If you woke up this morning and thought, “Whoa, there’s a major championship this week,” you are not alone. The PGA Championship is back in the month of May for the first time since 1949, and it brings with it more excitement than usual. That’s not to say that the PGA Championship has been bad in August; it just felt like the major season petered off instead of ending with a bang.
A number of recent PGA Championships have lacked the character to be truly memorable. Some have been played on bland golf courses that encouraged low scores and less-than-stellar leaderboards. It’s still a major championship, to be sure, but the PGA hasn’t consistently delivered the gravitas and intensity of a Masters, U.S. Open, or Open Championship.
The move to May could infuse some additional excitement into the event. Fans are ready for summer, eager to watch every second of golf they can, and curious to see what the new PGA Championships will look like.
So let’s get to it. Here’s a breakdown of the most memorable PGA Championships over the last 11 years.
Tied 10th Place – 2016 – The “Did This Event Actually Occur” Major
2016 was a weird season for golf. The Olympics threw a wrench into the schedule and caused a serious amount of restructuring. The 2016 PGA Championship was conducted at the end of July and ended major championship season before August started.
Henrik Stenson had also just defeated Phil in one of the best major duels of all time two weeks prior. It was almost like the golfing community wasn’t ready for another major championship just yet as the players arrived at Baltusrol.
I know I wasn’t ready, because I don’t have any recollection of watching the event. I’m sure I did, but there was no draw for me to watch Jimmy Walker try to close out a major. He only won by a single shot but the tournament was never in doubt.
Tied 10th Place – 2013 – Dufner’s Revenge
Listen, I love Jason Dufner as much as the next guy. He is a really fun character on the tour and does not take things too seriously. His lone major was just not very memorable.
Duf shot 63 in the second round but left a 10 footer short in the jaws on 18. I’ll never forgive him for that. Scores were really low that day, including a 64 from Webb Simpson, but Dufner had a shot at major championship 62 and didn’t capitalize.
On Sunday, the ageless Jim Furyk gave Dufner the lead on the 8th hole and no one was able to catch him. He and Furyk both bogied the final two holes but the writing was already on the wall. No one had made a final round charge to post a number and Duf daddy coasted to a victory.
9th Place – 2012 – He’s Better Than You
The 2012 PGA Championship will forever be “the major where Rory shot 75 and still won by eight.” Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course provides a unique test for a major, but it was unable to produce a memorable finish in 2012.
Weather interfered during the second and third rounds, sending scores unusually high. Tiger got into the mix for a minute but quickly fell back. Hot Carl Petterson had a share of the lead at one point. Still, none of these storylines lasted, and the tournament was over by Saturday night. Ian Poulter made a strong run to start Sunday but was only able to get within three of McIlroy. Rory played flawless golf on the way home and captured his second major title without any drama whatsoever.
It was an incredible display of golf that I will definitely have forgotten about ten years from now.
8th Place – 2008 – Ben Curtis!
Looking back, the 2008 PGA Championship might be the most insane leaderboard in the history of leaderboards. These are all things that happened:
- Jeev Milkha Singh, Ken Duke, Billy Mayfair, and Charlie Wi were in the top 10 after the first round.
- The 54-hole leader was Ben Curtis. (In fact, we were just four holes away from living in a world in which Ben Curtis has two major championships…)
- J. B. Holmes shot 81 in the final round.
- Sergio García suffered his second straight crushing major championship blow.
Twitter would have really enjoyed the final five holes of this event: Sergio and Curtis trying not to throw up on their shoes, and Padraig Harrington strutting to victory.
7th Place – 2017 – Jordan’s Friend Breaks Through
Had Justin Thomas not won, the 2017 PGA would have been even more forgettable. The final-round leaderboard was decent, and drama kept almost breaking out, but ultimately there was little in the way of fireworks.
All week people talked about how difficult Quail Hollow was. Tom Fazio’s recent changes had made it longer, more severe, and “harder” in relation to par. Perhaps as a result, no one made a real run during the first three rounds.
