PGA Championship 2021: The top 100 golfers competing at Kiawah, ranked

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Don’t look now, but another major week is upon us.

A little more than a month after Hideki Matsuyama delivered for Japan, the world’s best head to Kiawah Island for this week’s PGA Championship. By some metrics—this is the only major to give exemptions to the top 100 players in the World Ranking—this is the strongest field in golf. So to help you make sense of all the contenders, make your bets or fill out your pools, or simply be a more informed viewer, Golf Digest has ranked the top 100 players teeing it up at Pete Dye’s beastly masterpiece.

Happy reading, and happy major week.

100. Omar Uresti
Age:
52 World Ranking: N/A PGA Championship starts: 4
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-73, 2017
We had to give the PGA “club” pros some love here, with an emphasis on those quotation marks. Uresti made 377 starts on the PGA Tour while playing more than a decade full time but still tees it up in the PGA Professional Championship every year—notice they took the “Club” out of the name—and won it this year for the second time.

99. Sami Valimaki
Age:
22 World Ranking: 99 PGA Championship starts: First
Young man from Finland is your reigning European Tour rookie of the year. Seems to be dealing with something of a sophomore slump, however, as he’s yet to post a top-20 in six starts this season.

98. Peter Malnati
Age:
33 World Ranking: 165 PGA Championship starts: 1
Best PGA Championship finish:
CUT, 2016
Maybe the nicest guy—not just in world golf, but in the world. Period. Locked up his card with some strong play early in the season but he’d missed eight straight cuts before a T-43 at the Wells Fargo. Will be just his second career start in a major.

97. Jazz Janewattananond
Age: 25 World Ranking: 114 PGA Championship starts: 2
Best PGA Championship finish: T-14, 2019
His coming out party came at this event two years ago, when he hung around the top of the leader board at Bethpage Black for three-plus days. Looks 15, but he’s closer to 30 than 20 and has failed to establish himself on the world stage. His lone top-10 this year came in a European Tour event in Kenya, and he took all of April off before playing the British Masters the week before the PGA.

96. Byeong-Hun An
Age:
29 World Ranking: 117 PGA Championship starts: 6
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-22, 2020
Oscillated 50-70 range in the World Ranking for a few years but has dropped since, as he’s missed five of his last six cuts and finished 67th the lone time he made the weekend. Recently left instructor David Leadbetter and is now working with Sean Foley, but the swing has never really been the issue—he ranks a near dead-last 217th in strokes gained/putting and has dropped strokes to the field in nine straight starts. His ball-striking has bailed him out in the past, but he ranks outside the top 130 in strokes gained/off the tee and strokes gained/approach, and so he’s now in a battle to keep his PGA Tour card.

95. Daniel van Tonder
Age:
30 World Ranking: 77 PGA Championship starts: First
No one has done more winning recently than the South African. No, seriously—he’s won five golf tournaments since August. Four of those were African Tour events and the fifth was in Africa, too, but a European Tour event. Look, all you can do is beat the people in front of you.

94. Andy Sullivan
Age:
34 World Ranking: 42 PGA Championship starts: 4
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-49, 2016
Former Ryder Cupper (2016) is back playing well again. Won the English Championship last August by seven; I don’t care how strong (or weak) the competition is, if you beat a field of professionals by seven, color me impressed.

93. Henrik Stenson
Age:
45 World Ranking: 129 PGA Championship starts: 14
Best PGA Championship finish:
3, 2013
He’s made the cut in his last two starts, which is marked progress. That might sound harsh, but he’d missed seven of his eight prior and is free-falling in World Ranking—which is extra hard to swallow when you’re firmly in your mid 40s. Once considered perhaps the finest ball-striker on tour, he ranks outside the top 200 (!) in strokes gained/off the tee and is 119th in strokes gained/approach. Could be a motivation issue, could be a health problem, or could just be golf being golf. Either way, don’t let the big name obscure your judgement of the state of his game.

92. Phil Mickelson
Age:
50 World Ranking: 116 PGA Championship starts: 28
Best PGA Championship finish
: Win, 2005
It’s in there physically—he’s got plenty of speed and still hits a bunch of awesome golf shots seemingly every round, as you saw in his opening-round 64 at Quail Hollow. It seems to be more of a mental obstacle at this stage. He’s said he struggles to stay focused and he just hasn’t been able to string two good rounds together, let alone four. He has no top-20 finishes in his last 17 starts on tour. Needs plenty of room off the tee these days, and PGA Championship layouts typically don’t give it to him; his last four starts in them have resulted in MC/MC/T-71/T-71. He will not go quietly into that good night, but this is not his week.

91. Adam Long
Age:
33 World Ranking: 83 PGA Championship starts: 2
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-41, 2019
Awesome last name for golf; less awesome recent results. He’s missed the cut in nine of his last 10 stroke-play starts and the ball-striking statistics are not pretty. He’s won on tour and does have plenty of good weeks, but they seem to come out of nowhere. So, and we’re being optimistic here, maybe he’s due?

90. Rasmus Hojgaard
Age:
20 World Ranking: 101 PGA Championship starts: First
The young Dane has two wins on the European Tour and swings the club beautifully; there’s clearly Ryder Cup-level talent there. He hasn’t quite translated it yet into success on this side of the pond, though—he missed the cut at the U.S. Open, beat just four guys in his first World Golf Championship and missed the cut in the Valspar at the beginning of this month. He also played in the British Masters the week before the PGA Championship, which seems … well, he’s young.

89. Sam Horsfield
Age:
24 World Ranking: 86 PGA Championship starts: First
Plays under the English flag but he’s a Florida boy, having moved to the states when he was 5 and played college ball for the Gators. As such, he could become the first player (ever?) with an American accent to represent Europe in the Ryder Cup. We’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit, but he did win two European Tour events last August and you won’t find a prettier swing in world golf. He’s got three top-eight finishes in his last four European Tour starts but missed the weekend at the Valspar.

88. Danny Willett
Age:
33 World Ranking: 92 PGA Championship starts: 9
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-30, 2014
Been a long five years since his Masters victory, with some painful lows and a few highs sprinkled between. Played host at the British Masters last week and found himself in contention after 54 holes, which should give him some confidence heading into Kiawah. It comes at a good time, too, as he’d missed three of his last four cuts stateside since.

87. Bernd Wiesberger
Age:
35 World Ranking: 60 PGA Championship starts: 7
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-15, 2014
If his three-win 2019 season in Europe didn’t still factor into the World Ranking algorithm, he’d be well outside the top 100. He’s made the weekend in just two of his seven PGA Championship starts; this type of golf simply does not seem to fit his eye.

86. Brendan Steele
Age:
38 World Ranking: 81 PGA Championship starts: 7
Best PGA Championship finish: T-12, 2015
Lanky Californian has two top-four finishes on the wraparound season, which will likely be enough to keep his card. Showed solidly at TPC Harding Park last year in finishing T-22 but comes in off back-to-back finishes outside the top 70, and nothing jumps of the page statistically to suggest he’ll contend.

85. Chris Kirk
Age:
36 World Ranking: 64 PGA Championship starts: 6
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-31, 2018
Lovely to see him playing his first major since 2018. Since then, he stepped away from the game to address alcohol issues and came through oh-so-clutch in January, when he needed a top-three finish at the Sony Open to keep his tour card through his medical extension … and finished T-2. Not a headline-maker but a really good ball-striker—23rd on tour in SG/tee to green—and has added three additional top-10s in 2021, including two in his last three starts.

