ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The 2023 PGA Championship has arrived, and the field is as loaded as it gets in professional golf. Except this field has a problem, and that problem is the top two golfers in the world, Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler.
Rahm and Scheffler have combined for six wins and gobbled up five of the eight toughest fields of the year, including the Players Championship and Masters. They have earned over $27 million in official money and nobody is even within $4 million of Scheffler's second-place total of $13 million. They are the only players at this year's PGA at Oak Hill with single-digit odds to win the tournament.
After those top two, the field gets much murkier -- particularly in the middle of the pack as we try to sort through past performance, current form and estimated fit for a course that hasn't been played at this level for 10 years. That's an impossible task, of course, but also a fun one.
2023 PGA Championship field, ranked
1. Jon Rahm (Best finish: T4 in 2018): Rahm narrowly gets the nod over Scheffler, mostly because I trust his putter slightly more than that of Scheffler. That's really the only difference. You can go anywhere you want with Rahm's numbers this year, of course, but I'll highlight three items. First, he's won six of his last 15 worldwide starts, which is a laugh-out-loud number. Second, he's gaining 3.1 strokes per round since Jan. 1; that's a full stroke more than all but five other players in the world. Think about that. Then there's this: The inkling of an idea that perhaps Rahm could take the grand slam into the summer and even toy with winning them all. It would require the perfect storm, of course, but he is truly the perfect storm-maker.
Players to win the first two majors in a calendar year since 1934:— Patrick McDonald (@AmateurStatus) May 15, 2023
• Craig Wood (1941)
• Ben Hogan (1951, 1953)
• Arnold Palmer (1960)
• Jack Nicklaus (1972)
• Tiger Woods (2002)
• Jordan Spieth (2015)
2. Scott Scheffler (T4 in 2020): What if I told you this guy is not the favorite this week despite (1) winning twice this season, (2) averaging 2.9 strokes gained per round in 2023, (3) not having finished outside the top 15 of a professional golf tournament since last October and (3) finishing in the top 10 in seven of his last 11 major appearances? The only reason Scheffler is not the solo favorite is a once-every-10-years-type season from Rahm thus far. Rahm or Scheffler vs. the field should be a real consideration this week, especially when one considers how much this golf course plays to their strengths (both are titanic off the tee, make great decisions and have terrific short wedge games).
Feedback received from players on Oak Hill so far:— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) May 15, 2023
“Great if you can carry it 320.”
“Reminds me of Winged Foot.”
3. Xander Schauffele (T10 in 2020): Here's a stat that surprised me: Schauffele has been the best player in this field over his last 20 rounds. Does it feel like he's been the best player in the world of late? No, but the stats tell a different story -- and so do the results. He finished T5 at Match Play, T10 at the Masters, fourth at the Heritage, T4 at the Zurich and solo second at the Wells Fargo Championship. In the short, short term, Schauffele has been better than the two guys ahead of him on this list. Of course, to make it to the top two on this list, wins are needed, and Schauffele hasn't notched any in 2023 nor any at major championships despite a sterling record at the four big ones. A great pick for your fantasy lineup this week if you're looking for consistency, but he tops the "I really, really need to see it, just once, before I start making him my pick" list. A good list to be on, to be sure, but certainly not the one he wants.
Only 1 player has finished in the top-15 in each of the last 4 men's major championships:— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) May 15, 2023
4. Jason Day (Won in 2015): Wait, Jason Day? Isn't that just recency bias?! Aren't you just being a prisoner of the moment?! No, absolutely not. Day's win at the Nelson last week has been on deck all year, and only Rahm, Scheffler and Schauffele have played at a stronger clip so far in 2023. The only thing his win over Scheffler last week did is buoy a confidence that was already brimming. Don't be surprised if Day lifts himself out of the one-major club (other members: Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia) and into another PGA Championship victory press conference on Sunday evening at Oak Hill.
5. Brooks Koepka (Won in 2018 and 2019): I'm surprised Koepka isn't getting more run going into this week. Here's the case for him winning major No. 5 at Oak Hill.
