead, even on the greens, where he is usually terrible.
Matsuyama took a month off after his breakthrough championship, playing again for the first time at last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson, where the 12-under-par he posted would be much more encouraging a different course: the pros obliterated TPC Craig Ranch, as that aforementioned score was only good for a share of 39th place.
In eight previous PGA Championship starts, Hideki has never missed the cut, and has been inside the top 25 in four of his last five, including top-fives in 2016 and 2017.
World Rank: 15
Last 6 Starts: 39, 1, 30, 42, MC, 18
Recent PGAs: 22 (’20), 16 (’19), 35 (’18), 5 (’17)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: 17, 13, 1
8. Dustin Johnson
The world No. 1 withdrew from last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson, but it had the feel of one of those situations where he easily could have played had the stakes been higher.
Late in 2020, DJ was in such ridiculously good form that he felt like close to a lock to being the favorite for all four 2021 majors. He is still A favorite, but he does not look like the same man from six months ago, where he won November’s Masters Tournament by four strokes.
A T48 three weeks ago at the Valspar Championship actually tied for his second-BEST result in his last six outings, with the best being a backdoor T13 at the RBC Heritage.
It should be noted, and probably will be repeatedly during the broadcast, that DJ is a South Carolina native. The 24-time Tour winner was T48 at Kiawah Island in 2012. We are not sure how much that matters.
World Rank: 1
Last 6 Starts: 48, 13, MC, 28, 48, 54
Recent PGAs: 2 (’20), 2 (’19), 27 (’18), 13 (’17)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: 6, 1, MC
7. Xander Schauffele
A man who has done everything in majors except actually win, the World No. 4 was in a bit of a funk going into The Masters, but true to form, he spent four days in contention at Augusta.
We do not know however, what to make of his roller coaster Sunday, where he reached the final pairing with Hideki Matsuyama, collapsing early, and then valiantly surging back into contention, only to follow four consecutive back-nine birdies with an inexcusable tee shot into the water on 16 which, despite how daunting it looks on TV, never happens anymore.
Still, it was a T3 for Schauffele, his third consecutive top 10 in a major, and eighth in his last 10 major starts. You can set your watch to Xander reaching the first page of the leaderboard.
It’s his Sunday version that is less predictable.
World Rank: 4
Last 6 Starts: 14, 3, 18, MC, 39, 15
Recent PGAs: 10 (’20), 16 (’19), 35 (’18), MC (’17)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: 5, 17, 3
6. Bryson DeChambeau
The world No. 5 showed (and then some) that he is capable of not just winning a major, but completely dominating it, taking last September’s U.S. Open by six strokes.
The 27-year-old has notched two of his eight career victories in the current season, also winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.
DeChambeau has been less than immaculate since a T3 at THE PLAYERS two months ago however, with three finishes of outside the top 40 in his last four starts. The exception was an impressive T9 two weeks ago at the Wells Fargo Championship, where he had to charter a last minute Friday flight back to Quail Hollow after believing that he was not going to make the cut.
It felt likely that he would carry that momentum into last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson, but reaching 10-under for the week was only good enough for a T55 in that red-number frenzy.
Regardless, DeChambeau has to be among the favorites at the Ocean Course, leading the Tour in strokes gained: off-the-tee, tee-to-green, and total, in addition to his lead in driving distance, which is what draws most of his attention.
It should not be surprising to learn that he is the current FedExCup points leader.
World Rank: 5
Last 6 Starts: 55, 9, 46, 42, 3, 1
Recent PGAs: 4 (’20), MC (’19), MC (’18), 33 (’17)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: 1, 34, 46
5. Jon Rahm
Rahm can be forgiven for the so-so first three days at The Masters last month, where he shot three consecutive even-par 72s, since his wife had just given birth to their child days earlier. After all, we still got to see arguably the most-talented golfer on the planet go lower than anyone in the Sunday field, with a 66 to finish T5, his eighth top 10 in a stretch of ten PGA Tour starts.