84. Martin Kaymer
Age:
36 World Ranking: 87 PGA Championship starts: 12
Best PGA Championship finish:
Win, 2010
You’d do well to find a more peculiar career. His win at this tournament 11 years ago in a playoff over Bubba Watson at Whistling Straits helped propel him to World No. 1. Then he slipped down the rankings considerably only to rip off a remarkable stretch in 2014, when he won the Players Championship and the U.S. Open (by eight!). He’s since lost his PGA Tour card when his exemption ran out after 2019, but continues to chug along in Europe, where he has three top-three finishes since the restart. He still has a residence in the U.S. and seems intent getting his PGA Tour card back—and at 36, there’s plenty of time to do it. Missed the cut in three of his last four major starts.

83. Cameron Champ
Age:
25 World Ranking: 89 PGA Championship starts: 2
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-10, 2020
Still just scratching the surface of his tantalizing talent—that’s encouraging and discouraging all at once. He has all the ability in the world but he hasn’t improved much, if at all, since he burst onto the scene three years ago grooving 330+ yard drives out there like they’re punch 7-irons. Drove it brilliantly at TPC Harding Park last year and that club will always be a massive asset, but his short game is just too unreliable.

82. Zach Johnson
Age:
45 World Ranking: 120 PGA Championship starts: 17
Best PGA Championship finish: T-3, 2010
He’s in the team-competition/captain-discussion part of his career, but he’s still playing a full schedule with a bunch of made cuts and a couple top-10s to show for it. We try to avoid such bare-bones analysis, but this will be the longest golf course in major-championship history, it’s at sea level, and Johnson average south of 290 yards off the tee. He’s simply giving up way too much to the younger, longer guys on a week like this.

81. Rickie Fowler
Age:
32 World Ranking: 122 PGA Championship starts: 11
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-3, 2014
He’s in the driver’s seat of the struggle bus, and there’s been little indication he’s planning to pull over any time soon. Jarring to see him so far down in the World Ranking, and needed a special exemption to get into the field at Kiawah. It’s not only that he hasn’t won since February 2019; it’s that he’s gone 28 consecutive starts (and counting) without a top-10. Continues to say all the right things and insists he’s closer than the results show. The work with new swing coach John Tillery simply hasn’t taken, particularly his iron play—he ranks 185th in SG/approach and had lost shots to the field with his approach play in five of his last six starts coming into the Nelson, where he missed the cut by a stroke. We wish we had better news to report.

80. Dylan Frittelli
Age:
30 World Ranking: 79 PGA Championship starts: 4
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-31, 2018
Call him Bryson-lite—the South African averaged 291.3 yards off the tee last season, which was 146th on tour. In 2020-21, he’s 13th at 310.4. He’s had plenty of good weeks on the PGA Tour, highlighted by his 2019 John Deere Classic victory and his T-5 at the one-off fall Masters in 2020, but they tend to come on gentler setups. He’s also missed six of his last eight cuts.

79. Harold Varner III
Age:
30 World Ranking: 82 PGA Championship starts: 3
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-29, 2020
Won the non-Stewart Cink division at the RBC Heritage to get inside the top 100 in the World Ranking for the first time. Made the cut in his past two PGA Tour events and does have a tendency to start fast; it’s finishing the job that’s proven the issue.

78. Francesco Molinari
Age:
38 World Ranking: 133 PGA Championship starts: 11
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-2, 2017
The comeback train rumbled full-speed ahead early in the year, when he posted three top-10s in four starts on the West Coast. He’s since missed three of his last four cuts and now we’re wondering what to believe. Has never missed a cut in 11 PGA Championship starts but skipped last year’s event as he moved his family from Italy to Southern California.

77. Brendon Todd
Age: 35 World Ranking: 59 PGA Championship starts: 3
Best PGA Championship finish: T-17, 2020
Given his extreme lack of length—at 275.8 yards off the tee, he’s the shortest full-time player on the PGA Tour—it will never not be impressive to see him making the vast majority of his cuts and hanging tough inside the top 100 in the world. In related news, he leads the tour in driving accuracy, is 26th in SG/around the green and third in SG/putting. Still, it’s borderline unfair to expect him to be a factor on the longest golf course in major-championship history. But hey, he’s made it this far.

76. Erik van Rooyen
Age:
30 World Ranking: 75 PGA Championship starts: 2
Best PGA Championship finish: T-8, 2019
Big, stylish South African is struggling a bit in his first season on the PGA Tour and needs to kick it into gear if he’s to make a second. Lovely iron player tends to fare best on demanding tracks, and he’s made the cut in all six of his major starts—including a highly impressive T-8 at the 2019 PGA at Bethpage.

75. Kevin Kisner
Age:
37 World Ranking: 43 PGA Championship starts: 6
Best PGA Championship finish: T-7, 2017
Brought the heat again at the Match Play, as he always does, but Kiz has missed his last five cuts in stroke-play events—including the Masters and the Players. (If only this tournament were still match play, as it were until 1957.) He has just one top-10 finish on the season, and that came way back in November. Famously candid about his chances at golf tournaments, he’s said multiple times he simply does not believe he can win on PGA Championship, 7,800-yard courses. Ranks 186th on tour in driving distance and 142nd in SG/tee to green. No matter how well he putts it, this feels like an uphill climb.

74. J.T. Poston
Age:
27 World Ranking: 84 PGA Championship starts: 2
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-60, 2019
North Carolina boy is one of the best putters on tour—which is good news, because he ranks outside the top 140 in SG/off the tee, approach, and around the green. Zero top-10s in 11 starts this year and his best finish in five major appearances is a T-60.

73. Martin Laird
Age:
38 World Ranking: 95 PGA Championship starts: 6
Best PGA Championship finish: T-42, 2012
Scotsman took a sponsor’s exemption into the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and turned it into his first win in more than seven years. The majors have proven a bit much for him, however, as he has zero top-20 finishes and 13 missed cuts in 22 career appearances.

72. Aaron Wise
Age:
24 World Ranking: 130 PGA Championship starts: 2
Best PGA Championship finish: T-41, 2019
Finally flashing the game that earned him PGA Tour rookie-of-the-year honors three years ago. Missed all three majors last year as he lost his swing and dropped outside the top 200 in the world, but has been hard at work with coach Jeff Smith and has begun to turn a corner. Coming in off a T-9 at the Wells Fargo and opened with 64 at the Nelson.

71. Matt Jones
Age:
41 World Ranking: 56 PGA Championship starts: 6
Best PGA Championship finish: T-21, 2015
Joined the end-the-slump trend back in March when he won the Honda Classic, his second PGA Tour title nearly seven years after his first. Has played just twice since, a T-26 at the Masters and a T-37 at the Wells Fargo, so not a huge recent sample size to go off. He’s now played 17 majors without so much as a top-20—there’s little reason to believe he’ll contend. But hey, stranger things have happened.

70. Bubba Watson
Age:
42 World Ranking: 55 PGA Championship starts: 14
Best PGA Championship finish:
2, 2010
Outside the top 50 in the world but he’s actually playing somewhat well, with his last three stroke-play starts resulting in a T-9, T-13 and T-18. You’d think his high-spin ball flight would make it tough in the wind, but statistically he’s fared well in breezy conditions—and he finished T-11 at Kiawah back in 2012. That said, he’s missed the cut in three of his last four PGAs.

69. Lanto Griffin
Age: 32 World Ranking: 60 PGA Championship starts: 1
Best PGA Championship finish: T-19, 2020
It’s LAWN-toe, not Lanne-to. (Not sure anyone was really wondering, but just so you know.) A late bloomer who found his footing on tour around age 30, he picked up a top 20 in his PGA Championship debut last year at TPC Harding Park. Started the season nicely with three top-11 finishes by January but has cooled off and missed four straight cuts, including at the Masters, before a T-26 at the Wells Fargo.

68. Antoine Rozner
Age:
28 World Ranking: 70 PGA Championship starts: First
Frenchman holed a 60-footer to win the Qatar Masters by one, which was actually his second European Tour win in three months. As a result, he’ll get his first crack at a major championship. Made the cut last week in the Nelson in what looks like his first professional start on U.S. soil.