- Top five in five of eight PGAs (two wins)
- Lost to one golfer at the Masters
- Top 10 in 16 of last 30 majors
- Positive strokes gained in six straight events
- Style of course he destroys
The case against him is just as obvious -- moody and inconsistent at majors over the last year, hasn't really closed anything of massive importance since that 2019 PGA victory and in fact has kicked a handful of them away (like this year's Masters). Regardless, you have to respect the resume and the way he's playing right now, and he's earned the right to be among the top five favorites in this field.
6. Cameron Young (T3 in 2022): Young's recent major record is a joke. He finished T3 at last year's PGA, solo second at last year's Open and T7 at this year's Masters. He drives the hell out of the ball (only Rory McIlroy has been longer so far in 2023), and this is a course that should fit him perfectly. The only concern here is that Young has never won at the PGA Tour level (much less the major championship level) before. Something to quell that fear: Shaun Micheel won his first PGA Tour event at this course at this tournament exactly 20 years ago. Micheel and Young have absolutely nothing in common, of course, and that was a much different era than this one. However, the point is that it's been done before and will be again, perhaps even by Young this year in a repeat of that 2003 PGA.
7. Tony Finau (T4 in 2020): Finau's mid-career resurgence has been extraordinary and resulted in five wins in the last two years. The next logical step for somebody of his caliber is major championship contention or a victory. And while he doesn't have a top 10 in his last seven majors, this is the style of major in which he should thrive. If the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot is in fact a good comp, that's good news for Big Tone who finished T8 that week when Bryson DeChambeau won the tournament.
8. Rory McIlroy (Won in 2014): On paper, it makes so much sense. McIlroy was made for this type of test. He can cover bunkers others cannot and will not be penalized by the 750,000 (or so) trees, many of which got removed in the 2019-20 redesign. Unfortunately for him, majors aren't played on paper or he would have more than four of them by now.
There are lingering questions after an off-and-on stretch over the last two months. While he technically takes some good 2023 statistics into this event, does anyone actually believe he's playing great golf? Is this the path to No. 5 for him? Come in with little hype, no momentum and just steal one while nobody's looking? Maybe. I don't know. It's not how he's traditionally done it. And the way he's traditionally done it -- front running early and closing like a boss late -- presents its own emotional and psychological problems given how the last nine years have gone. McIlroy is resilient to be sure, and he could absolutely contend this week at Oak Hill; however, if No. 5 is truly on deck, it would be surprising because it sure doesn't feel that way at the start of the week.
9. Patrick Cantlay (T3 in 2019): Things I will never understand: How Phil Mickelson won the 2021 PGA Championship, how Adam Scott didn't win the 2012 Open Championship and how in the world Patrick Cantlay has been so lousy at majors over the course of his career. Perhaps "lousy" is a bit unfair -- it's not as if he can't make a cut -- but players of Cantlay's caliber aren't here to make cuts. He has one top 10 in his last 14 major championship appearances and no real contentions unless you count a backdoor top three at the 2019 PGA and a pseudo-lead late at the 2019 Masters that subsequently got blown out of the water. Cantlay is so cerebral and wise when it comes to all of this, but it does make you wonder if the lack of success at the four that matter ever gets into his head.
10. Justin Thomas (Won in 2017, 2022): J.T. is not a heralded reigning champion, and rightly so. He hasn't won since last year's PGA (which, let's be honest, he probably stole) and has just one top 10 since the Phoenix Open. He said on Monday that his game is coming around, though, and his evidence is a better short game week at Quail Hollow.
"I felt like I showed a lot of really good signs in Charlotte," said Thomas. "I think Saturday was a great example. It just was a round where I didn't really have very much. I felt like I left a couple shots out there putting-wise and just wasn't sharp. I was hitting a lot of very poor wedges and irons. I birdied two of the last four holes and salvaged an under par round on a tough golf course.
