ESPN predictions on who’ll win the 2021 PGA Championship

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KIAWAH ISLAND, South Carolina — A look at the field for this week’s PGA Championship makes one thing perfectly clear: There are a lot of good options when picking who will lift the Wanamaker Trophy come Sunday night.

(And hopefully whoever it is has better luck with it than Collin Morikawa, who dropped part of the thing at last year’s trophy ceremony).

Some of our experts are convinced that Rory McIlroy‘s recent win has him ready for major No. 5. A few think Jon Rahm finally gets his first. But those weren’t the only two names thrown around.

Matt Barrie, ESPN
Winner: Jon Rahm
Why he’ll win: Since 2018, Rahm has been amazing in major championships, recording six Top 10s — meaning he’s always in contention come Sunday. Rahm is a big hitter, which is perfect for Kiawah. The fairways are generous, which means he can attack. Conditions won’t get in his head. He’s been a dad now for a month. He is settled back into his game. Rahm is primed for his first major championship. The Ocean Course will be that spot.

David Bearman, ESPN Sports Betting
Winner: Xander Schauffele
Why he’ll win: I know, we’ve been down this road before with Xander. One of these majors he is going to win, and this course sets up nicely for his ballstriking. Schauffele is second in shots gained overall and 14th tee-to-green. Just as importantly, he is eighth in putting and 19th in greens in regulation. He comes in with a T11 and T14 following his T3 at Augusta, which was his seventh top-6 finish in 15 career major appearances. He’s due.

Michael Collins, ESPN.com
Winner: Rory McIlroy
Why he’ll win: Rory has none of the baggage he carries into Augusta (he needs a win there to complete the career Grand Slam). He is coming off a very good win in Charlotte. With light wind forecast for the tournament, his driver prowess will be on full display along with a confidence in the putter he hasn’t had in a while. It won’t be easy, but McIlroy will join Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead as a three-time winner of this major championship. Hello, history!

Michael Eaves, ESPN
Winner: Rory McIlroy
Why he’ll win: His game got exactly what it needed at Quail Hollow: the reminder that when he golfs his ball, there aren’t very many people who can beat him. And now he returns to the site of one of his greatest victories, a venue that benefits the longest of players. Yeah, I’m rolling with Rory picking up major No. 5.

Chris Fallica, ESPN Stats & Information
Winner: Justin Thomas
Why he’ll win: The Carolinas have treated him well in majors — he won his lone one at Quail Hollow in North Carolina — and after a weekend collapse at Augusta, I expect his mind to be in a good spot as he attempts to win career major No. 2.

Charlotte Gibson, ESPN.com
Winner: Jordan Spieth
Why he’ll win: It feels safe to say that Spieth is “back” now. Right? Right. This season has been unpredictable, to say the least. And with first-time winners popping up left and right and major champions ending years-long droughts, I think it’s safe to just throw any name out there at this point. And why not throw out the name of a guy who is gearing up to complete the career Grand Slam at Kiawah? After his latest top-10 finish at the Byron Nelson, I think Spieth might actually do it.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com
Winner: Xander Schauffele
Why he’ll win: His 16th-hole mess at Augusta National last month notwithstanding, Schauffele has been a force in the major championships, despite not winning one. Although short on victories, Schauffele has the kind of game that is built for majors, having already posted eight top-10s, including his tie for third at the Masters. Kiawah a good place to finally break through.

Doug Kezirian, ESPN Sports Betting
Winner: Rory McIlroy
Why he’ll win: It’s never much fun taking the favorite, but it sure looks like McIlroy is the guy to beat. He finally ended the winning drought after 18 months with his victory at Quail Hollow. He also returns to Kiawah Island, where he won the 2012 PGA Championship by 8 strokes. Additionally, he conceded not having the gallery left him flat. Maybe that’s an excuse for a poor stretch, but either way, he will be a crowd favorite this week.

Peter Lawrence-Riddell, ESPN.com
Winner: Jon Rahm
Why he’ll win: Best player without a major? That’s a lot of pressure for Rahm, and how he reacts if he’s in contention on the weekend at a major is definitely a bit of an unknown. He missed the cut two weeks ago at the Wells Fargo and finished T34 at the Byron Nelson, but before that had finished in the top 10 in four straight tournaments, including a T5 at the Masters.

Anita Marks, ESPN Sports Betting
Winner: Viktor Hovland
Why he’ll win: Hovland comes into the week with five top-5 finishes this season, and two top 3s at the Wells Fargo and Valspar. He did not play in the Byron Nelson, to give himself a week to fine-tune his game for the second major this season. Several of the past PGA Championship winners came into this tournament ranked in the top 25, had won previously that season and in their 20s. Hovland checks all of those boxes. Kiawah’s fairways are Paspalum grass, and Hovland has had a lot of success on similar fairways — winning the Mayakoba Golf Classic and the Puerto Rico Open. Hovland’s important metrics to win this week — he ranks 4th in strokes gained off the tee, 6th in tee to green, and 23rd in approach.

Andy North, ESPN
Winner: Xander Schauffele
Why he’ll win: You will need a great short game, good driver and better putter. The wind will blow, so the short game is so important.

Nick Pietruszkiewicz, ESPN.com
Winner: Max Homa
Why he’ll win: OK, this seems a little out there, right? I’m done picking Rickie Fowler. Even though I think Justin Thomas is due for one, I’m not going there again, either. I was thinking about going in on Tony Finau one more time, then talked myself out of it. So why Homa? Take a look at the guy standing next to him. He’s got Jim “Bones” Mackay on the bag this week. And that guy knows his way around major championships, most notably riding shotgun all those years with Phil Mickelson. And Homa has got the game. He won earlier this year at Tiger’s tournament, the Genesis Invitational, and has seven top 25s in his past 10 tournaments. (Uh, yeah, we’re going to ignore the fact that he missed the cut in the other three).

Mark Schlabach, ESPN.com
Winner: Xander Schauffele
Why he’ll win: Schauffele has come maddeningly close to breaking through and winning a major several times over the past few years. He made the cut in each of his 15 career starts in major championships and has posted a top 10 in eight of them. He’s also sneaky long off the tee, ranking 26th in driving distance (306.3 yards), which is going to be important at the Ocean Course. Sure, the California native hasn’t won since January 2019, but few players have been as consistent during that stretch. He has 12 top-25 finishes in 14 starts this season, including solo fifth at the U.S. Open and a tie for third at the Masters in April. His majors drought finally ends at Kiawah Island.

Curtis Strange, ESPN
Winner: Justin Thomas
Why he’ll win: He has plenty of experience in tough conditions, plenty of confidence in tough conditions and plenty of shots, which will be mandatory in tough conditions.

Tom VanHaaren, ESPN.com
Winner: Daniel Berger
Why he’ll win: I want to pick Rory for all the obvious reasons. It would be great to see him win big again, but I just can’t pick him coming off of a win. It’s so hard to win back-to-back starts, so I’m going with Berger, who just finished T3 at the Byron Nelson. He has been so close in the past and it just seems like he’s going to get over the hump eventually.

Scott Van Pelt, ESPN
Winner: Patrick Reed
Why he’ll win: He has the short game and he is unflappable.

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