67. Alex Noren
Age:
38 World Ranking: 102 PGA Championship starts: 8
Best PGA Championship finish: T-22, 2020
He had a cup of coffee inside the top 10 of the World Ranking thanks to a four-win 2016 season in Europe and played on the last Ryder Cup team. Plays almost exclusively in the States these days but is sort of toiling in the purgatory of the T-35 finish as he’s struggled with his iron play. No top-10s yet this season but was in position to pick up his first at the Nelson.

66. Kevin Na
Age: 37 World Ranking: 35 PGA Championship starts: 12
Best PGA Championship finish: T-10, 2011
He’s developed into a crunch-time killer in his mid 30s, with four wins since July 2018. He’s a threat on “his” type of golf courses, but he’s another guy not quite averaging 290 off the tee and, have we mentioned, this is the longest golf course in major championship history. Needs to play almost perfectly to have a chance.

65. Emiliano Grillo
Age:
28 World Ranking: 74 PGA Championship starts: 6
Best PGA Championship finish: T-13, 2016
The Argentinian looked a world-beater when he burst onto the scene in 2015 (wow time flies!), winning his first start as a PGA Tour member and grabbing PGA Tour rookie of the year that season. It hasn’t quite materialized, but he’s playing nicely at the moment and having probably his best season since that rookie campaign. Finished runner-up at the RBC Heritage and T-14 at the Wells Fargo, and he ranks inside the top 25 in SG/off the tee and SG/approach. He can hang with anyone ball-striking wise; short game is a different story.

64. Sebastian Munoz
Age: 28 World Ranking: 68 PGA Championship starts: 1
Best PGA Championship finish: MC, 2020
Nice young player from Colombia who reached the Tour Championship last season and is doing fine this time around, too, with two top-10s and seven top-25s in 20 starts. Missed the cut in his two post-Masters starts but looked better in opening with 66-68 last week at the Byron Nelson.

63. Maverick McNealy
Age:
25 World Ranking: 105 PGA Championship starts: First
Feels like the former top-ranked amateur is beginning to turn a corner on tour and is on the cusp of a breakout stretch. Finished solo second at Pebble Beach and T-4 at Harbour Town, but he still misses his fair share of cuts—five in his nine starts in 2021. Has yet to make the weekend in any of his three career major appearances.

62. Takumi Kanaya
Age:
22 World Ranking: 76 PGA Championship starts: First
Good thing Hideki Matsuyama finally cashed in on all that talent and became the first Japanese man to win a major, because young Takumi could well have snagged that distinction had Hideki waited a bit longer. Kanaya spent more than a full year as the World No. 1 amateur and made the cut in the 2019 Masters. Since turning pro last fall, he’s won twice on the Japanese Tour and is already inside the top 100 in the World Ranking. Not entirely clear what his long-term plan is as far as playing in the U.S., but a good week at Kiawah would go a long way toward giving him the freedom to play where he wants. It’ll be his fourth major appearance, so this won’t feel entirely new.

61. Matt Kuchar
Age:
42 World Ranking: 49 PGA Championship starts: 12
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-7, 2015
Third-place finish at the WGC-Dell Match Play appears to have woke him from a slumber—he finished T-12 at the Valero Texas Open and T-18 at the RBC Heritage, albeit with a MC at the Masters in between. As he moves into the fat part of his 40s, his driving distance continues to slip and he ranks 171st in SG/off the tee, which explains why he’s missed the cut in his last four major appearances. Each passing year without a major makes it less likely he’ll ever grab one, and if he does, it won’t be at a PGA Championship. Especially not at Kiawah.

60. Si Woo Kim
Age:
25 World Ranking: 50 PGA Championship starts: 5
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-13, 2020
Delivered one of the funnier moments of the golf year when he snapped his putter on Friday at the Masters, then had to putt with his fairway wood—and looked genuinely frustrated when he subsequently missed a 12-foot slider (at Augusta!). Finished T-12 that week, and as his win at The American Express shows, there is no shortage of talent here. But gets into ruts where he’ll miss a bunch of cuts in a short period. Has made the weekend in just one of his previous five PGA Championship starts.

59. Mackenzie Hughes
Age:
30 World Ranking: 58 PGA Championship starts: 2
Best PGA Championship finish: T-58, 2020
He’s the rare PGA Tour player who relies on his work with the flatstick—you don’t last long out there scrapping it around tee-to-green—and he ranks 19th in SG/putting, but very poor ball-striking numbers have made 2020-21 season a struggle. His two stroke-play top-10s were in the fall, he’s coming in off back-to-back missed cuts while breaking 70 just once in his last 15 rounds.

58. Victor Perez
Age:
28 World Ranking: 33 PGA Championship starts: 1
Best PGA Championship finish: T-22, 2020
Big Frenchman went into the Masters with plenty of confidence, fresh off a T-9 at the Players and a semifinal appearance at the Match Play … so, of course, he missed the cut. Has not played since, for whatever reason. He’s 6’6” and hits it a long way, so he has the firepower to hang.

57. Branden Grace
Age:
32 World Ranking: 91 PGA Championship starts: 8
Best PGA Championship finish: 3, 2015
South African is the lone player to ever shoot 62 in a major championship. Won his first PGA Tour event in nearly five years in February at the Puerto Rico Open, where he finished eagle-birdie. No longer the Presidents Cup shoe-in he was in the mid-2010s; he has five top-10s in majors, including back-to-back top-fives in the 2015 and ’16 PGA, but none since 2017. Ranks 97th or worse in all the major strokes-gained categories and missed the cut at Kiawah in 2012.

56. John Catlin
Age:
30 World Ranking: 78 PGA Championship starts: First
Part of the small crew of Americans playing full-time in Europe, he’s had a breakthrough eight months to say the least. His victory in the Austrian Golf Open last month was his third European Tour win since October, and he’s risen from outside the top 225 to inside the top 80. Given a special exemption into this event despite the fact he’d have made it anyway given his World Ranking. He’s a bit hit-or-miss, as he’s missed four cuts in his nine starts this calendar year in Europe, and this is his first major championship appearance. Kiawah will be the hardest golf course he’s ever competed on by a considerable margin, and simply making the weekend would be a huge success.

55. Talor Gooch
Age:
29 World Ranking: 73 PGA Championship starts: 1
Best PGA Championship finish: MC, 2020
With no wins or seconds on the PGA Tour, it’s doubtful your casual golf-fan friend knows who Gooch is, but he’s playing some solid golf this year and has crept up inside the top 75 in the World Ranking—which isn’t easy to do without those top-level finishes. This will be just his third major start but he did finish T-5 at the Players, so there is some precedent for him hanging in a hyper-elite field.

54. Sergio Garcia
Age:
41 World Ranking: 46 PGA Championship starts: 22
Best PGA Championship finish: T-2, 2008
He keeps teasing us, showing just enough quality to instill optimism—like his win last fall at Sanderson, his strong start to the year in the Middle East, his T-9 at the Players and his solid week at the match play—only to continue to disappoint at the majors. His recent form in the Big Four is truly hard to believe: he has missed the cut in nine of his last 11 majors starts, and the two times he did make the weekend resulted in a T-52 and a T-67. His relationship with the PGA Championship is even frostier, as he’s missed the cut in five straight and 12 of 22 overall, including the 2012 PGA at Kiawah. Statistically, it’s a very familiar story: He’s lost strokes putting in seven consecutive starts and ranks 190th in that stat on the year. On the flip side, he’s second in SG/off the tee and remains one of the better ball-strikers out there, and he’s been a great wind player his entire career. Oh dear, we’re talking ourselves into Sergio at a major again, aren’t we?

