PGA Championship 2020: Key players poised for first major win
A lot of the attention at TPC Harding Park this week will understandably be focused on a host of past major champions looking to add another title to their illustrious resumes.
Brooks Koepka will be looking to make history by winning his third PGA Championship in a row, becoming the first to do so since Walter Hagen won four consecutive titles from 1924-27. Tiger Woods is looking to win his fifth career PGA Championship and 16th major overall. Rory McIlroy hopes his six-year major drought ends with his third PGA victory.
The list goes on.
But San Francisco also will see several talented players looking to breakthrough for the first time at a major championship.
Jon Rahm, who recently held the distinction of the world’s No. 1 player, has seen success early on in his career at major championships. He was the low amateur at the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont and has recorded top-10 finishes in his four of his last eight major starts, including a tie for fourth at the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club.
The 25-year-old arrives at TPC Harding Park with a better understanding of what it takes to win a major championship then when he opened eyes as an amateur at Oakmont.
“I've gone back and forth. I mean, obviously I want to win,” Rahm said about his approach to majors. “Like I think early on, shortly after Oakmont, in my next major ... I was already one of the favorites to win because I played good golf. So, I never really had that adjustment period, and maybe I didn't manage it as best I could have. I went from that to the complete opposite, trying to have no expectations and just trying to play good.“I think I'm still trying to figure out the rapid ascent in golf that I had,” Rahm continued. “I feel like when you're an amateur and first come out, especially at Oakmont -- I didn't play my best golf, I think [finished in the] top 25. So, I was like, ‘well, if I play good, I'm going to be able to win.’
"You get a reality check that major championship golf is not just playing good. It's more of a mental test than anything else. I've been having some good showings and somewhat close calls, but I'm ready to have a better chance on a Sunday."
Rahm put on a stellar show three weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament, using all his strengths to outlast one of the toughest fields in golf and tame a course that was set up to mirror a major championship test.
One player Rahm bested that weekend at Muirfield Village was Tony Finau, who also still is looking for his first major win after recording top-10 finishes in five of his last eight major starts.
Finau played alongside Woods and Francesco Molinari in the final Sunday group at the 2019 Masters, entering the final round two shots off the lead. But Finau struggled that Sunday, posting am even-par 72 to finish two shots back of Woods at 11-under-par.
While it was disappointing not to bring home the green jacket, Finau sees last year’s major finishes as a building block toward success on the game’s toughest stages.
“Yeah, I think you just have confidence that you can play, play well and at a high level when it matters,” Finau said Tuesday. “I think coming off last year, I definitely gave myself a chance to win the Masters, which was definitely a highlight of last year, and had a great run at The Open Championship. I think Shane Lowry ran away with that last year, but I was able to play strong on Sunday and have a third-place finish there. But I think anytime you have a great finish in a major championship, you build that confidence in just the way you carry yourself I think the rest of your career in major championships. Definitely still have good mojo from last year going into this week.”
Finau, who has 30 career top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour but only one win, has garnered the reputation as someone who struggles closing. He had opportunities both at the Memorial Tournament and 3M Championship to bring home wins, but he faltered on the weekend at Muirfield and was outplayed by Michael Thompson on Sunday in Minneapolis.
None of that bothers Finau, though, who chooses to look at the bright side of his catalog of near misses.
“There’s no reason to hang my head when I’ve played that consistently that often, and I know that when I have my good stuff, it’s good enough to win and good enough to contend,” Finau said. “I have to have that type of attitude and carry more confidence from that play than taking away anything bad, because if I put myself in that situation often, it tells me that when I do win again, I’m not going anywhere. I’m not disappearing for a while. I’m at the top of leaderboards quite often, and when I get the job done again in the near future, I think we’ll be having a different narrative.”
Rahm and Finau are just two of a number of top players looking to bring home their first major title this week at TPC Harding Park.
Rickie Fowler, Tommy Fleetwood, Bryson DeChambeau, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay all will be looking to break through by the Bay.
That’s easier said than done.