"Bones and I said on 18 green, 'This is the stuff that we haven't been doing this year.' I felt like that 70 that I shot that day or the rounds that I've been shooting 73 and 74, which then gave me an opportunity to play myself into contention with nine holes left, whereas I wouldn't have been that way beforehand. So I feel like it was way more so beforehand, it just wasn't scoring properly. It wasn't making that putt to keep or get some momentum or wasn't hitting wedges in there close, making those two, three, four birdies in a row. Like I said, I felt like in Charlotte I really, like, turned a little bit of a corner of seeing more of scoring better."
His iron play has been strong everywhere but Augusta National and contention this week will likely come down to whether he can hang around long enough and whether he will be able to putt it at all. If the answer to both of those questions is "yes," J.T. can absolutely win his third PGA.
11. Matt Fitzpatrick (T5 in 2022): The Fitzpatrick of three years ago would have had no chance here. The Fitzpatrick of 2023, though? That player can play any golf course in the world, even the ones built for the biggest hitters. You can see how much his distance has improved over the last six years in the table below.
12. Dustin Johnson (2nd in 2019): It's always difficult to determine what a LIV Golf victory means, but D.J. is playing good golf again after a slow start to the year (three top 10s in his last five starts, including a win). In addition to the Winged Foot comp for Oak Hill, there's been some chatter about Bethpage as a doppelgänger as well, and he finished runner-up there to Koepka back in 2019. I wouldn't be surprised to see D.J. in it late on the weekend even though he quietly hasn't factored into a major in some time.
13. Collin Morikawa (Won in 2020): What a weird year for Morikawa. He's still one of the top eight in the world in terms of strokes gained so far this year, but much of that damage was done in January when he finished second and third at the Tournament of Champions and Farmers Insurance Open, respectively. Since then, he has just two top 10s (although they were at Riviera and Augusta National) and missed the cut at his last event (Quail Hollow) where he lost strokes in every category except ball-striking. Even more strange is the fact that this is the best approach season he's ever had and also the best his strokes gained numbers have been overall. It's tough to square that with how things have felt with Morikawa, to be sure, but it seems as if there's some valuable incongruence between perception and reality with him right now (and maybe always) that will be interesting to monitor. I don't think Oak Hill is the spot for him, but I'm definitely monitoring the situation.
14. Viktor Hovland (T30 in 2021): Hovland is a menace at any venue, but this one could fit him especially well. Another scary thought: He's still 25 years old and might be just now figuring out how to play major championship golf. His two top 10 finishes at majors have come in his last two starts.
As a professional, Viktor Hovland is right at even par in the major championships.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) May 15, 2023
First 9 majors as pro: 20-over
Last 2 majors: 20-under
15. Sungjae Im (T17 in 2021): Im (insanely?) flew to South Korea last week for the Woori Financial Group Championship, which he won by a stroke over Junseok Lee. Why was this insane? Well, that flight sequence from Charlotte to South Korea to Rochester isn't exactly the stuff of major championship dreams. Still, Im has quietly been tremendous over the last few months. Only Scheffler and Schauffele have been better over their last 20 rounds, and he takes seven straight worldwide top 20s into Oak Hill.
16. Cam Smith (T13 in 2022): This is not his spot. He's a crooked, short driver who has made his hay getting up and down from all over the planet. Also, he's kind of quietly dropped back to the pack from where he was this time a year ago. Although he did have a nice showing with a T2 at LIV Tulsa last week, Smith ranks 35th in this field in strokes gained so far this year and has fallen to No. 18 in the Data Golf rankings. So, while I don't truly believe he can win this golf tournament, he's also the scariest player in the field when he's sneaking around the leaderboard with wedge shots no human should be able to hit. I have to include him if only so I don't get completely burned.
17. Max Homa (T13 in 2022): We're probably the rest of 2023 of Homa not contending in majors from Homa not contending in majors being a real issue. The "hasn't contended in a major" thing is obviously real, but there's a difference between not contending in a major when you're ranked 110 in the world than when you're ranked sixth. The bigger short-term issue for Homa is that he's slumped a bit since the Players, rebounding only recently with a T8 at Quail Hollow. This course doesn't fit him as well as some others, and I don't expect him to win, but it would be great to see him get in the mix a bit and grab his first top 10.