53. Shane Lowry
Age: 34 World Ranking: 47 PGA Championship starts: 9
Best PGA Championship finish: T-8, 2019
Certainly milked his 2019 Open Championship victory for everything it was worth, and we mean that as a wholehearted compliment. Has struggled to match his form that week since—he may never, given he won by six­—but does have two top-10s in his last six starts, including at the Players. He’s an artistic golfer who loves to flight the ball down and plays his best golf on windy, difficult tracks, but he’ll need to putt much better than he has this season (148th SG) if he’s to have a chance.

52. Jason Day
Age:
33 World Ranking: 62 PGA Championship starts: 9
Best PGA Championship finish:
Win, 2015
Hard to believe he’s only 33, as his career seems to have already spanned three acts: the precocious youngster, the world-beating No. 1 and, more recently, the injury-laden shell of his former self. He parted with longtime coach Collin Swatton and has since began seeing Chris Como, with the goal of devising a golf swing that doesn’t ravage his back. Good news is the back seems fine—he’s played 10 events this year without a withdrawal. Bad news is the game hasn’t turned around yet, and he admitted at the Nelson that he’s dealing with a crisis of confidence. With just one top-10 and five missed cuts (including the Nelson) in those 10 starts. Needs to rally to get back into World top 60 to avoid missing the U.S. Open. (He also said he wouldn’t try 36-hole qualifying because of a NetJets commitment, which says a ton). Once considered the best putter on tour, he ranks 110th in SG/putting this year. On the flip side, he has an incredible record in PGA Championships and finished T-4 at TPC Harding Park last year.

51. Joel Dahmen
Age:
33 World Ranking: 66 PGA Championship starts: 2
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-10, 2020
You won’t find a more popular player among his peers than the down-to-earth, bucket-hat-wearing, self-deprecating Washingtonian. Began the year by missing six of his first seven cuts before getting his first tour win out of nowhere at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in March. He’s not a bomber, so he fares best on penal setups—like last year’s PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, where he birdied the 72nd hole for a backdoor T-10. Comes in off a very solid T-18 at the Wells Fargo that would’ve been better had he not closed bogey-bogey.

50. Justin Rose
Age:
40 World Ranking: 41 PGA Championship starts: 18
Best PGA Championship finish: T-3, 2012
Shot a ridiculous 65 to grab a four-shot lead after Round 1 of the Masters. He faded as the week went on but still posted a solo seventh, which counts as a serious positive for him these days. Been struggling with his back in recent months, and the Masters is the only tournament he’s completed since February—he withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational and missed the cut at the Valspar. He’s simply not the player he was three years ago. That doesn’t mean he can’t be, or that he won’t have a good week, but it remains a fact.

49. Carlos Ortiz
Age: 30 World Ranking: 54 PGA Championship starts: 1
Best PGA Championship finish: MC, 2020
One of the younger looking 30 year olds you’ll ever see, the Mexican won his first PGA Tour event last November and is having his best season as a pro. Took a gut punch with a first-round 82 in his first Masters. Coming into the Byron Nelson, he’d lost ground with his approach play in eight of his last nine starts, but opened with 67-66 to get into the hunt.

48. Gary Woodland
Age:
36 World Ranking: 53 PGA Championship starts: 9
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-6, 2018
Had been playing miserably in the post-COVID restart before a couple of good finishes on tough tracks, a T-6 at Valero and a T-5 at Wells Fargo. Two of his three career top-10s in 36 major starts have come in PGA Championships, and you’d think the extra-low stinger he has in his bag could be a weapon this week.

47. Robert MacIntyre
Age:
24 World Ranking: 45 PGA Championship starts: 1
Best PGA Championship finish: T-66
Young Scotsman is trying to elbow his way onto the Ryder Cup team, and he’s got a legitimate chance. He’s now inside the top 50 in the world after a number of really solid finishes in Europe, and his T-12 at the Masters ensured a return to Augusta next year. Went back over to play the British Masters before Kiawah and made the trip worth it, as he co-led after 36 holes. He’s yet to post a top-10 in a stroke-play event in the United States but the sample size isn’t very large, and his T-6 at the 2019 Open at Portrush in his first career major suggests he can compete on big, windy tracks.

46. Billy Horschel
Age:
34 World Ranking: 18 PGA Championship starts: 8
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-23, 2019
His two best weeks in 2021 have come in the two World Golf Championships. He finished runner-up to Collin Morikawa at The Concession and won his sixth PGA Tour title at the Dell Match Play, where he didn’t play all that great but happened to play against guys who were playing even less great. (Gotta love match play.) Those two WGC weeks almost single handedly have him back inside the top 20 in the World Ranking for the first time since 2015 and he’s leading the European Tour’s Race to Dubai thanks to his affiliate membership. His only top-10 in 29 career major starts came in his first major start as a pro, way back in the 2013 U.S. Open.

45. Ian Poulter
Age:
45 World Ranking: 65 PGA Championship starts: 18
Best PGA Championship finish: T-3, 2012
His short game carries him these days; he’s 206th on tour in driving distance and 194th in SG/approach. But he loves a good grind and finished T-3 at Kiawah in the 2012 PGA. This is also a Ryder Cup year, and he knows this could be his last chance to make that team, so the motivation is sky high.

44. Cameron Tringale
Age:
33 World Ranking: 67 PGA Championship starts: 6
Best PGA Championship finish: 72
The Georgia Tech grad gives us not one, but two fun facts. First, with his T-3 at the Valspar, he became the all-time winningest player (in terms of dollars) without a PGA Tour title. Second, he holds the dubious distinction of being DQ’d from the PGA twice, including last year. On a more serious note, he’s having a really solid year—with eight top-25s already, he ranks 22nd in strokes gained overall. A better player than his World Ranking suggests.

43. Charl Schwartzel
Age:
36 World Ranking: 157 PGA Championship starts: 14
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-12, 2011
Don’t look now, but the 2011 Masters champion has stumbled on some form seemingly out of nowhere. Lost in a playoff alongside Louis Oosthuizen in the Zurich Classic, followed it up with a T-21 at the Valspar and a T-14 at the Wells Fargo, and entered the Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson in contention. It couldn’t come at a better time, as he’s playing on a major medical extension and needed this spurt to keep his playing privileges. The PGA Championship is the only major he doesn’t have at least one top-10 finish.

42. Max Homa
Age:
30 World Ranking: 39 PGA Championship starts: 2
Best PGA Championship finish: T-64, 2019
His dreamlike second win, at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, seemed a springboard to superstardom—no longer was he just the Twitter guy, but a world-class player. It’s been a roller coaster since. His last six starts: T-10/MC/T-18/MC/T-6/MC. One of those missed cuts came at the Masters, and he’s missed the weekend in four straight majors. You won’t catch him taking himself (or his struggles) too seriously, so don’t expect the up-and-down play to bleed into his psyche. He’s a tough one to predict this week because he’s been so good, so often this year … but he’s also been pretty bad, like his 77-76 in his last pre-Kiawah start at the Wells Fargo. Last wrinkle: Will have Jim “Bones” Mackay working as a fill-in caddie this week.

41. Garrick Higgo
Age: 22 World Ranking: 51 PGA Championship starts: First
Much, much more than just a really cool name. The young South African lefty just keeps on winning—he won twice in his rookie year on the Sunshine Tour, then got Challenge Tour status through Q-School, then won a Challenge Tour/European Tour co-sanctioned event last September to get full European Tour status … and he just won twice in three weeks on the European Tour, shooting a combined 52 under par in those eight rounds on the Canary Islands. That all came before his 22nd birthday, which he celebrated last Wednesday, and all of sudden he’s on the cusp of reaching the world top 50. Kiawah will be an altogether different test than the courses he just won on—like, a good 5 shots harder per round—and the fields he beat were probably weaker than your average Korn Ferry event. But as far as confidence goes, you couldn’t ask for much more for the former UNLV golfer going into your first pro start in the U.S. and your first major championship.

