The 2019 PGA Championship has arrived. It’s taking place during a different time of the year than we’re used to, but at a familiar course.
The weather will tell us an awful lot about how Bethpage Black will play. But there are questions beyond the weather that must be answered, as well. Is Jordan Spieth ready to break out of his funk and join golf’s most elite club? Will Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm, and Tony Finau or one of the many stars looking to win their first major finally prevail? Is defending champ Brooks Koepka ready to do something that, to date, has only been accomplished by Tiger Woods? And we know that one man will be very excited if Tiger wins. But how much will golf fans everywhere be buzzing?
With the 2019 PGA Championship here, these are the burning questions that we all must ask in regards to the season’s second major.
Can Jordan Spieth complete the Career Grand Slam?
If Spieth wins the PGA, he’ll be only the sixth man to win the Grand Slam. Unfortunately, Spieth’s ranking has plummeted over the last two years. Fortunately, Spieth has decent history at Bethpage Black. He finished T10 at The Barclays in 2016. So, there’s something positive to draw from. If Speith can draw from that history and win — joining a group that presently includes only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger — it would be a heck of a way for him to announce that he’s ready to be one of the best in the world again.
What does Mother Nature have in store at Bethpage?
There have been two majors held at Bethpage Black. The weather has been a big storyline during both. At the 2002 U.S. Open, Sergio Garcia famously complained that play should have been stopped and added that it would have been if Tiger had been on the course. In 2009, the first round was halted, but some players were already well into their rounds while others hadn’t even started. That effectively squashed the chances of anyone who had already started — including Tiger. While there’s some rain in the forecast, the outlook this week is generally okay. But if that changes, watch out.
Is Rickie Fowler ready to be a major champion?
While not quite as old as Phil Mickelson or Sergio Garcia at the time of their first major wins, Fowler has followed a similar path. He’s had three second-place finishes and seven more top-10s. In other words, Fowler has done everything at a major — except win. Bethpage has been good to him in the past. Fowler did miss the cut at the 2009 U.S. Open. But he had a top-25 finish at The Barclays in 2012 and a top-10 at the same tournament in 2016. The 2019 PGA Championship represents a great chance for Fowler to finally become a major champion.
Can Rory McIlroy make PGA Championship history?
McIlroy is entering the 2019 PGA Championship in solid form. He won THE PLAYERS Championship and the Masters marked Rory’s only non top-10 finish in 2019. Unfortunately, the T21 at Augusta did keep McIlroy from having a realistic chance to complete the Career Grand Slam. But if Rory wins the 2019 PGA Championship, he’ll join another exclusive group. Walter Hagen, Sam Snead, Sarazen, Nicklaus, and Woods are the only players to win the PGA more than twice. Of that group, only Nicklaus and Woods did so in the stroke play era. We’d call that pretty elite company to keep.
Is Tony Finau ready for his major breakthrough?
Finau finished in 12th place at The Barclays in 2016. So, he knows how to get around Bethpage Black. And while he’s yet to win one, Finau has a solid major track record. He’s made the cut in seven straight majors. Beginning with the 2018 Masters (where he famously dislocated his ankle while celebrating an ace during Wednesday’s Par 3 Shootout), Finau has finished in the top-10 of four of the last five majors. If his drives find the short grass this week, Finau’s length will give him a really good chance to pick up his first major win.
Will steady play vault Jon Rahm to major victory?
Rahm definitely runs a little hot and plays aggressively. Because of that, it’s easy to think of him as an all-or-nothing player. He hasn’t missed a cut since August. Since then, he has a win and eight other top-10s. That’s about as solid as it gets. Working against Rahm is his lack of history at Bethpage Black. But while we don’t have any previous tournament success to draw from, he absolutely has the game needed to win here. Bethpage Black has always favored the longer hitters. Rahm qualifies in a big way.
Can Dustin Johnson claim his second major?
While he’s had some near misses, DJ has yet to add a second major to his mantle. This would seem to be a good opportunity. He has two wins in 2019 and five other top-10s this year, including a T2 at the Masters. So, Johnson’s game is certainly on point. He finished T40 at the 2009 U.S. Open, T3 at the 2012 Barclays, and T18 at the 2016 Barclays. Johnson absolutely has the length to get around the course. If his short game and putting are sharp, he will be awfully hard to beat at Bethpage Black.
Will another first-time major winner be crowned?
McIlroy (2012 and 2014) and Koepka (2018) are the only PGA champs over the last 10 years to not be first-time major winners. Finau, Fowler, and Rahm are among the candidates this year, but there are plenty of others. Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Paul Casey, Matt Kuchar, Tommy Fleetwood, Patrick Cantlay, Marc Leishman, Kevin Kisner, and Gary Woodland are all looking for their first major triumph. All head to Bethpage ranked in the top-25 in the world. So, if you want to see a first-time major winner, the 2019 PGA Championship offers plenty of people to cheer for.
Can Brooks Koepka be the PGA’s first repeat champ in over a decade?
The PGA Championship hasn’t exactly lent itself to repeat champs. Tiger has done it twice (1999 and 2000, 2006 and 2007), but nobody else has repeated in the stroke play era. Koepka has defied longer odds before, becoming the U.S. Open’s first repeat champ in nearly 30 years last June. Since 2016, he’s never finished outside of the top-40 in a major and has seven top-10 finishes, three of which were wins. Repeat champs at the PGA may not be common. But Koepka has incredible major history and a game that will play well at this course. Betting against him wouldn’t be wise.
What’s next for Tiger Woods?
Tiger won the 2002 U.S. Open, and finished T6 in 2009 when he could well have won again had he not drawn such an unfortunate first-round tee time. So, his course history is rock solid. And it’s impossible to ignore Tiger’s recent run. Since missing the cut at the U.S. Open, he has six top-10 finishes. That includes victories at the TOUR Championship and, of course, the Masters. The win at Augusta generated incredible buzz and made Nicklaus’ career major record of 18 seem attainable again. Imagine what will happen if he wins the PGA.