What another major would mean to the major champions in the mix
The 2020 PGA Championship has so many scenarios still on the table thanks to a fascinating leaderboard.
Heading into the final round, 10 players are within three shots of the lead. It’s the most such players at a major since the 2015 Open Championship, when there were 14 players. There were only three other PGA Championships in which so many players were within three shots of the lead entering the final round: 1968 had 10 players, and 1993 and 2005 had 12. In other words, the tournament is anyone’s to win … and anyone’s to lose.
Of course, whoever wins their first major championship, that accomplishment will be life-changing. The exposure, prestige and exemptions will certainly further their careers. Twelve of the last 17 majors have been won by first-timers. Young, emerging stars such as Bryson DeChambeau, Collin Morikawa and Cameron Champ should be in the mix for a long time to come.
But to the players in the hunt who have already won at least one major, taking home the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday might mean even more. Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Justin Rose are all household names. But with their legacies on the line, the stakes are high. Let’s look at what another major might mean to the resumes of this fabulous foursome.
For a player at talented as Johnson, a second major championship would be vindication for all those near misses. The meltdown at Pebble Beach at the 2010 U.S. Open. The bunker at Whistling Straits at the 2010 PGA Championship. A drive out-of-bounds at The Open in 2011. D.J. already has a career grand slam … for runner-up finishes. He needs to capitalize on this moment, especially considering how well TPC Harding Park should suit his power game. He’s 0-for-3 in converting third-round leads into fourth-round victory laps. Going 0-for-4, something nobody has ever done, would be a tough blow to overcome. Although he might be a lock already with 21 career wins, a second major following his 2016 U.S. Open win would most certainly guarantee him a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame and put him among the elite to ever play the game. That invitation is probably inevitable with Johnson still showing peak form at age 36, but he won’t be young forever. Just ask Tiger and Phil.
Koepka’s chase to win three PGA Championships in a row is well-documented. He’s become a regular on PGA Championship leaderboards. He has been among the top-4 on the leaderboard at the end of each of the last 10 rounds of PGA Championship play. The only other players with such a streak that long at any one major are Arnold Palmer (18, Masters, 1958-1962), Jordan Spieth (11, Masters, 2014-2016), Johnson (10, US Open, 2014-2016) and Ben Hogan (10, Masters, 1950-1952). Being in the third-to-last group and two shots back, Koepka shouldn’t be feeling as much pressure as the last two groups. Maybe that opens the window of opportunity to play a little more freely. Winning his fifth major would put him among the game’s greats at the ripe age of 30. It would put him in a tie for 14th all-time in majors won with the likes of Mickelson, Seve Ballesteros, Byron Nelson, James Braid, J.T. Taylor and Peter Thomson.
Day’s career held so much promise when he dominated the field at Whistling Straits at the 2015 PGA Championship to win his first major. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster since. A tenuous back and other injuries have held the former World No. 1 back. The 32-year-old Australian who lives in Ohio has had a successful career, no doubt, with a pair of victories at the World Golf Championships-Match Play and a Players Championship title among his 12 PGA Tour wins. But without a second major, it feels a bit like he’s underachieved. Lifting the Wanamaker Trophy Sunday would be a rebirth of sorts for his career, and like Johnson, put him squarely on the path toward the hall of fame. Being three back, he’ll have to play flawless golf and outgun Rose, his playing partner.
Rose, 40, isn’t that young amateur anymore who set the world of golf ablaze as an amateur at the 1998 Open at Royal Birkdale.
He’s a grizzled veteran who probably needs to take advantage of opportunities like this. Sure, he’s won some big-time prizes the past few years in rising to world No. 1 for spurts in 2018 and 2019, notably a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics and the 2018 FedExCup season-long points race for $10 million. But it’s been seven long years since his triumph at the 2013 U.S. Open. He’s been in contention at times, although the Englishman hasn’t been able to close. As he ages and the competition gets younger and hits it farther, it won’t get any easier. Ten wins and one major is an amazing career by most standards, but the question needs to be asked: Is this Rose ready to bloom or wilt under major championship pressure? Like Day, he’s three back, and might need some help to catch the leaders. Should he win, he’d be the first Englishman to win a PGA Championship since Jim Barnes won the first two in 1916 and 1919.