PGA Championship: 10 golfers to watch at Bethpage Black

Aug 12, 2018; Saint Louis, MO, USA; Brooks Koepka poses with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports

PGA Championship: 10 golfers to watch at Bethpage Black

PGA Championship

PGA Championship: 10 golfers to watch at Bethpage Black

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Our Geoff Shackelford has picked 10 golfers to watch at Bethpage Black this week. He breaks down each with why he’s a good pick to win the second major of 2019. The golfers are listed in order of the their current OWGR.

(Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY Sports)

Dustin Johnson

OWGR: 1

Best PGA Championship finish: T-5 (2010)

Last three PGA Championships: CUT, T-13, T-27

This year: A win at the WGC-Mexico Championship and a T-2 at the Masters with a final-round 68. Six top-10s in 10 starts and no missed cuts.

Why he could win: Ignore that stumble at Harbour Town, it was just another week Johnson played well on a course that is not suited to his attacking style (Valspar the other). But what course is a problem for Johnson at this point? Three appearances at Bethpage – a T-40 in the 2009 U.S. Open; T-3 in the 2012 Barclays and T-18 in the 2016 Barclays – suggest he likes it enough.

Holding him back: Not much. Some might wonder if he’s still not over the 2010 PGA final-hole mishap, but DJ’s cracked a few jokes lately about the fiasco.


(Michael Madrid/USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Rose

OWGR: 2

Best PGA Championship finish: T-3 (2012)

Last three PGA Championships: T-22, CUT, T-19

This year: A win at the Farmers and mostly steady play with four top-10s in seven PGA Tour starts. And a shocking missed cut at the Masters.

Why he could win: Ranks 11th this season in strokes gained total, 24th in strokes gained tee to green and 33rd in strokes gained putting. His work on the greens the past two years could pay off.

Holding him back: Driving accuracy has slipped this year, though he’s still a palatable 58th in strokes gained off the tee. His three starts at Bethpage aren’t great: a missed cut in the 2009 U.S. Open; and at the Barclays, T-46 in 2012 and a T-31 in 2016.


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Aug 12, 2018; Saint Louis, MO, USA; Brooks Koepka poses with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

(Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports)

Brooks Koepka

OWGR: 3

Best PGA Championship finish: Win (2018)

Last three PGA Championships: T-4, T-13, 1

This year: A T-2 at the Masters included a solid comeback even after hitting his tee shot in Rae’s Creek on 12. Played well at the Honda and seems like a different player when a major is on the line.

Why he could win: The winner at Bellerive last year loves his Grand Slam events, having won three of the last eight. Ignore the T-70 here in the 2016 Barclays. He should love the tough setup expected at Bethpage.

Holding him back: Putting has held him back this year until a good week at Augusta. Ranks 152nd in strokes gained putting, and not really standing out in other categories.


Feb 24, 2019; Mexico City, MEX; Rory McIlroy plays his shot on the 13th hole during the final round of the WGC - Mexico Championship golf tournament at Club de Golf Chapultepec. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

(Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports)

Rory McIlroy

OWGR: 4

Best PGA Championship finish: Two wins (2012, 2014)

Last three PGA Championships: CUT, T-22, T-50

This year: A resounding Players Championship win came after a rough final round at Bay Hill, but overall steady play with a second in Mexico City and T-4 at the Genesis Open. A T-21 at the Masters was mostly undone by an opening 73.

Why he could win: Tee to green the best ballstriker on Tour. He should enjoy the move to May when the weather could be cool and the course pretty lush. Finished in a tie for 10th at Bethpage in the 2009 U.S. Open.

Holding him back: A player who may enjoy using his imagination more than people realize could be stifled by Bethpage’s largely uninspired green complexes.


(Stephen Spillman/USA TODAY Sports)

Tiger Woods

OWGR: 6

Best PGA Championship finish: Four wins (1999, 2000, 2006, 2007)

Last three PGA Championships: CUT (2014), CUT (2015), 2 (2018)

This year: Won the Masters, in case you have not heard.