40. Christiaan Bezuidenhout
Age:
26 World Ranking: 40 PGA Championship starts: 1
Best PGA Championship finish: MC, 2020
The South African appears set on earning his PGA Tour card through non-member points; he started the year in the Middle East but his last six starts have come in the US of A. He’s made the weekend in all of them, highlighted by a solo seventh at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and he hasn’t missed a cut anywhere since the Scottish Open last October. Finished the year with a flourish, winning back-to-back European Tour starts in his home country. Very much in the Presidents Cup picture, and he seems destined to be a truly global player with a presence on both tours—he just needs one big finish in America to lock it up, so why not this week?

39. Ryan Palmer
Age: 44 World Ranking: 31 PGA Championship starts: 12
Best PGA Championship finish: T-5, 2014
Another member of Team 40-is-the-new-30. Posted three finishes of T-4 or better in a four-event stretch in January to get back inside the top 25 in the world. Cooled down a bit since but not that much, as he’s yet to miss a cut this PGA Tour season. Not going to wow you with his physical gifts but he’s a pro’s pro who does not beat himself and knows how to milk everything out of his game. Not sure he has the top-level gear to win on a golf course like Kiawah, but he’ll hang tough.

38. Brooks Koepka
Age:
31 World Ranking: 12 PGA Championship starts: 8
Best PGA Championship finish:
Win, 2018, 2019
It all comes down to the knee. His injury could not have come at a worse time—he’d just turned the corner, winning in Phoenix and finishing second at the WGC-Workday before dislocating his right kneecap. He grit his teeth and truly made a remarkable effort to play in the Masters, but he couldn’t bend his leg to read putts and missed the cut by two. He suggested he might not play another tournament before the PGA, so it was a semi-shock to see him at the AT&T Byron Nelson, where he shot two under-par rounds but missed the cut by three. He said in his pre-tournament presser that his knee was “dramatically” better, but he still can’t really bend down and admitted he’s struggling to get weight onto his right side with the longer clubs. That seems suboptimal with an extremely beefy test coming up at Kiawah. He has, however, owned this tournament—in addition to his back-to-back wins at Bellerive and Bethpage Black, he entered Sunday at TPC Harding Park just two back before a terrible final round saw him drop out of it. He’s as tough as they come and he won’t use his injury as an excuse, but we will; He’s simply not healthy, and until he is, what can you realistically expect?

37. Harris English
Age:
31 World Ranking: 24 PGA Championship starts: 5
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-19, 2020
After a rough couple years with confidence issues, he began last season with only conditional status but caught a heater when it mattered most—a runner-up in the first FedEx Cup playoff event got him into the Tour Championship and a solo fourth at the U.S. Open helped him believe again. The form carried into his first start of the new year, when he beat Joaquin Niemann in a playoff to win on Maui … but it’s been a bit of a slog since, with zero top-10s in his nind starts before a much-needed solid week at the Byron Nelson. Plays a penetrating ball flight and thus has had success in windy conditions, and any guy who finishes top five in a major at Winged Foot has tough-course chops.

36. Tommy Fleetwood
Age:
30 World Ranking: 26 PGA Championship starts: 6
Best PGA Championship finish: T-29, 2020
It’s been a forgettable run in 2021 for the Englishman—nothing terrible, but nothing really to write home about, either, and he’s slowly slipping in the World Rankings. Has just one stroke-play top-10 in 12 starts on the PGA Tour this season. The ball-striking numbers are a bit concerning. He’s long been considered one of the better drivers of the ball in the world, but he ranks 164th in SG/off the tee. Has three top-five finishes in majors but no top-25s in six PGA Championship starts. You get the sense he’s sort of stuck in neutral, waiting for a spark to kickstart his season

35. Jason Kokrak
Age:
35 World Ranking: 34 PGA Championship starts: 7
Best PGA Championship finish: T-19, 2018
He’s long and he putts the crap out of it, a lovely one-two punch. Ranks 19th on tour in SG/off the tee and seventh in SG/putting. It’s the in-between that’s sometimes the issue. Won for the first time in 220-plus PGA Tour starts last fall at the CJ Cup and has kept the momentum into the new year, posting three straight top-10s in the Florida Swing and coming in off a solid T-13 at the Valspar. Posted back-to-back top-25s in this event before missing the cut at TPC Harding Park. Can’t shake the feeling that he fits the mold of one of those lesser-known PGA Championship winners. Worth a long, long-shot wager.

34. Matt Fitzpatrick
Age:
26 World Ranking: 17 PGA Championship starts: 5
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-41, 2019
With seven top-25 finishes in 13 starts this season, he ranked an impressive 10th in SG/overall before a listless MC at the Byron Nelson. But that stat doesn’t include the two Masters, where he finished T-46 and T-34. That’s been something of a theme in his career: Great play in the non-majors, not-so-great play in the majors. He missed the cut in two of the three last year and has just one top-10 in 23 career major starts. That record is even worse in the PGA Championships, where he’s missed three of five cuts and his best finish is a T-41. So, what gives? PGA of America setups are typically long and juicy, and he’s a lower-ball hitter who relies on accuracy and his all-world putting. There is some reason for optimism this time around, as Kiawah will play quite differently from a Bethpage or a Bellerive. He’ll want the conditions to be as difficult as possible—the harder birdies are to come by, the better.

33. Sungjae Im
Age: 23 World Ranking: 21 PGA Championship starts: 3
Best PGA Championship finish: T-42, 2018
It does feel like he’s faded from the spotlight a bit—perhaps because, now 23, he’s basically a grizzled veteran. Continues to play at a seemingly unsustainable rate, but he’s missed just two cuts in 14 starts this year, so who are we to judge? The languid-tempo swing jumps off the page, but he’s actually been struggling this year with his approach play, just as his putting has emerged as a strength. The optimist says it’s only a matter of time until the irons improve and then he’ll really be cooking with gas. Remains locked on that one PGA Tour victory, last year’s Honda Classic, which he won with some seriously bold play. That being said, he sometimes borders on too aggressive, which may explain why he’s missed the cut in five of eight major starts.

32. Tyrrell Hatton
Age:
29 World Ranking: 9 PGA Championship starts: 6
Best PGA Championship finish: T-10, 2016
The fiery Brit came out the post-COVID gates red-hot and got as high as World No. 5 with his win in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, but he’s been pretty quiet since. Finally made the cut in the Masters after missing the weekend in all three majors last year, but he doesn’t have a top-10 in any of his last eight starts on the PGA Tour. The stats still look pretty good—21st in SG/off the tee, ninth in SG/approach, 23rd in SG/overall. He’s won four Rolex Series events in Europe and won the Arnold Palmer Invitational pre-COVID, so he can get the job done when he’s in the mix. The next step is to get into the mix at a major, which he has not yet been able to do.

31. Lee Westwood
Age:
48 World Ranking: 23 PGA Championship starts: 21
Best PGA Championship finish: T-3, 2009
Should run for governor after the Florida Swing he had, earning back-to-back 54-hole leads at Bay Hill and the Players. He finished solo second in both to jump back inside the top 20 in the world just ahead of his 48th birthday. Clearly taking the game and himself less seriously these days, and he has his caddie/girlfriend Helen Storey have found a system that works perfectly for them. Unfortunately, he’s cooled down since TPC Sawgrass, with two MCs and a 63rd in his three stroke-play starts before reaching the weekend at the Byron Nelson. Missed the cut at Kiawah in 2012.

30. Adam Scott
Age:
40 World Ranking: 36 PGA Championship starts: 20
Best PGA Championship finish:
3, 2018
Returned from Australia for his first post-COVID event at last year’s PGA and finished T-22. That was a sign of things to come—he’s made every cut since but has not finished better than T-10, which has to be frustrating. Ball-striking has actually held him back more than his putting, which is proof you can’t judge a book by its beautiful cover. Finished tied for 11th when the PGA was at Kiawah in 2012, was third in 2018 and T-8 in 2019. It’ll be a demanding test that identifies the proper ball-strikers, and historically he’s risen to the top on such weeks. Can he finally break free from the magnet keeping him in the T-10 to T-40 range?

