The 2017 PGA Championship will end the major season in golf. With the last major of the season of the season upon us, it’s time to examine the top storylines.
In how many different ways could Jordan Spieth make history with a win? What about his fellow 2017 major champions, Sergio Garcia and Brooks Koepka? Why do Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler bring good memories to Quail Hollow? What would a strong showing mean for Dustin Johnson and Jason Day? Can Matt Kuchar finally win a major? Can a strong showing at the 2017 PGA Championship mean big things for the rest of the year?
We’ll examine those questions and more as we look at the most interesting storylines set to unfold at the the 2017 PGA Championship.
1. Jordan Spieth going for the career grand slam
By winning The Open Championship, a victory at the PGA Championship is now the only thing standing between Spieth and the career grand slam. It’s a prize that only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods have claimed. Spieth also has the opportunity complete the career slam in his first opportunity after winning his third major. Of the aforementioned group, only Woods accomplished that.
Spieth’s career is still in its early stages. But by winning the career slam, he will already have to be mentioned as one of the best, most complete players ever.
2. How will Quail Hollow play?
Get used to hearing the phrase “The Green Mile” this week. That’s the common nickname of Quail Hollow’s final three holes. The Green Mile is generally considered one of the harder stretches of holes in golf. But we know that will be tough. How will the rest of the course play? Will significant renovations put the rest of the course on par with that brutal final stretch? Or, will it play similarly to how the Wells Fargo Championship tends to play out, with winning scores generally between 10 and 15 under?
3. Rory McIlroy returning to a friendly venue
One man who probably wants the venue to stay close to how it’s played in the past is McIlroy. McIlroy has won twice at Quail Hollow. That includes his first PGA Tour (and second professional) win in 2010. The other win occurred in 2015, when he fired a course record 61. McIlroy has gone on record saying that he likes the changes. He hasn’t had a great season in 2017. But he finished tied for fourth at The Open Championship and tied for fifth at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. So, his game may be rounding into form at the exact right time to record his fifth career major win.
4. Red hot Hideki Matsuyama going for first major
While we’re on the subject of red hot golfers, we can’t overlook Matsuyama. The No. 3 ranked player in the world finished the Bridgestone Invitational on fire, shooting a final round 61 to post a come from behind victory in convincing fashion. Until then, Matsuyama hadn’t won since the Waste Management Open in February. But in that winless stretch, he only missed one cut, posted six top-25 finishes, four of which were T-14’s or better, including a tie for second place at the U.S. Open. He’s consistently making himself relevant at all tournaments.
5. Rickie Fowler trying to break through at Quail Hollow again
Fowler has finished tied for 22nd or better in each of the three majors this year. He heads to Quail Hollow looking to transition from a guy who can consistently compete in majors to a guy who can win them. The good news is, this isn’t the first time Fowler has headed to this venue looking for a breakthrough. In 2012, Fowler was one of the most hyped golfers in the world but had yet to win on the PGA Tour. That changed when he defeated D.A. Points and McIlroy in a playoff at Quail Hollow that year.
6. Can Dustin Johnson regain major mojo?
Conventional logic says that when a golfer as talented as Johnson finally breaks through in a major, it eliminates the mental barrier and open the floodgates to future success. It just hasn’t happened. In the five majors immediately before winning the 2016 U.S. Open, Johnson had four finishes of tied for seventh or better. In the five since, he has tied for ninth while posting a T54, a DNP and two missed cuts. Quail Hollow will be Johnson’s last chance until April to regain the major form that he had leading up to his greatest win.
7. Jason Day attempting to salvage down season
For most golfers, Day’s 2017 season would be fine and dandy. But for a golfer of Day’s caliber, things are different. He hasn’t won since the 2016 PLAYERS Championship and hasn’t finished better than tied for 22nd in any major this year. Day finished in the top 10 in six of the eight majors contested in 2015 and 2016. The good news is that with a win at Quail Hollow, 2017 will be completely salvaged. It would also give him some momentum heading into the FedEx Cup Playoffs, the Presidents Cup, and eventually the 2018 season.
