The PGA Championship tees off on Thursday morning at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, California. It’s the PGA Tour’s first major contest of its COVID-interrupted season.
The field will include all kinds of familiar faces, marquee names and rising stars. A win by any will be entered into the record books for posterity, but a victory by one of the following 10 players would produce the most historical of storylines.
1. Tiger Woods
Getting a 16th major – two short of Jack, fifth Wanamaker to tie Hagen, and 83rd PGA Tour title to edge Snead for the most all time – in his native California, no less – would be the ultimate in historical conquests.
2. Brooks Koepka
The first PGA three-peat in modern (stroke-play) history, and only second time overall, when you include the match-play days of Hagen and Sarazen… Only Nicklaus (5) and Woods (4) would appear more times on the Wanamaker in the stroke-play era. Plus five majors at the age of 30? Enough said. Historic!
3. Jordan Spieth
The one-time Golden Child ends a two-year (or so) slump by finishing off the long-awaited career Grand Slam? America loves a comeback story, but a tale of reclamation en route to history would be next-level emotional.
4. Phil Mickelson
Already historic and iconic, a sixth major, and 45th Tour win, would almost be running up the score in terms of legacy. But to do it at 50, becoming the oldest major champion, would be record-setting astounding. (Now, if he did it next month at Winged Foot to close out the career Grand Slam, we are talking movie-script level!)
5. Rory McIlroy
Won here in 2015, at the age of 25 – just nine months removed from winning his second PGA, and fourth major, at Valhalla. The wunderkind returns five years and three months later – now 31-years old, and STILL a four-time major winner. For the former can’t-miss kid, the storyline here is all about redemption and rebirth… A third PGA trophy, a fifth major title, and a return to world No. 1. It’s all there for the taking.
6. Justin Thomas
A 14th career PGA Tour win and second career major at just 27 would set the current world No. 1 on a path to become one of the very best of his generation, and among the all-time greats… Additionally, two PGA wins (2017, 2020) to bookend Koepka’s two straight (2018-19) would give the American rivals a four-year lock on the Wanamaker Trophy – marking a first-time occurrence where two players have won twice in a four-year span.
7. Dustin Johnson
After breaking through in 2016 for his first big-league win at Oakmont, majors were expected to come in bunches for the superbly talented South Carolinian. Yet, despite being one of the Tour’s most prolific winners immediately following his maiden major, a second one never materialized. Instead, his one-time sidekick and apprentice became THE big-game hunter… The time is now. Adding a second major, and 22nd Tour title this week would make up for lost opportunities, and place him in some historic company – as one of only 24 golfers who have won at least 22 times with multiple majors.
8. Rickie Fowler
A major breakthrough for the snake-bit American star. Not too many fans would walk away disappointed if the California native hoisted his first major trophy on Sunday evening. The nice guy finally finishes first, and possibly breaks the ice for a mid-career run like Phil.
9. Justin Rose
Bursting on the scene as a 19-year old phenom at the 1998 British Open – where he holed out from the rough on the 72nd hole to finish T4, an entire career lie ahead. Some 15 years later he won the U.S. Open at Merion – his first and only major. He added an Olympic Gold medal in 2016, and a world No. 1 ranking in 2018. In between he’s won over 20 times around the world while claiming season-long titles on both major tours (Order of Merit 2007, FedExCup Champion 2018). A PGA Championship title, and second major, would set up the always-classy Brit as a sure-bet Hall of Famer.
10. Webb Simpson
Like Rose, the 2012 U.S. Open winner could become a double major champ. Even better, a victory would push him to world No. 1 – an achievement some say is even more valuable than winning a single major as it measures performance over a two year period, not four days. In the bio, “world No.1 and PGA Champion” would look awfully impressive next to “U.S Open and PLAYERS Champion.”
While they won’t make much in terms of history, these golfers are all expected claim a major very soon. So a victory by any will sort of get it out of the way and set up history down the road. The best players without a major (and a big upside for long-term gains): Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Collin Morikawa, Tommy Fleetwood, and Hideki Matsuyama.