29. Paul Casey
Age:
43 World Ranking: 20 PGA Championship starts: 18
Best PGA Championship finish: T-2, 2020
He’s well into his 40s, but that’s hardly a death sentence in professional golf these days—just ask Lee Westwood or Stewart Cink. Casey’s T-2 at last year’s PGA was his best career finish in a major, and he remains a very consistent presence on big-time leader boards. He’s finished T-28 or better in nine of his last 10 worldwide starts, including a win to begin the year in Dubai, a T-5 at Pebble Beach and a T-5 at the Players. He missed the cut at Kiawah in the 2012 PGA, which happened to fall during the worst year of his career, so don’t read too much into that. Has made the weekend in seven straight major starts. His odds will have cooled off a bit given he’s been somewhat meh since the Players—T-28/T-26/MC/T-21—but he’s one of the best iron players in the world, which never hurts on demanding layouts.

28. Patrick Cantlay
Age:
29 World Ranking: 13 PGA Championship starts: 4
Best PGA Championship finish: T-3, 2019
Rewind two months, to just ahead of the Players. Cantlay was coming off six straight finishes of T-17 or better, including a win, a runner-up and a T-3. He’d made 10 straight cuts. He entered that week as one of the favorites; a certain golf journalist with the initials DR ranked him No. 2 in his top 100. So, of course, he missed the cut by five. In his next stroke-play tournament, at the Masters, he again missed the cut by five. The next week, he missed the cut at the RBC Heritage. His most recent start resulted in a particularly aggressive trunk slam, when he bogeyed his last two holes to miss the weekend at the Wells Fargo by one. So that’s four stroke-play MC Hammers in a row, the first time he’s gone through such a stretch in his career. There’s no one part of his game that sticks out as the sole cause, but he’s battled inconsistent iron play since last August and has lost ground with his approaches in seven of his last 14 measured starts. Buyer beware.

27. Stewart Cink
Age: 47 World Ranking: 42 PGA Championship starts: 19
Best PGA Championship finish: T-3, 1999
His resurgence has been one of the best, and most unexpected, stories in golf this season. He and Bryson DeChambeau are the only players with multiple wins on the PGA Tour this season—the first came at the Safeway Open, where he returned to the winner’s circle for the first time since breaking Tom Watson’s (and everyone else’s) heart at the 2009 Open Championship. That was in the fall, against a weak field. But then he won in the spring, against a strong field, at the RBC Heritage. And he did it in dominant fashion, opening with a pair of 63s and cruising to a four-shot victory. That came right after a T-12 at the Masters, and perhaps you’re sensing a theme here: He continues to surpass any reasonable expectation. Missed the cut in the 2012 PGA at Kiawah, when his son, Reagan, was 14. Now 23, he’s on the bag full-time for his dad.

26. Corey Conners
Age:
29 World Ranking: 37 PGA Championship starts: 2
Best PGA Championship finish: T-64, 2019
The Canadian has been playing at a top-20 level for the better part of a year now, with seven top-10s since October, and he’s fourth in SG/overall over his last 50 rounds on the PGA Tour. Has maybe the best rhythm in world golf and he’s one of the best ball-strikers, too—coming into the AT&T Byron Nelson, he was the only guy ranked inside the top 12 in SG/off the tee and SG/approach. His major record is a bit funky, with five missed cuts in nine starts but back-to-back top-10s in at the Masters. He will go as far as his putter will take him on Sundays; he’s had a few chances this year and the flatstick has gone ice cold in those moments.

25. Brian Harman
Age:
34 World Ranking: 48 PGA Championship starts: 6
Best PGA Championship finish: T-13, 2017
Former Georgia Bulldog has been an ATM recently—the lefty has cashed a paycheck after 22 of his last 23 starts, and he’s finished T-18 or better in five straight outings. That includes a T-3 at the Players and a T-12 at the Masters, so we’re not talking about cupcake fields, either. Never going to overpower a course, but he never beats himself and has one of the better short games on tour. A gritty competitor, he’s not the type to shy away from a huge moment. A deep sleeper indeed.

24. Keegan Bradley
Age:
34 World Ranking: 69 PGA Championship starts: 10
Best PGA Championship finish:
Win, 2011
One of six players ever to have won in their major debut; the Vermont native did it in this event 10 years ago at Atlanta Athletic Club, where he erased a five-shot deficit with three holes to play to clip Jason Dufner. Clearly, something about PGA of America setups suit his eye—he finished third in the ’12 PGA at Kiawah and has made the cut in eight of his 10 PGA starts. Has missed the cut in each of his last four majors, but he’s quietly playing some really solid golf, with six straight top-30 finishes and a solo second earlier this month at the Valspar. All that good play has come despite roughly tour-average putting, which speaks volumes to the quality of his ball-striking of late.

23. Louis Oosthuizen
Age:
38 World Ranking: 32 PGA Championship starts: 11
Best PGA Championship finish: T-2, 2017
Quick trivia: Who leads the tour in SG/putting this year? Did you guess Louis Oosthuizen, for whatever reason? Bingo. He’s not been historically known as an all-world putter; his picture-perfect swing is what we think of. But he’s actually struggled a bit with his ball-striking. Still stuck on one PGA Tour victory in 197 starts, the 2010 Open at St. Andrews. Nearly added a second at the Zurich Classic before he rinsed his tee shot in the playoff to doom his and partner Charl Schwartzel’s chances. Finished T-8 in his lone individual start since the Masters. If he keeps rolling it like he has, and starts to swing it like Louis Oosthiuzen, he’s a dark horse.

22. Charley Hoffman
Age:
44 World Ranking: 71 PGA Championship starts: 11
Best PGA Championship finish: T-40, 2015
Another 40-something who’s proving he’s anything but finished. His last eight starts have produced six finishes of T-18 or better, including a solo second to Jordan Spieth at the Valero Texas Open. In related news, he ranks ninth on tour over his last 50 rounds in SG/overall. That strong run has him back in a major championship after missing the last four. And while it may feel like he’s been the first-round leader a million times, he has just two top-10s in 33 career major starts and has made the cut just three times in 11 PGA appearances.

21. Daniel Berger
Age:
28 World Ranking: 16 PGA Championship starts: 6
Best PGA Championship finish: T-12, 2018
Golf’s forgotten man—he doesn’t say much and never seems to get the attention of the players around him in the World Ranking—continues to fly under the radar despite a high-profile win on Valentine’s Day, when he fended off Jordan Spieth at Pebble Beach. Disappointed at Augusta, where he missed the cut by a shot, but bounced back with a solid T-13 at the RBC Heritage. Has just two top-10s in 19 career major starts but did finish T-13 last year at TPC Harding Park. You won’t find his swing or his putting stroke in any instruction manual, yet he’s a grinder, and here’s an encouraging stat per Fantasy National: he picks up more than 1.6 strokes per round on days categorized as “Windy AF,” and we trust you can determine what the AF stands for. The gnarlier the conditions, the better his chances.

20. Hideki Matsuyama
Age:
29 World Ranking: 15 PGA Championship starts: 8
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-4, 2016
This last month has been a whirlwind and a half. Played one of the better rounds in major-championship history on Saturday at the Masters, where his 65 gave him the cushion he needed to become the first Japanese man to win a major. Then went home to Japan where he was forced to quarantine in a hotel room for 14 days, then received his country’s highest civilian honor, then flew back for the Byron Nelson and made the cut on the number. He’s not comfortable in the spotlight so he’ll be delighted to get back to golf, and he’s feasted on PGA of America setups before: in his eight career PGA starts, he has never missed a cut and has two top-fives and five top-25s. As is always the case, it’ll depend on his putter—he rolled it beautifully at Augusta, and he left with the green jacket.