What concerns us more is his two outings since: a missed cut at the Wells Fargo Championship followed by a pedestrian T34 at last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson where his irons were nowhere near his usual standards.
He was T13 at TPC Harding Park in August, improving his score in each of the four rounds. And it feels like we have been saying this for a long time now about the 26-year-old, but he is undeniably the best player in the world without a major. He is more due than his wife was nine months into her pregnancy.
World Rank: 3
Last 6 Starts: 34, MC, 5, 5, 9, 32
Recent PGAs: 13 (’20), MC (’19), 4 (’18), 58 (’17)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: 23, 7, 5
4. Justin Thomas
Among the 14 career PGA Tour victories of the 27-year-old world No. 2 is a single major championship, but it happens to be this one, as he came from behind in 2017 to win at Quail Hollow by two strokes.
Honestly, it is surprising that he has not yet added a second major, given his consistently elite form. Thomas won THE PLAYERS Championship in March, and was well on his way to adding a green jacket to his wardrobe, until he imploded after the Saturday rain delay at The Masters.
In two starts since, he has a T13 and a T26, which is underwhelming for him.
If low numbers end up being possible at Kiawah Island, JT is your man: he leads the Tour in birdie average, and has not finished worse than 4th in that regard in the past five seasons.
World Rank: 2
Last 6 Starts: 26, 13, 21, 42, 1, 15
Recent PGAs: 37 (’20), 6 (’18), 1 (’17)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: 8, 4, 21
3. Jordan Spieth
For the fourth consecutive year, the 12-time Tour winner arrives at the PGA Championship just a win away from becoming the sixth golfer in history to complete the career grand slam.
In August, he was still searching for his lost form. Now in May? He sure appears to have it again, with eight finishes of T15 or better in his last nine starts, including a win at the Valero Texas Open the week before The Masters.
This will be the ultimate litmus test of where his confidence is, because from a technical perspective, he should easily be among the favorites this week, which is reflected in his low betting odds (14-1).
World Rank: 26
Last 6 Starts: 9, 3, 1, 9, 48, 4
Recent PGAs: 71 (’20), 3 (’19), 12 (’18), 28 (’17)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: MC, 46, 3
2. Rory McIlroy
Almost overnight, the story on Rory changed from “what’s wrong?” to suddenly being the tournament’s betting favorite.
After months of consistently high finishes, but losing his characteristic closing swagger, he appeared to have taken about a thousand steps backwards in missing the cut at both THE PLAYERS Championship and The Masters.
Then came the Wells Fargo, where he snapped that two-year winless drought, and looked every bit his old self.
It would be fair to not be completely convinced that the world No. 7 four-time major champion is back, given that his win came at Quail Hollow, which might as well be named after him, but look at what we have this week: the last time the PGA was at the Ocean Course (2012), he won by eight(!) strokes.
It would probably be wise to not overthink this.
World Rank: 7
Last 6 Starts: 1, MC, 28, MC, 10, 6
Recent PGAs: 33 (’20), 8 (’19), 50 (’18), 22 (’17)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: 8, 5, MC
1. Viktor Hovland
In February, the precocious 23-year-old from Norway appeared on the verge of superstardom. We know it’s coming, we just do not know when exactly that moment will be. He looked less there over March and April, but now coming into the PGA, the world No. 11 has posted third-place finishes in his last two starts.
With the Tour’s best scoring average, he is such an obvious pick to be this year’s Collin Morikawa, that picking him almost seems like a trap. This feels too perfect, with him just one position away from breaking into the top 10 in the OWGR for the first time.
We think this is his week.
World Rank: 11
Last 6 Starts: 3, 3, 21, 42, MC, 49
Recent PGAs: 33 (’20)
U.S. Open/Masters/Masters: 13, DNP, 21
Next Five: Will Zalatoris, Webb Simpson, Matt Fitzpatrick, Shane Lowry, Justin Rose