PGA Championship - Preview Day 2
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 It’s been nearly 13 months since Shane Lowry lifted the Claret Jug at Royal Portrush, ending the men’s major season of 2019. 

The changes to every facet of life since then are seemingly endless. This week’s return to major championship play reflects many of those changes, most notably that fans will not be in attendance this week watching the world’s best battle for the Wanamaker Trophy. 

Within our cautious new reality, golf is afforded a great opportunity. Sport has resumed in some capacity all over the world, but a major championship is different. Golf can show the rest of the sports world how to put together a world class championship event, even without the fans that give the backdrop so much added life. 


You’ll hear a lot this week about how TPC Harding Park benefits bombers, and for good reason: historically, distance is valued significantly more than accuracy at this golf course. How Kerry Haigh and the PGA of America manage the rough could alter that a bit, but on the whole, 15th Club analysis shows that tee shots at TPC Harding Park are typically less strategically demanding than the PGA Tour average. 

The most influential approach distance at TPC Harding Park should be between 175 and 200 yards. Some notable names ranked in the top-ten this season in proximity from that range are Justin Rose (5th), Rory McIlroy (6th) and Marc Leishman (10th). 

Players should also expect to face a higher percentage of putts from outside 15 feet this week than normal. Some of the PGA Tour leaders in made putt percentage outside 10 feet this season include Webb Simpson (1st), Patrick Reed (3rd) and Gary Woodland (6th). 


For the second consecutive year, Brooks Koepka gets a crack at a ‘three-peat’ in a major championship, something not done since Peter Thomson took three straight Open Championships in the mid-1950s. It’s worth noting how close Brooks got to pulling off the feat in 2019: his runner-up finish at Pebble Beach made him the first player since Bobby Jones to finish either first or second in the U.S. Open three years in a row. 

Brooks is a walking statistical highlight reel in the game’s biggest events. He is a combined 70 strokes under par in the majors since 2017, 36 shots better than any other player. He has the best scoring average at the PGA Championship (69.0) of any player in the last quarter-century. His 2.60 strokes gained total per round at the PGA are the best of any player the last forty years. And if he finishes fourth or better this week, he becomes the first player to do that in six straight major starts since Ben Hogan

While Bryson DeChambeau took the early post-pandemic headlines, and Rory McIlroy took Player of the Year honors last season, Koepka is still golf’s preeminent force in the weeks that matter most. 

Brooks nearly won last week in Memphis, getting within one shot of Justin Thomas before rinsing his tee shot on the 72nd hole. For the week, he led the field in strokes gained approach, something he also did in two of his four major championship victories. 

Should Koepka get a fifth major this week at age 30, he would enter an entirely different realm of golf history. Not only would he pass Rory in major wins, he would tie the likes of Phil Mickelson and Seve Ballesteros. Only four players in men’s golf history have won their fifth professional major before age 31: Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones


Justin Thomas won his 13th PGA Tour title last week, becoming the youngest player to reach that total since Woods. The man he just beat on that list – McIlroy – is the last sitting world number one to win a major championship, doing so at the 2014 PGA. Rory’s two-week path from Ohio to Kentucky six years ago is one JT would like to replicate in 2020. Consider this: 

In 2014, McIlroy

- Started the WGC Invitational final round 3 shots back 

- Won the tournament to get back to world number one 

- Won his second PGA Championship title the next week 

In 2020, Thomas

- Started the WGC Invitational final round 4 shots back 

- Won the tournament to get back to world number one 

- Is seeking his second PGA Championship title this week. 

JT led the field last week in strokes gained tee to green and was second to Koepka in strokes gained approach. It would be no surprise to see those two fighting again for the win this Sunday. 


The last time the world’s best descended on TPC Harding Park, McIlroy entered as the top dog and left in the same position. Rory won all seven of his matches, winning 38 holes and losing 19. Rory was leading or tied after nearly 75% of his holes for the week en route to victory. 

While the putter often bears the brunt of criticism in McIlroy’s game, it’s his iron play that has let him down since play resumed in June. In five starts, he’s yet to rank inside the top-25 in the field in strokes gained approach. When the hiatus hit in March, McIlroy was third on the PGA Tour in that statistic. 

It’s hard to believe it’s already been six years since Rory’s fourth major championship victory in 2014 at Valhalla. Nobody could in their right mind suggest he won’t win another one in his career, but consider this: of the 19 men to win five or more professional majors, the longest gap between wins four and five – was just four years. 


- Jon Rahm took some early-career lumps in the majors. In 2016-17, Rahm played 22 major championship rounds, posting a scoring average of 72.45 and just two rounds in the 60s. Since then, it’s a different story: 14 of 26 rounds in the 60s, a scoring average below 70.4 and four finishes of 11th or better in his last five starts. 

- These two statistics are on the same train track, barreling towards one another: 

Bryson DeChambeau leads the PGA Tour in scoring average and score to par since play resumed. 

Bryson DeChambeau has never finished better than 15th in a major championship. 

Each of the last six PGA Championship winners ranked in the top-25 in driving distance entering the week of their victory. Nearly half of PGA Champions since 2000 ranked in the top-ten that week in distance off the tee. Basically, length is always a key factor to success in this championship. That will not change this week, which benefits Bryson, the Tour’s leader in driving distance. 

- Tiger Woods enters his 79th major championship as a professional having played just four competitive PGA Tour rounds since the season restart. When Woods won the WGC contested at TPC Harding Park in 2005, he hit just 22 fairways for the entire week. If you think that sounds like a crooked driving week for a tournament winner, you’d be right: over the last thirty years, only one player has won any PGA Tour event hitting fewer fairways. 

- There are 79 players with at least 50 rounds in the PGA Championship since 1980. Of that group, Tiger Woods is the only player under par, at -46. He is 57 strokes ahead of any other player in that group (Adam Scott, +11). 

- The golf world has been justifiably enamored with the likes of Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff since their pro debuts last year. Major championship glory could be in their futures, but it might not be coming this week. 

Since 2010, first time major champs have needed an average of 23.1 starts to get win number one (for example, Shane Lowry won The Open last year in his 27th major start). The aforementioned trio has amassed a grand total of three major starts entering this week. Wolff is making his major debut. Their talent is enormous, and there’s a decent chance one of them laughs at this stat on his way to contention this week, but experience still has value in the majors. 

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