19. Tony Finau
Age:
31 World Ranking: 14 PGA Championship starts: 6
Best PGA Championship finish: T-4, 2020
He posted three consecutive runners-up at one point this year, seemingly leaning into the why-can’t-he-close-the-deal narrative. Tough crowd! No one has been a more constant presence on major leader boards of recent vintage, as he has eight top-10s in his last 12 major starts, including a T-10 at Augusta last month. And yet, he’s missed three of his last five cuts overall—which, for a player of his caliber and consistency, qualifies as something of a funk. That barren stretch has taken some of the shine off, but Kiawah seems a great fit for his game: long, punishing and windy. We’re banking on the recent play in the majors being a better indicator than the recent play in the non-majors.

18. Webb Simpson
Age:
35 World Ranking: 10 PGA Championship starts: 10
Best PGA Championship finish: T-13, 2016
Having another Webb-type year, racking up the top-10s while staying under the oddsmakers’ radars. Somewhat concerningly, he pulled out of his hometown Wells Fargo event—he lives off the seventh tee at Quail Hollow—with a previously undisclosed neck strain. He’s never a bad pick but this doesn’t feel like an ideal fit course-wise, and he has yet to finish top-10 in any of his 10 PGA starts. Missed the cut at Kiawah in 2012 after winning U.S. Open two months earlier.

17. Marc Leishman
Age: 37 World Ranking: 38 PGA Championship starts: 10
Best PGA Championship finish: T-12, 2013
Came out of the COVID break sleepwalking but has kicked it back into gear, first with a T-5 at Augusta and then winning the Zurich Classic alongside fellow Aussie Cameron Smith. Opened with six-under 66 at the Byron Nelson, so he’s clearly feeling good about the state of his game. His season-long stats are weighed down by his slow start but that was then, and this is now. Has missed the cut in each of his last two PGA Championship starts but did finish T-27 in Kiawah at 2012. Hard to believe he’s creeping up toward 40.

16. Joaquin Niemann
Age:
22 World Ranking: 29 PGA Championship starts: 3
Best PGA Championship finish: T-71, 2018
He’s been around for a handful of years, so it’s easy to forget he’s still just 22—younger than Hovland, Morikawa, Zalatoris, Im … we could go on. Made a statement to begin the year in Hawaii with back-to-back runners-up, which certainly heightened expectations coming into 2021. He hasn’t missed a cut since—in fact, his 18 consecutive made cuts are the longest on tour—but he hasn’t really contended for a title, either, which is semi-disappointing. It may sound harsh, but he’s that good, and we’ve known he’s that good since he became the World No. 1 amateur as an 18-year-old from Chile. His chipping needs work but that’s about it, and it’s now time for him to show what he’s capable of in a major.

15. Cameron Smith
Age:
27 World Ranking: 25 PGA Championship starts: 5
Best PGA Championship finish: T-25, 2015
His mullet is flowing and he’s flying high at No. 5 in the FedEx Cup, buoyed by a runner-up at the November Masters and a win with Marc Leishman at the Zurich Classic. If team events aren’t your thing, he’s been T-17 or better in each of his last five individual stroke-play starts. Long had one of the best short games on tour but he’s now pairing it with elite iron play, and that’s how he’s made this leap. Firm and fiery courses bring out the best in him, which helps explain his three top-10s in his four starts at Augusta, but he hasn’t fared quite so well on the kind of juicy layouts you tend to find at PGA Championships—his last four finishes in them: MC/T-56/T-64/T-63. He’s a better player now, though.

14. Will Zalatoris
Age:
24 World Ranking: 30 PGA Championship starts: First
Was a stranger to all except the most aggressive golf fan only a year ago; that changes when you fall one shot short in your bid to win the Masters in your first try. He’s got a little Hollywood in him, in the best way—loves the big moment and leans into his “new-kid, why-not” attitude. Already an elite iron player, his putting stance makes you do a double take, but he’s clearly having no problem making birdies. Hit a semi-wall after Augusta with a T-42 at Hilton Head, a MC at Wells Fargo and a so-so showing at the Nelson, but that’s to be expected when you’re playing as much as he has been.

13. Scottie Scheffler
Age:
24 World Ranking: 22 PGA Championship starts: 1
Best PGA Championship finish: T-4, 2020
Was a factor all week at TPC Harding Park last year en route to a T-4 in his PGA Championship debut. The Texas grad is the quintessentially modern player: big, long and makes a ton of birdies, although he misses more short putts than you’d like. Still waiting on win No. 1, which isn’t really fair to say as he’s still just 24 but his fellow 20-somethings have moved the goalposts. Never quite got anything going at Augusta but still finished T-18, and he’s one of those guys who can hang around without his best. Figures to be part of the Ryder Cup conversation and can make quite a statement this week.

12. Patrick Reed
Age:
30 World Ranking: 8 PGA Championship starts: 7
Best PGA Championship finish: T-2, 2017
In a distance-distance-distance zeitgeist, he’s made a coaching change—he’s now with David Leadbetter—and has actually gotten shorter. It’s a bit jarring to see him at 175th in driving distance but the results speak for themselves; he has nine top-25s in 13 starts this year, including a remarkable short-game display in winning at Torrey Pines. He’s second on tour in SG/putting and seems to always hang around at the majors, having finished T-13 or better in each of the last five. Moreover, Reed is never short on self-belief and he’ll love his chances coming into a brutally difficult golf course that will test weaker players’ mettle. We love his chances, too.

11. Collin Morikawa
Age:
24 World Ranking: 6 PGA Championship starts: 1
Best PGA Championship finish:
Win, 2020
Became a household name at last year’s PGA, where his 64-65 weekend—lowest in history by a major winner—saw him summit a comically stacked leader board. He’s added another win since, at the WGC-Workday, and he’s shown absolutely no issue closing the deal when he gets a look. Switched to the “saw” putting grip in February and has had some good putting weeks but some really, really terrible ones, too. He’s such a great ball-striker (first in SG/approach, second in SG/tee to green) that he only needs to putt decently to contend. Took T-18 at the Masters but has only played the Zurich Classic since, where he teamed with an out-of-form Matthew Wolff and missed the cut. Our only note of caution is that Kiawah would seem to play more into a bomber’s hands.

10. Sam Burns
Age:
24 World Ranking: 44 PGA Championship starts: 1
Best PGA Championship finish: T-29, 2019
Won the Nicklaus Award as college golf’s top player during his sophomore year at LSU in 2017, so it’s no surprise the laconic Louisianan has announced himself as yet another 25-or-younger stud—there are 10 such players inside the top 50 of the World Ranking. Broke through at the Valspar, where he ticked off win No. 1 after a season of near-misses, and led after 54 holes at the Byron Nelson. He’s led or co-led at the end of 11 rounds this season, which is five more than any other golfer. Showed what his top-level gear looks like at the Genesis where he led by five after 36 holes against a field featuring nearly all the top stars. Ranks inside the top 25 in SG/approach and SG/putting, which explain how he’s seventh in birdie average. The only guys ahead of him: JT, Hovland, Morikawa, Schauffele, Berger and McIlroy. Getting that first win out of the way often takes a weight of guys’ shoulders, and he’s perfectly capable of playing himself into Ryder Cup contention this summer.