18. Wyndham Clark (T75 in 2021): On one hand, I understand why more people don't talk about Wyndham Clark; he has zero top-75 finishes at major championships. On the other, I don't understand it at all. Data Golf has him ranked as the No. 11 player in the world going into Oak Hill; he's gained more strokes per round over his last 50 rounds than Johnson, Thomas, Hovland, Homa, Fitzpatrick and Jordan Spieth; and he's one of the longest players in the field (only 11 players in the field have been longer in 2023). His Quail Hollow win will bump the conversation from "never talked about at all" to "gets mentioned occasionally," but his notability will likely always lag behind his ability even as he blossoms into a potential star.
19. Hideki Matsuyama (T4 in 2016): What concerns me about Matsuyama is how much speed he's lost off his fastball. Over his last 50 rounds, he's 105th in this field in terms of overall distance off the tee, which is both not good and also not the formula you need to win at Oak Hill. Perhaps some of that is due to injury, but no matter the source, it's going to be a problem if he can't reclaim some of that distance this week.
20. Jordan Spieth (2nd in 2015): Speaking of things that don't feel like they're going to happen this week. Spieth comes into the week with a bum wrist that kept him out of the Byron Nelson a week ago. And while he's actually playing good golf, he was playing equally good golf in both 2021 and 2022 and couldn't muster anything better than T30 in those weeks. I'm unconvinced -- with the pressure of the career slam combined with an injury that's clearly meaningful -- that Spieth is going to do anything of note at Oak Hill other than produce a few more memes for those of us who aggregate the content.
21. Sam Burns (T20 in 2022): Burns has to be the most overlooked solid young player in the world. He won the Match Play this year, possesses four wins in the last two years, ranks 20th over the last 12 months in strokes gained, remains only 26 years old and nobody ever talks about him whatsoever!
22. Rickie Fowler (T2 in 2014): Chuckle if you want, but Fowler is playing better golf than McIlroy, Young, Spieth, Thomas and Hatton so far in 2023. He's flushing irons once again, the putter is no longer a liability, and he finished in the top 10 at the PGA two years ago when he had absolutely nothing to his game. Is Fowler going to win the PGA this week? I doubt it, but considering where he was this time a year ago (openly pondering LIV), a leap into the winner's circle this week would be absolutely extraordinary (not to mention really cool for golf).
23. Tyrrell Hatton (T10 in 2018): After a post-Players mini-slump, Hatton is playing terrific golf once again with two top fives in his last three starts. This course doesn't fit him well, and I'm higher on him at one of the Opens, but he's at least worth a gander at 40-1.
24. Joaquin Niemann (T23 in 2022): Niemann also doesn't have a top 10 at a major championship, but he's been quietly playing well on LIV and is an elite driver of the ball. He's probably in the top 3-4 guys from LIV that I expect to perform well this week at Oak Hill.
25. Bryson DeChambeau (T4 in 2020): What to make of Le Artiste? On one hand, he's talking about inflammation and living to 100 again. On the other hand, his golf has been better of late (three straight tournaments with positive strokes gained) and, well, yeah, Winged Foot.
Listen, Bryson is probably not going to win Oak Hill. His major record is surprisingly bad for somebody who gets the headlines he gets. However, he might win Oak Hill because what he's made of is different than the composition of guys like Alex Smalley and Ben Taylor and Seamus Power. It reminds me of this Ben Coley tweet from the 2021 Ryder Cup, which I think about all the time.
Last time for clarity: Rory was awful! I know! He doesn’t *deserve* anything. But his best golf — forget 2014, his best golf this year — is superior to all bar Rahm. We need his best golf. The best golf of Fitz and Westy might not get anything. Rory’s best golf *probably* does.— Ben Coley (@BenColeyGolf) September 25, 2021
In other words: Thriston Lawrence is definitely, absolutely, for sure not winning this year's PGA Championship. Bryson DeChambeau probably isn't, either. But the point is that, with a little luck, the right draw, some momentum in the right direction and a nice first two rounds ... he could.