8. Can Matt Kuchar finally experience major glory of his own?
The 2017 British Open was odd. Kuchar had Jordan Spieth on the ropes and played good golf coming in. But Spieth did his best Hulk Hogan impersonation and became impervious to anything Kuchar threw at him. With Garcia winning the Masters, Kuchar is now perhaps the best golfer without a major. The 2017 PGA would be a good time for him to leave that label behind. He’s finished tied for 16th or better in all three majors in 2017, charging late to finish tied for fouth place at the Masters and solo second at the Open.
9. Top-25 players going for first major
Padraig Harrington’s 2008 win marked the fifth consecutive PGA Championship not won by a first-time major winner. That trend has reversed at all but two PGA Championships since (Rory McIlroy in 2012 and 2014) . With 15 of the top-25 ranked players in the world yet to win a major, we have a strong list in 2017. In addition to Matsuyama, Fowler and Kuchar, the list includes Jon Rahm, Alex Noren, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Rafael Cabrera Bello, Paul Casey, Daniel Berger, Charley Hoffman, Francesco Molinari, Thomas Pieters, Tyrrell Hatton and Kevin Kisner.
10. Sergio Garcia and Brooks Koepka vying to enter rare company
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the reigning Masters and U.S. Open champions (more on the reigning Open champ shortly). In total, only 19 different guys have won multiple majors in a season, and the feat has been accomplished just 32 times in total. So, while neither Garcia or Koepka had even one major win entering the season, a win at Quail Hollow would put either in a darn select group.
11. Jordan Spieth vying to enter even rarer company
Of course, Spieth could also win a second major in 2017. But unlike Garcia and Koepka, he’s already done it, winning the Masters and U.S. Open in 2015. We’ve already established that he’d be the sixth career grand slam winner, but a win at the PGA Championship would make Spieth the eighth golfer to win multiple majors in a season more than once. That’s a list that presently includes Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Tiger Woods. Spieth really is rubbing shoulders with the giants of this game.
12. Presidents Cup qualification
The PGA Championship is one of the last chances for American and International players to earn their spots in the 2017 Presidents Cup, which will potentially be one of the more important in the event’s history. Was the International team’s strong showing during 2015’s close defeat a fluke? Or, like the 1983 Ryder Cup, was it just a sneak preview of things to come? Players on both the American and International teams would certainly like their input in that. So, those guys on the fringe of the roster had better bring their A-games.
13. Can Phil Mickelson break winless drought?
On the outside looking in of those standings is Mickelson, who’s played in every Presidents Cup since the inaugural one in 1994. Lefty hasn’t won a single tournament since the 2013 Open Championship. As a point of reference, from 1993-2013, Mickelson won at least one tournament in all but two seasons. It’s been only three events, but the break from longtime caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay has not paid immediate dividends. The PGA Championship would be a great time to turn that around.
14. Last big event before FedEx Cup playoffs
In addition to being one of the final events before the Presidents Cup, the PGA Championship is the second-to-last event before the FedEx Cup begins. The guys will stay in North Carolina next week for the Wyndham Championship. After that, it’s The Northern Trust and the beginning of the playoffs. Given that major championships are weighted heavier than other tour stops, this is the last really good chance that anyone on the fringe will have to make significant progress towards postseason qualification.
15. Who, if anyone, can become a dominant major force?
Spieth’s win at Royal Birkdale snapped a streak of seven consecutive majors won by first-time winners. and it was only the second longest of the decade. Each of the nine majors from 2010 and 2012 U.S. Opens had first-time winners. The 40 majors in the 2000’s were won by 22 different people, while the 31 since 2010 have been won by 23 guys. Can anyone step up and become dominant? Spieth and McIlroy have been close. Day and Johnson certainly have the game to do it. Quail Hollow is another chance for one of the world’s best to elevate his game above the rest.