9. Jon Rahm
Age:
26 World Ranking: 3 PGA Championship starts: 4
Best PGA Championship finish: T-4, 2018
All credit to Golf Channel’s Will Gray, who first pointed out the truest thing ever: Rahm specializes in major finishes that look way better on Wikipedia three years later. The Spaniard had another one of those at the Masters, where he shot 66 on Sunday for an extremely back door top-10. He has six top-10s in his 18 career major starts, which seems perfectly good on the surface but he hasn’t really challenged for one. Broke his streak of 23 consecutive made cuts at the Wells Fargo after he failed to get up-and-down even once out of eight tries on Thursday. Just one of those weeks. Has not seen a ball-striking dip since switching to Callaway but he’s struggling a bit on the greens, having dropped shots to the field putting in four of his last five starts coming into the Nelson. It is only a matter of time until he breaks through at a major, and there’s no reason it cannot happen this week.

8. Abraham Ancer
Age:
30 World Ranking: 19 PGA Championship starts: 2
Best PGA Championship finish: T-16, 2019
As he detailed in a recent piece for Golf Digest, his journey from a small town in Mexico to the PGA Tour, without ever having a swing coach, is Hollywood-type stuff. Still chasing win No. 1, but he comes in playing as consistently well as anyone. Has finished T-26 or better in each of his last seven starts, including top-fives his last two times out, in distinctly different fashions: a T-5 at Valspar, where he picked up more than nine shots putting, and a solo second at Wells Fargo, where he picked up 12 shots tee-to-green. He doesn’t hit it miles but he hits it extremely straight; he’s second on tour in driving accuracy and ranks 28th in SG/off the tee, a hugely impressive feat for someone of his modest length. He’s the type of player to keep pushing up the board when he’s in contention, rather than sliding down it. Would be far from a shock if his first win came at a major. He’s ready.

7. Dustin Johnson
Age:
36 World Ranking: 1 PGA Championship starts: 11
Best PGA Championship finish
: 2, 2019
He’s the No. 1 player in the world and he finished runner-up in this event the last two years. That said, there’s a fair level of uncertainty going into this event with DJ. First, his play: After a nine-event stretch that saw him win three times, come in second twice and not finish worse than T-11, he has now gone six starts without a top 10—including a bitterly disappointing MC in his title defense at the Masters. Then he withdrew from the AT&T Byron Nelson with “knee discomfort,” perhaps identifying the cause of the semi-slump, but he sure looked fine doing backflips off his boat in Paulina Gretzky’s Instagram story not too long ago. He’s proven he can snap back into best-in-the-world form with little warning, so it’d be no surprise to see him open with 67 and factor all week. But you get the sense something is a little off right now. Finished T-48 at Kiawah in 2012.

6. Justin Thomas
Age:
28 World Ranking: 2 PGA Championship starts: 5
Best PGA Championship finish:
Win, 2017
He turned 28 a few weeks ago, which serves as the unofficial bridge from Young Gun to In His Prime. Is it fair, then, to start getting at least a little restless for him to add to that major haul? Continues to pick off “regular” PGA Tour events at a remarkable pace, and his torrid weekend at the Players—which, admittedly, is more than a “regular” event—was a reminder of his capabilities and a much-needed boost to wash away his difficult beginning to the year with off-course issues. Lurked around for two-plus days at the Masters before a complete face plant after Saturday’s rain delay. He’s now gone four straight starts without a top-10, due mostly to some putting struggles that he’s been hard-at-work to solve. Still hitting his irons beautifully; he ranks second on tour this season in SG/approach and has picked up at least four shots with his approach play in his last four measured starts. Only a matter of time until his putter joins the party.

5. Rory McIlroy
Age:
32 World Ranking: 7 PGA Championship starts: 12
Best PGA Championship finish:
Win, 2012, 2014
Just when he had tumbled to his lowest World Ranking in 12 years, when we believed he was months away, deep in the throes of swing changes, he wins. McIlroy looked the Rory of old at Wells Fargo—beating drives, bouncing around the golf course and, most encouragingly, picking up nearly seven strokes with his putting. Now working with swing whisperer Pete Cowen, the former push-draw king has committed to playing a cut off the tee. It’s what he’s most comfortable with, and it held up down the stretch at Quail Hollow. Oh, and he won by eight the last time a major was held at Kiawah, although the course should play much firmer in May than it did in August. Still, it’s easy to understand why the oddsmakers have made him the favorite, and throughout his career he’s shown a propensity for winning in bunches. At the risk of sounding like a buzzkill, though, he’s always played well at Quail Hollow and we’d like to see more sustained excellence before we deem him The Guy this week.

4. Xander Schauffele
Age:
27 World Ranking: 5 PGA Championship starts: 4
Best PGA Championship finish: T-10, 2020
Apart from maybe Koepka, no one’s been a better top-10 bet at the majors in the last four years. The lowkey SoCal kid has eight top-10s and seven finishes of T-6 or better in his 15 major starts, including a T-3 at the Masters. You’ll recall he was the only one who made it really interesting on Sunday at Augusta, closing Matsuyama’s lead to one until taking a triple-bogey 6 at 16. That’s been a frustrating trend; he’s given himself look after look after look but struggled to slam the door, and is thus still chasing his first victory since January 2019. He does have three runners-up this season, though, and ranks 44th or better in every strokes-gained statistic and second in SG/overall. He’s antsier than anyone to get back into the winner’s circle.

3. Viktor Hovland
Age:
23 World Ranking: 11 PGA Championship starts: 1
Best PGA Championship finish: T-33, 2020
If you said he’s the best player in the world at the minute, we’d look at you funny—but not that funny. This season, the Norwegian has already banked a win, two seconds and is coming off back-to-back T-3s at the Valspar and the Wells Fargo. He’s always had the ball-striking prowess but it’s his short game that has improved and allowed him to develop that week-in, week-out consistency, and he’s missed just one cut in 16 starts this year. That came at the Players, where he put up a stinker, and he’ll be disappointed with a T-21 at the Masters as well. He’s at that level now where any week he doesn’t contend feels like a semi-letdown. There’s nothing fluky about his game, which explains why he’s finished T-33 or better in all five of his major appearances with two of those came as an amateur. Absolutely one of the favorites—he just needs the putter to cooperate down the stretch.

2. Bryson DeChambeau
Age:
27 World Ranking: 4 PGA Championship starts: 4
Best PGA Championship finish:
T-4, 2020
It was at this tournament last year we learned his bomb-and-bomb-some-more style would, indeed, work in the majors. His T-4 at Harding Park gave him validation to dive even deeper into the distance rabbit hole, and a month later he delivered a seminal performance at Winged Foot. The more recent form is encouraging, too; if you take out Augusta, where uneven lies continue to torment him, his last three stroke-play finishes coming into the Nelson were WIN/T-3/T-9. In addition to being the best driver of the ball in the world—he leads the tour in driving distance and SG/off the tee—he’s putting it beautifully, and he said at the Wells Fargo that it’s the way he’s rolling his rock that has him most excited about his chances at Kiawah. The one concern is historically he’s not been a very good wind player. Turns out, when your ball is in the air for seven-plus seconds, the elements have time to assert their will.

1. Jordan Spieth
Age:
27 World Ranking: 28 PGA Championship starts: 8
Best PGA Championship finish:
2, 2015
His four-week break post-Masters made little sense given how well he was finally playing. Now, we know: he contracted COVID, which kept him out of the Valspar. He’s recovered fully and put to bed any doubts with a nine-under 63 in his first round since, at the AT&T Byron Nelson—a great round, for sure, but not that surprising anymore given his last three months. Hard to believe there were real-life people who thought Spieth was “done” just a few moons ago; he’s since won for the first time in nearly four years (Valero), finished T-3 at the Masters, posted six top-10s in his last eight starts and is back to being a top-three iron player on the PGA Tour. You could make an argument he’s been the best player in the world this calendar year, and all of a sudden, the talk of him completing the career Grand Slam this week is alive and well. As he put it, he’s “on the right side of momentum.” He’s hitting those crazy recovery shots, 50-footers are starting to find the bottom—he has his mojo back, which is bad news for his competitors … but great news for the sport.

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