2017 PGA Championship: 10 players to watch


The PGA Championship returns to North Carolina for the third time Thursday, with Pinehurst and Tanglewood the past hosts. With strong corporate sales and a can-do benevolent leader in Johnny Harris running the show, this is expected to be the first of many PGA appearances at Quail Hollow Club. While players have track records from prior Wells Fargo Championships at Quail Hollow, the course has been re-grassed and revamped, so some local knowledge might have been lost. Still, it’s hard to look past the track records in guessing who might win the season’s final major.


(Photo by Matthew Lewis/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

Jordan Spieth

OWGR: 2

Best PGA Championship finish: 2 (2015)

Last three PGA Championships: MC, 2, T-13

This year: A strong West Coast swing (a win and four top-10s), then a mediocre midseason, were followed with a huge upswing after wins at The Travelers and British Open.

Why he could win: Spieth passed up the John Deere Classic, vacationed in Cabo and prepared for Royal Birkdale with multiple practice rounds. His energy and course insight down the stretch fueled him to a victory that may carry him to even greater accomplishments. The newly 24-year-old recharged again with a fishing trip to Montana after Birkdale.

Holding him back: He has just one appearance at Quail Hollow, a T-32 in 2013. A lack of preparation at the venue does not allow him much time to analyze his best routes to the hole.


Dustin Johnson Paulina Gretzky
(Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports)

Dustin Johnson

OWGR: 1

Best PGA Championship finish: T-5 (2010)

Last three PGA Championships: DNP, T-7, MC

This year: Incredible start with three wins, but Johnson has stalled after a slip on some stairs at the Masters and has played sparingly while enjoying another addition to his family. He posted a mediocre British Open performance but followed that up with an encouraging T-8 at the RBC Canadian.

Why he could win: If the revamped Quail Hollow favors power and heat endurance as most expect, Johnson should thrive. With his game trending and the demons from his 2010 heartbreaking loss at Whistling Straits well behind him, Johnson may finally have his body and mojo back to pre-Masters positioning.

Holding him back: Just when stars align, Johnson seems to get unlucky or struggles. Also, he does not have a great track record at Quail Hollow, with two missed cuts in three starts. Putting is always the difference for the tour’s best all-around ballstriker


Rory McIlroy
(Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy

OWGR: 4

Best PGA Championship finish: 1 (2012, 2014)

Last three PGA Championships: 1, 17, MC

This year: A strange season gets stranger, highlighted by the recent parting with nine-year sidekick J.P. Fitzgerald, who was on the bag for all of Rory’s major and Quail Hollow wins. McIlroy seems healthy after a rib injury curtailed plans for big pre-Masters push and is now married, but mid-season equipment switch led to bizarre musical-putters search in the third round at The Travelers.

Why he could win: Has a remarkable history at Quail Hollow: His finishes since 2010 in the Wells Fargo Championship: first, MC, T-2, 10th, eighth, first, T-4. And he’s coming off his best finish of the year, a T-4 at the British Open, where a horrible start marred an otherwise strong week.

Holding him back: The turbulence of 2017 needs to be in his rearview mirror, and maybe new caddie and longtime buddy Harry Diamond will bring a different focus. Ultimately the short stick is the key to everything McIlroy does, because ballstriking is rarely a problem.


Brooks Koepka
(Ian Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)

Brooks Koepka

OWGR: 11

Best PGA Championship finish: T-4 (2016)

Last three PGA Championships: T-15, T-5, T-4

This year: Had a T-11 at The Masters, a second at the Valero Texas Open and – the grand prize– a U.S. Open victory at Erin Hills. Koepka then took a month off with stops all over to celebrate his major breakthrough, then showed up at the British Open ready to contend, finishing T-6.

Why he could win: The British Open finish might be disappointing given his love of links golf and a return to the continent where the Floridian built his professional career, but Koepka’s play suggests he’s going to be a frequent major championship presence. Given his power, putting prowess and steadiness, 7,600-yard Quail Hollow should be a good fit.

Holding him back: Approach play has been statistically terrible for such an elite talent (ranked 147th in strokes gained). He has never teed up at Quail Hollow, but as his PGA Championship track record suggests, Koepka likes warm August golf.


Hideki Matsuyama 2017 Masters preview
(Getty Images)

Hideki Matsuyama

OWGR: 3

Best PGA Championship finish: T-4 (2016)

Last three PGA Championships: T-35, T-37, T-4

This year: Incredible start included wins at the HSBC Champions and Waste Management Open. Cooled off before a strong U.S. Open, where a final-round 66 moved him to second place. Took several weeks off heading in to the British Open, where he finished T-14.

Why he could win: Ultra-talented player is trending in the right direction both in the PGA Championship and appearances at Quail Hollow (T-38, T-20, T-11). Has power and ballstriking supremacy. He’s just 25 and shows no signs of having peaked, and instead just keeps grinding away and improving.