Why he could win: The 2002 U.S. Open winner here also finished sixth in the 2009 U.S. Open on the Black Course. He should be rejuvenated from his Masters win, and early-season pacing could pay off as the schedule chaos really kicks in with the PGA in May. When he has all facets working, as he does right now, he’s especially scary on courses that fit his eye.

Holding him back: Luck of the draw? A nasty head cold? A post-Masters letdown? All possible, but it seems unlikely that Woods will do anything that holds back his game.


(Michael Madrid/USA TODAY Sports)

Francesco Molinari

OWGR: 7

Best PGA Championship finish: T-2 (2017)

Last three PGA Championships: T-22, T-2, T-6

This year: Winner at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and had the Masters lead going to the back nine Sunday only to sink his tee shot in Rae’s Creek on 12.

Why he could win: Last year’s British Open winner can contend in any course conditions. When he was far from the player he is today, Molinari finished T-27 in the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage. But he also missed the cut in the 2016 Barclays there.

Holding him back: Approach play. He’s 191st in greens in regulation and 126th in strokes gained approach the green. Bethpage won’t be as cruel to so so iron play as Carnoustie or Augusta National, but it could still expose this weakness.


(Michael Madrid/USA TODAY Sports)

Rickie Fowler

OWGR: 10

Best PGA Championship finish: T-3 (2014)

Last three PGA Championships: T-33, T-5, T-12

This year: Won Waste Management and finished T-2 at Honda, then cooled off a bit until a solid week at the Masters, finishing T-9.

Why he could win: If ever the people of Long Island were primed to bring someone home to their first major win, it’s Fowler. A final-round 74 killed his Barclays hopes here in 2016, but he likes the course. His putting appears to be improved after struggling on the greens last year.

Holding him back: At some point the pressure to win a major for such a consistent player could weigh on him. More likely a great week hitting a lot of greens or dialing in his scrambling just a bit will put him
over the top.


Zurich Classic of New Orleans

(Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports)

Jason Day

OWGR: 14

Best PGA Championship finish: 1 (2015)

Last three PGA Championships: 2, T-9, T-19

This year: T-4 at the AT&T Pro-Am and T-5 at the Masters, where he played with a balky back and still had a chance on Sunday. Five top-10s in 11 starts.

Why he could win: This former world No. 1 is still grinding to improve and has proved he can play well in majors. Has fond memories of contending at Bethpage in 2016, finishing two back of Patrick Reed in the Barclays.

Holding him back: Approach play. Started the year just trying to get back to respectability and he’s getting there, hitting 71 percent of his greens in regulation to rank 18th. Yet he’s 119th in strokes gained approach the green.


(Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports)

Tony Finau

OWGR: 15

Best PGA Championship finish: T-10 (2015)

Last three PGA Championships: CUT, T-44, T-42

This year: A mediocre start highlighted by a T-13 at Farmers until his 64 Saturday at Masters put him in the final grouping with Tiger Woods and Francesco Molinari.

Why he could win: A birdie machine who has the length and seasoning to contend on the major stage, as his T-5 at the Masters demonstrated.

Holding him back: Recovery play around the greens. He’s a woeful 129th in strokes gained around the green this year, a core strength of his game in 2018. He can overpower just about any course and can putt very well most of the time, but if the rough is up, the Black Course requires a player get up and down a lot to win.


phil mickelson

(Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports)

Phil Mickelson

OWGR: 22

Best PGA Championship finish: Win (2005)

Last three PGA Championships: T-33, CUT, CUT

This year: Won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but has cooled off since his hot start, failing to register a top-10 since the victory in February.

Why he could win: Two of his six U.S. Open runner-up finishes came at Bethpage, and he finished T-13 in the 2016 Barclays. The man loves Bethpage, and the people will be rooting him home. Driving has been better this year, though at Augusta his love for chasing distance appeared to get the best of him a few times.

Holding him back: Putting. After defying age by ranking as one of the Tour’s best putters into his late 40s, the 48-year-old is 117th in strokes gained putting this year.

(An earlier version of this list appears in the May 2019 issue of Golfweek. Non-OWGR statistics are through April 30.)

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