One of the great aspects of major championships is how different each one of them plays. The Masters is not like the U.S. Open, which is not like the British Open, which is not like the PGA Championship. Because of this fact, you get different types of winners at each major, although if the past six years have taught us anything, we're likely going to get another star or superstar champ this week at Quail Hollow.
The intriguing thing about this particular course is that, unlike most majors other than the Masters, we have a lot of recent data on it because it hosts a regular PGA Tour event. I went back and looked at the past five Wells Fargo Championships to see who has performed well (Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose stood out). , but it is more or less fundamentally and architecturally the same spot.
I also looked at who has crushed at PGA Championships in general to put this list together. From that I got the 20 golfers most likely to win the 99th PGA Championship.
1. Rory McIlroy (Best PGA finish: Won in 2012, '14): McIlroy was always going to be the favorite for this event because of his track record here and because he cruises at PGA Championships. His scoring average over the past five years at this course is 69.3, and he's one of only two golfers under 70 (minimum six rounds). It's a massive upset if he's not in contention on the weekend.
Another interesting note: McIlroy would rank No. 3 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained if he had played enough rounds to qualify. The two ahead of him are Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler. The two behind him are Jon Rahm and Jordan Spieth. Oh, and he would rank No. 1 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained off the tee by a preposterous margin if he had enough rounds to qualify.
2. Jordan Spieth (2nd in 2015): I don't feel great about Spieth this week, but he remains No. 1 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained on approach shots, and his past three finishes have been first, first and T13 so I sort of have to put him here. He finished T32 in his only appearance here in 2013.
3. Rickie Fowler (T3 in 2014): Fowler is one of just 12 golfers to have a scoring average of 71 or better at this course in the past five years (minimum six rounds played). He has four top 10s in his past six events and led the U.S. Open for most of the first few rounds. There's history here, too. He beat McIlroy in a playoff at Quail Hollow in 2012.
4. Dustin Johnson (T5 in 2010): This is not a course Johnson normally plays, but he's coming off three great rounds at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and always has to be considered one of the favorites. He, like McIlroy and a few big boppers, will be helped by all the rain this week.
5. Brooks Koepka (T4 in 2016): Koepka has not finished outside the top 25 in a major since the 2015 Masters when he finished T33. He has finished T4 and T5 in the past two PGA Championships. I have no idea why he's not getting more buzz.
6. Jon Rahm (N/A): This will be Rahm's first PGA Championship, but he's driving the ball so well right now that I'm not sure it matters. He's my pick to win this week even though he doesn't have a top 10 at a major yet. I'm not scared, and you shouldn't be either.
7. Phil Mickelson (Won in 2005): Mikelson has destroyed this course in recent years. He ranks No. 3 behind McIlroy and Justin Rose in scoring average in the past five years at Quail Hollow. I'm concerned that he's going to fade down the stretch of both this event and the season as a whole. Mickelson has played a lot of golf this year, and his recent results (cut at the British Open and T39 at Bridgestone) haven't been super encouraging.
8. Hideki Matsuyama (T4 in 2016): Matsuyama's best performance at a PGA Championship, by far, was a T4 last year at Baltusrol. He's coming in riding an insane heater, though, after shooting 61 in the final round at Firestone Country Club to win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
9. Justin Rose (T3 in 2012): Rose also finished top five at Whistling Straits a few years ago and has the second-best scoring average at this course (69.75) behind McIlroy over the past five years. So why is he so low? Well, Rose hasn't finished in the top 50 (!) of a PGA Tour event since finishing runner up to Sergio Garcia at the Masters in April.
I doubt Rose will be very affected by the course changes this week, though. "Rosie's course management is about as good as I've ever witnessed," said caddie Mark Fulcher of the TaylorMade staffer. "I've always said to him that if he doesn't want to be a golfer, he would make a great caddie."
He might need to be this week to get around a wet, messy track like Quail Hollow.
10. Jason Day (Won in 2015): Day is one of only three golfers (Henrik Stenson and McIlroy) to finish in the top 10 in at least three of the past six PGA Championships (he has been beaten by one golfer at this event in the past two years). He looked good but not great last week at Firestone. He has only played this course one time in the past five years, and he shot three 70s and a 69. That won't get the job done this week.
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11. Justin Thomas (T18 in 2015): After finishing T9 at the U.S. Open, Thomas has been cut in three of his past four events. Still, it seems like if and when he wins a major, it's going to come at a PGA Championship, and it's going to come at a place like Quail Hollow.
12. Henrik Stenson (3rd in 2013): Stenson has three top 10s in his past six appearances at this event. He's another golfer who doesn't normally play Quail Hollow very well (average score of 73 in the past five years), but I trust him to turn it on for the majors.
13. Sergio Garcia (2nd in 1999): I don't know what to do with Garcia at this point. He doesn't have a top 10 at this tournament in the past six years, but he's also making it rain with house money this season. I want to live in a world where Garcia, who just got married, is wearing his green jacket on a beach on his honeymoon and drinking margaritas from the Wanamaker Trophy for his Instagram feed.
14. Adam Scott (T3 in 2006): Scott has made the cut in five of his past six PGA Championships and finished in the top 10 in two of those. He seems like he's everyone's pick to definitely finish in the top 15 but definitely not win the golf tournament.
15. Thomas Pieters (86th in 2016): Pieters is coming off a fabulous week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and will feast on this bomber's paradise. I can envision a scenario in which Pieters becomes a European Koepka and just torches these big ballparks. It's not difficult to see him winning this week.
16. Matt Kuchar (T7 in 2015): Kuchar has finished in the top 15 of every major this season, including two top-five finishes. It's tough to see him rolling with McIlroy, Day and the other big guns, but if he can hang around until Sunday, who knows what will happen. Maybe Grape Nuts out of the Wannamaker will happen.
17. Tony Finau (T10 in 2015): I'm in on Finau this week. Big track, consistent season and he has played well at this tournament in the past.
18. Bubba Watson (2nd in 2010): I'm only throwing him up here because of this track (favors big hitters) and because of his improved play of late. His year has not exactly screamed, "major No. 3 is on the way!"
Bubba Watson sits 51st in the world rankings. First time outside the top 50 since August of 2010.— Adam Sarson (@Adam_Sarson) August 8, 2017
19. Charley Hoffman (T40 in 2013): It's odd to have somebody who has missed three straight PGA Championship cuts inside the top 20, but Hoffman has finished in the top 10 in four of his past six events. I maintain that if majors were one round long, Hoffman would be a threat to Jack Nicklaus' major championship record.
20. Lee Westwood (T3 in 2009): I like Westwood a lot this week. His scoring average in his past 10 Quail Hollow rounds is 70.6, which is sixth-best in the past five years. He hasn't missed a cut since the beginning of April. Of course, he doesn't have any top 10s in that span on the PGA Tour either.