The big names are set to battle it out for the second major of the season
The world’s leading golfers will descend upon Bethpage Black Course to battle it out for fame and fortune in the second major of 2019 this week.
The PGA Championship boasts a prize purse of $10.5 million and the prestige associated with winning it is enormous. All eyes will be on Tiger Woods after he won The Masters at Augusta last month, ending an 11-year major drought and reminding everyone of his general greatness. But he will face stern competition across the board and it will be fascinating to see who triumphs. Here are five players that could seize glory in New York State this week:
The organisers of this tournament must have been ecstatic when Woods rolled back the years and romped to victory at Augusta last month. It was one of the most exhilarating sporting moments of all time and it ensured interest in golf is soaring right now. The US PGA made the bold decision to move this major from August to May for the first time this year in order to create better sequencing of tournaments. The PGA Championship was previously cast adrift and did not receive the love it deserved, but in 2019 excitement is reaching a fever pitch.
Everyone wants to know if Woods can maintain his form and clinch yet another major. He is just three behind Jack Nicklaus in the all-time stakes now and he could become the most decorated player in history before his career winds down. Back in 2002, Bethpage became the first public golf course to host the US Open and it was also the longest at 7,214 yards. Woods was the only player to break par that week, winning by three strokes from Phil Mickelson. He clearly loves this course, he is surging with momentum right now and he has all the attributes to succeed here, so it is impossible to ignore him.
It takes a great all-rounder to prevail at Bethpage and reigning champion Koepka fits the bill perfectly. Last year he finished two shots clear of Woods to win the PGA Championship at Bellerive and he is a man for the big occasions. Koepka has won three of the last seven majors and he finished T2 at the Masters last month, just one shot behind Woods. That underlined his supreme consistency and he is also extremely adaptable, having proved he can thrive on tough links courses and parkland classics.
Bethpage fits into the latter category. Koepka has only teed off once here, when he finished a disappointing T70 at the Barclays in 2016, but you can never write him off as he is a major specialist these days. He warmed up for his defence of this tournament with a fourth-place finish at the AT&T Byron Nelson and he will be full of confidence in New York this week. Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy are the three clear favourites with Marathonbet to prevail here, but Koepka is the most consistent of that trio right now and he looks like the man to beat at this tournament. Koepka will open his PGA Championship campaign alongside Woods and Francesco Molinari and that grouping will dominate the coverage.
The Australian has a fantastic opportunity to win a second PGA Championship when he heads to Bethpage Black this week. The course is designed by noted golf architect A. W. Tillinghast, who is also responsible for Winged Foot, Baltrusrol and Ridgewood. Day boasts the best record of any active golfer on Tillinghast courses, leaving him ahead of Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler. His record since 2005 is far better than that of Woods, McIlroy, Koepka or any other titans of the sport that will challenge for the US PGA Championship this year, and very few players are as comfortable as Day on tight Poa annua greens.
The last time he played a major on a Tillinghast design was when he finished second to Jimmy Walker when defending his PGA title at Baltusrol in 2016. At the time he was the world’s number one ranked golfer, and he has since struggled to find consistency, but he has a great opportunity to roar back to form here. Day appears to have shrugged off the injuries that have dogged him of late and if he can avoid any mishaps in the build-up to the PGA Championship he should be in contention for victory. He finished fourth on his last appearance here, at the Barclays in 2016, and his superb approach shots and touch around the greens will make him a real threat at this eagerly anticipated tournament.
Reed is probably the least popular player on the PGA tour and he is likely to be heckled to the hilt at Bethpage Black this week. Yet he appears to revel in his status as the pantomime villain and he used it to fuel his charge to glory at The Masters in 2018. He followed it up with a fourth-placed finish at the US Open, but since then little has gone to plan for the 28-year-old. He became embroiled in public spats with teammates as the US lost the Ryder Cup in Europe and failed to make the cut at The PGA Championship, before finishing T36 at The Masters last month.
He has fallen to 19th in the world rankings and he is as long as 100/1 with some bookmakers to win this tournament. Nobody is paying much attention to Reed in the build-up, but he has previous at this course. He won the Barclays here in 2016, finishing two shots clear of Day and another Tillinghast specialist in Scott. “It is one of the first golf courses I’ve played where not one part of your game is more important than any other,” he said. “At Bethpage Black every part of your game is important, and you have to do every single one of them at a very high level to compete and win there.” He pulled it off in 2016 and he could do so again this year, as he is a strong all-rounder and he thrives in pressured situations.
The Spaniard has all the tools to challenge at the top of the leaderboard this week after enjoying a strong run of form this year. He has finished in the top 10 at 12 of his last 17 appearances, and he has a great record at Bethpage Black. In his last three starts here, he finished fourth, tenth and third. He has also excelled at Quail Hollow over the years and that is a very similar course. Last week he finished T4 there in the $7.9 million Wells Fargo Championship and that should buoy him ahead of the PGA Championship.
Garcia won his first major when he claimed The Masters in 2017, but he is yet to add to that tally. He finished runner-up in the PGA Championship in 1999 and 2008 and by that reckoning he is due another strong showing. He will play in a threeball with Kelly Craft and Adam Scott when the action gets underway this week and that grouping is sure to generate a great deal of interest.