Over the years, the PGA Championship has caught some well-deserved (Glory’s last shot) and non-deserved flack. But at the end of the day, it remains a major championship, and it counts the same as winning one of the other three. Major championships change players’ legacies and have the ability to turn a lost season into a rousing success. With that in mind, we considered how a win in St. Louis could affect the legacy of some of the biggest names in the sport.
The old guard
At this point in their careers, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson major championship wins are the only ones that really matter. Tiger’s comeback this year has been remarkable, winning any tournament would be a huge story. However, winning a major championship would cap off one of the greatest comeback stories of all time, and revive any hope of catching Jack Nicklaus’ major championship record of 18.
A win gives Phil six major championships and moves him into a tie for 12th on the all-time list. More importantly, Phil would become the second oldest major champion of all time, behind only Guy Boros. Mickelson ended a five-year win drought this year at the WGC Mexico Championship, but given his recent form, it’s a longshot he contends at Bellerive.
During their prime, Tiger and Phil set a standard where a year without a major was a disappointment. It’s hard to say the same about any of today’s players, but a few younger guys are close to joining that list.
King of the new guard?
After winning the RBC Canadian Open, Dustin Johnson became the first player since Tiger to notch at least three PGA Tour wins three straight times. The world number one has had a great year, but two of his three wins came against weaker fields (Canada and Memphis). With 19 PGA Tour wins and a major championship, Dustin Johnson’s banner statistics are identical to Hall of Famer Tom Kite. It’s now time for the 34-year-old to start stacking major championships. With only one major championship, Johnson cannot be listed among the all-time greats. A second major win would move DJ into a different tier of players.
For a long time, it looked like Rory McIlroy was destined to join the pantheon of all-time greats. Now at age 29 and four years removed from his last major championship, the question has turned to if Rory will ever win another major.
McIlroy has accomplished every feat in golf except the Career Grand Slam, and its tough to consider any season a success without a major. Bellerive is long, has thick rough and will play soft, an ideal setup for McIlroy to add major number five to his list.
2018 has been a disappointing season for Spieth but that would all change with a win at the PGA Championship. A win gives Spieth the career Grand Slam, a feat only five players in the modern era have accomplished. He would become the second youngest to Tiger to do so and with four majors at 25, double digit major wins would become a real possibility. Spieth’s 2018 season has been less than ideal. He started the year with mono and has not won, something that has never happened in his career as a pro.
Will it be his Day?
Jason Day has had a great 2018, notching two wins, a runner-up and two other top 10s in twelve starts. The 30-year-old Aussie is the only player to put together a “Tiger-like” stretch of golf. Over 18 months in 2015-2016, Day notched eight wins and fifteen top-5 finishes. This performance left us thirsting for more. He’s the greatest Australian player since Greg Norman (sorry Adam Scott) and at this point probably a Hall of Fame player. Another major championship would tie him with Norman and David Graham for second-most majors by an Aussie and cement Day’s position as one of the greatest players of this generation.
A major championship win changes any player’s career, but a PGA win this week would jump a few players into a different stratosphere.
Coming up Roses
It is possible that over the past calendar year, Justin Rose has been golf’s best player. Since the start of last year’s FedEx Cup Playoffs, he has four wins and seventeen top 10s in twenty-two starts. The consistency is remarkable and has been for years. Rose has ended six of the last seven years inside the top 10 of OWGR. The Englishman has fifteen top-10 finishes in major championships and only one win to show for it. Add a second major to Rose’s resume (17 wins, 1 major, Olympics), and he becomes the best player in his age group 37-43 not named Tiger.
One trick pony?
Watson is one of six players in the top 51 of the world rankings with more than one major championship. Both of his major championships have come at the Masters, and six of his ten non-major wins have been at Riviera and TPC River Highlands. Notice a trend? Watson has proven to be a horse for specific courses (good ones usually), but his success comes with failure. He has 17 missed cuts in 43 majors and only three top 5’s to go along with his two wins, low numbers for a likely Hall of Famer. A PGA win at a course that should suit his game and a third major would give him the fourth most majors of any active player, and at least a decade of Masters left.
