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Sorting through who can win the PGA Championship — and who can’t

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The PGA Championship tees off on Thursday at Southern Hills in Tulsa with a field that annually is one of the toughest on tour, if not the toughest. Phil Mickelson came from out of nowhere to win last year’s tournament and become the oldest major winner in history, but will not be defending his title this year as he continues to sit things out after his comments about the upcoming Saudi-funded competitor to the PGA Tour.

Here’s a look at a handful of golfers who this year could take home the massive Wanamaker Trophy.

Everything you need to know about the PGA Championship

  • In all seven men’s major championships that have been held at Southern Hills, the leader after 36 holes has won the tournament. In five of the seven, the leader after 18 holes won the tournament. Suffice to say, a hot start might be in order here.
  • The last 16 PGA Championship winners made the cut in their previous tournaments. Three of those golfers were coming off a win, seven finished in the top five and all but two finished in the top 20. So we’re looking for strong form, as we often do with majors.
  • Five of the last seven PGA Championship winners were ranked inside the world top 10.
  • The PGA also has been a frequent place for players to pick up their first major victory, with eight of the last 13 winners hoisting a grand slam trophy for the first time in their careers.

Southern Hills recently was renovated, with noted course surgeon Gil Hanse’s crew bringing back some of its historic qualities while modernizing things to give today’s modern golfers a sterner challenge. The greens are small and crowned, and a lot of approach shots will be rolling off. The fairways are wide and undulating, elevation changes are everywhere, the rough is present but not penal and there’s water on 15 holes. That sounds a lot like Augusta National, and approach and around the green will be paramount.

Odds taken Monday from DraftKings Sportsbook.

Scottie Scheffler (+1200 to win)

Scheffler has played only twice since his Masters triumph, tying for 15th at last week’s Byron Nelson and tying for 18th at the Zurich Classic, which is a team event. But Scheffler’s win at Augusta was his fourth in six tournaments, and right now he’s hard to fade until a falloff presents itself. Scheffler gains on approach and around the green at nearly every tournament, which will translate well at Southern Hills.

Thomas has not lost strokes on approach at a stroke-play tournament since a missed cut in February 2021 at the Genesis. He was in contention on Sunday at the Byron Nelson before finishing in a tie for fifth, and he tied for eighth at the Masters, just his second top 10 at Augusta.

McIlroy lost strokes around the green in his last tournament, the Wells Fargo. It was the first time he’s done that since the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational last August, and he still finished fifth. If he can get right with his putter, McIlroy could be hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy for the third time.

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Spieth’s putting also hasn’t been great, but it barely mattered at his last two tournaments, a win at the RBC Heritage and a second-place finish at the Byron Nelson. Here’s how Spieth finished in the tournaments that immediately preceded his three major wins: second (2015 Masters), third (2015 U.S. Open), win (2017 British Open).

Matthew Fitzpatrick (+4500)

The Englishman has played in 28 majors in his career. He’s finished in the top 10 exactly once, at the 2016 Masters. But this year he ranks 24th in strokes gained: approach and 19th in strokes gained: around the green, and he was last seen tying for second in dire conditions on a very tough course at the Wells Fargo.

Burns has alternated rough performances (missed cuts at the Byron Nelson and the Masters) with great stuff (winning the Valspar in March, second at the Zurich team event in April). He was done in by one bad round last week, shooting a 6 under on Friday to nearly make the cut after a dismal Thursday. It’s a bounce-back week for him.

Young always seems to struggle on the greens, but like Spieth, it hasn’t mattered all that much of late. The 25-year-old’s last two results were a tie for second at the Wells Fargo and a tie for third at the RBC Heritage, and he’s gained strokes around the green in five straight stroke-play tournaments.

The 24-year-old Norwegian is back in the state where he played college golf at Oklahoma State, and he’s made the cut at eight of his nine major appearances. But Hovland ranks 210th out of 210 in strokes gained: around the green, a skill that will be needed this week.

Zalatoris will be extremely popular this week because he’s finished among the top eight in four of his eight career majors and has played very well this season, with five top 10s this calendar year. But he missed the cut at last week’s Byron Nelson thanks to the part of his game that always seems to let him down: his putter. Zalatoris lost 2.13 strokes on the greens.

There was a time where a +4500 number next to Koepka’s name would make him an automatic bet. This is not that time. Koepka has either won or finished second in six of the past 12 majors and added three other top 10s at grand slams over that span, but he also hasn’t played since missing the cut at the Masters and has missed the cut in six of his 13 tournaments this season. He still seems to be dealing with knee and hip injuries that have plagued him over the past couple seasons, and that makes him a stay away.

What about Tiger Woods (+6500)?

Simply by virtue of his name, Tiger Woods is going to be an extremely popular bet even though he’s played only once — a 47th-place finish at this year’s Masters — since suffering severe injuries in a February 2021 car crash. Yes, the videos of him playing practice rounds at Southern Hills over the past few weeks have been encouraging, and yes, he won this tournament on this course in 2007, but that was a much different Woods and that was a fairly different course. Woods was great from the fairway but bad at pretty much everything else at Augusta, particularly with his short game, which is going to be vital this week. I’m not touching him.

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