Holding him back: Putting. A mind-boggling 180th in strokes gained in Tour events, Matsuyama is particularly weak inside 4 feet and when putting for something other than birdie. Needs to fall in love with Quail Hollow’s MiniVerde Bermuda greens.


US Open-Rickie Fowler
(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Rickie Fowler

OWGR: 10

Best PGA Championship finish: T-3 (2014)

Last three PGA Championships: T-3, T-30, T-33

This year: Rarely out of the top 25 and a frequent contender, Fowler has a win at the Honda and T-3 finishes at the Shell Houston, Memorial and Quicken Loans National. Put himself in contention at the Masters and U.S. Open, but rough closing rounds were costly.

Why he could win: A T-22 at the British Open wasn’t what he hoped for, but the week was something to build on as he returns to the scene of his first Tour victory in 2014 (as well as a T-4 in the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship). Second only to Dustin Johnson in Tour tee-to-green statistical supremacy, Fowler’s strengths align nicely with this PGA.

Holding him back: The driver. Mind you, 55th in strokes gained is nothing to be alarmed about, but with every part of his game above average and Quail Hollow traditionally a tough driving exam, he’ll need the big stick to be at its best if he’s going to repeat his 2014 success here.


(Getty Images)

Sergio Garcia

OWGR: 5

Best PGA Championship finish: 2 (1999, 2008)

Last three PGA Championships: T-35, T-54, MC

This year: The Masters champion also won the Dubai Desert Classic, finished second in June’s BMW International Open and hovered in the top-20 range until a T-37 at Birkdale.

Why he could win: Married Angela Akins at the end of July and has proudly worn the green jacket all over the globe. Now that the nuptials are behind him and his shoulder is healed after an angry swipe at a Birkdale gorse bush, Garcia can focus on finishing off the year in style. Hasn’t played Quail Hollow since a T-16 in 2013, but does have a T-2 way back in 2005.

Holding him back: Not much except – what else – his putting. Statistically it’s not a strength, so finding any touch on the new Quail Hollow greens will make him dangerous.


(Photo by Warren Little/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

Justin Rose

OWGR: 13

Best PGA Championship finish: T-3 (2012)

Last three PGA Championships: T-24, T-4, T-22

This year: A near-miss at the Masters, a missed U.S. Open cut and mediocre British Open were not what the Olympic Gold medalist had in mind when building his season around the majors.

Why he could win: Great driver has the power to deal with Quail Hollow. After missed cuts in his first two starts in the Wells Fargo, Rose has played the course well when it has fit into his schedule: T-28 in 2011, fifth in 2014 and third in 2016. The Englishman has enjoyed many strong showings at Firestone, so his play there the week before the PGA should give a sense of his potential to contend.

Holding him back: Approach play this year still not up to his standards and needs to improve if he is to contend.


Justin Thomas's Scotty Cameron putter
(Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Thomas

OWGR: 14

Best PGA Championship finish: T-18th (2015)

Last two PGA Championships: T-18, T-66

This year: Three wins (CIMB Classic, SBS Tournament of Champions, Sony Open), a 59 and a record-low-to-par 63 in the U.S. Open moved him into player-of-the-year talk. But missed cuts at the Quicken Loans, Travelers and British Open have temporarily derailed his season.

Why he could win: The 24-year-old has all the tools to contend when he’s on the good side of one of his streaks. His father is a PGA of America professional, he sports a T-9 in his lone start at Quail Hollow and Thomas should be happy to be back in the warm, Bermuda grass conditions he grew up playing. Something about being in the South at a power-friendly course suggests Thomas will turn it around at Quail Hollow.

Holding him back: How he works out of the current streak. Will he try too hard or take inspiration from Jordan Spieth’s British victory, after which Thomas stayed around to join the celebration?


(Getty Images)

J.B. Holmes

OWGR: 55

Best PGA Championship finish: T-24

Last three PGA Championships: T-64, 24, MC

This year: Has been too quiet after a strong 2016 in which he finished third at the British Open. But a T-9 at the Greenbrier and 12th in the U.S. Open suggest Holmes has found reason to be encouraged. Made the cut at Birkdale and played steadily at the RBC Canadian (T-14).

Why he could win: The 2014 winner at Quail Hollow traditionally thrives at select venues, and while he hasn’t tested out the course post-renovation, his ability to handle all 7,600 yards makes Holmes an intriguing longshot. Short game is solid, and the Kentucky native should love the warm weather and Bermuda turf if he embraces a revamped course where his most emotional victory occurred.

Holding him back: Approach play (ranked 111th in strokes gained) and putting (103rd in strokes gained) have dragged down his game.

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