This generation’s Big Game Hunter
With a win at this year’s PGA Championship, Brooks Koepka will have won three of the last eight majors with no missed cuts and three other top-13 finishes. Golf is defined by major championships, and Koepka has a claim to being the best player in the world. The most startling development would be Koepka’s glaring lack of regular PGA Tour wins, one. Major championships test all aspects of a player’s game, and Koepka has proven to be up for the full examination. Another major would make a strong case that he’s the game’s best player on true championship setups.
The best player under 25?
In the past two seasons, Justin Thomas has racked up eight wins, including last year’s PGA Championship. Coming off of a dominant performance at last week’s WGC Bridgestone, Thomas will join Dustin Johnson as the clear-cut favorites at Bellerive. The 25-year-old’s performance over the past 24 months has significantly closed the gap on the discussion of best young player in the game. Another major win would put Thomas just one major behind his good friend Jordan Spieth and with significant momentum. Thomas has every tool in the game, he is the template for the modern professional, and it’s hard to see his development slowing down.
Saving an otherwise poor season
As noted with Spieth, there are a few players who can turn around an otherwise dismal 2018 with a major win.
One for Hideki Island (all of Japan)
A wrist injury derailed the beginning of Hideki’s 2018, and he hasn’t been the same since. In his eleven starts since withdrawing from the Waste Management, Hideki has zero top 10 finishes, yes you read that correctly. Thankfully, golf is a “what have you done for me lately game,” and a major win that delivers Japan’s first major champion would change everything and finally end the question “Can Hideki win?”
The reverse springboard
After decades of heartbreak, Garcia’s major breakthrough at the 2017 Masters seemed like it might open the floodgates for the habitual major contender. It’s gone the opposite direction. Garcia’s best finish in a major since has been t21st, and he has MC hammers in his last four majors. Beyond a major, life has changed for Garcia. e got married, had a kid and changed equipment from TaylorMade to Callaway. With all that said, a major would turn around his season and add to his legacy as a generational player.
It feels like the first time
No player’s lack of majors gets talked about more than Fowler, so let’s keep this brief, Fowler has seven top-5 finishes in his last nineteen major championships. The lack of a win is glaring but fits his career storyline to date. Fowler contends often but wins rarely. Over his career, Fowler has eight worldwide wins compared to seventy top-10 finishes. Compare that to Rory McIlroy who has 22 wins for his career compared to 109 top tens, and Paul Casey who has 16 career wins and 127 career top 10’s. Rick’s win to top 10 percentage is 11%, Rory’s is 20% and Casey’s is 12%.
Food for thought:
Rickie Fowler – 8 worldwide wins, 70 top 10s – 11% win/top 10
Rory McIlroy – 22 worldwide wins, 109 top 10s – 20% win/top 10
Dustin Johnson – 19 worldwide wins, 73 top 10s – 26% win/top 10
Paul Casey – 16 worldwide wins, 127 top 10s – 12% win/top 10
— the fried egg (@the_fried_egg) August 6, 2018
Thanks to a hot temper, it seems that the temperature is at an all-time low on Jon Rahm. Might be a good time to buy Rahm, whose power should be a fantastic fit at Bellerive. Rahm notched his first top 5 in a major at this year’s Masters. He has won five times and notched eighteen other top-10 finishes in his fifty-two professional starts. He’s the clear choice for best player under 25 without a major.
Fleetwood is well on his way to following up his sensational 2017 campaign that made him a cult hero with golf nerds. While it might be too early to put the superstar tag on the 28-year-old Englishman, he’s getting close. Fleetwood has a knack for going low in majors and holds the competitive course records at both Carnoustie and Shinnecock. In this year’s majors, Fleetwood finished t17th, 2nd and t12th, and he also had a t7th at the 2018 PLAYERS.
The pool of great players in golf is at an all time high. This year’s PGA Championship will completely change the outlook of one player’s season and career.