Luckily, Justin Thomas put on a show on the final nine holes. He had the putt that lingered on the edge on 10, the chip in on 13, and he hit the perfect shot on 17 to make birdie for a defining moment. That 200+ yard 7-iron on the 71st hole of the championship will be the moment that everyone remembers from the week.
6th Place – 2015 – Dayman, Fighter of the Nightman
While the basic philosophy of Whistling Straits offends my sensibilities, you cannot argue with its ability to create drama. The golf course is wild, the scenery is extraordinary, and the closing stretch can create chaos in a heartbeat. It’s a 10-handicapper’s worst nightmare, but a good challenge for the best in the world.
The first-round leader was Dustin Johnson, a very very very very very appropriate leader after what happened in 2010 (more on that in a minute). He was unable to make noise on the weekend, but it was fun to see DJ back in the mix.
The real story was Jason Day battling a world-beating Jordan Spieth on Sunday. Spieth had won the first two majors of the year, missed a playoff by a single shot at St Andrews, and was in the final group at the PGA. Insanity.
Still, Day was able to outlast the young Texan to win his first major title. His putting was off the charts in Wisconsin all week, and he put Spieth in his back pocket over the course of the final round. It was a fun, memorable duel.
5th Place – 2011 – Keegs Up, A-Town Down
The only way you could get me to go to Atlanta in August is by extending an invite to a PGA Championship. That’s exactly what happened for the world’s best players in 2011 as they descended on Atlanta Athletic Club.
Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley shot the two lowest rounds of the week on Friday and shared the 36-hole lead going into the weekend. A few other players got into the picture on moving day, but the real drama was between Bradley and Dufner.
They remained in a dead heat until late on the back nine on Sunday. Keegan made a triple-bogey six on the 15th hole, leaving Dufner with a four-shot lead and just four holes to play. From there, things moved fast for the Duf. He finished bogey-bogey-bogey-par while Keegan birdied 16 and 17. It was one of the crazier final hours of regulation I can remember.
At the time, Keegan was a relative unknown, and while Duf wasn’t a superstar, it was shocking to see him go down in the three-hole playoff. Long live the belly putter.
4th Place – 2018 – Bruce Cupcake Doesn’t Care about Your Narrative
The Bellerive PGA Championship might go down as one of the most overrated majors in history.
Let’s take a step back and remember what happened before Sunday. The week started with players suggesting that the course wasn’t mentally intriguing. Pat Perez implied there wasn’t much strategy, Tiger said there were no putts to be afraid of, and additional rain softened the course even more.
Anyway, Gary Woodland led through the first two rounds with Rickie Fowler in tow, both searching for their first major. Brooks Koepka overtook them on Saturday for the 54-hole lead, setting up the Sunday action.
Sunday will always be remembered for Tiger’s 64, but the reality is that he was never actually that close to winning. Brooks played his last 12 holes five under par and coasted down No. 18 to his third major championship. Was Tiger’s run on Sunday incredible entertainment? Of course. Still, he ran out of holes and had to settle for second place. If it had been Jason Day who shot 64 and finished two shots back of Brooks Koepka, the 2018 PGA Championship would be lost to history. Still, Tiger is Tiger, and his flair for the dramatic will always make for incredible entertainment.
3rd Place – 2014 – Can We Play Through?
“It’s much darker out here than our cameras make it appear”
The 2014 PGA Championship literally finished in the dark. Rory, Phil, Rickie, and Bernd Wiesberger all played the 18th hole at the same time, and Rory actually putted out to the shine of cameras.
I’m not sure anyone will ever forget the bizarre scene that was Valhalla. Rory was pumping big dog off of every tee and hitting some of the most insane shots to recover from wild ones. Phil was grinding his way through a tough stretch and Rickie was faltering down the stretch (surprise).
On 18, Rory and Wiesberger played up on their tee shot and second shot (much to Phil’s shagrin) in order to finish in time. The drama intensified as Rory almost put it in the drink off the tee and Phil was visibly upset with the decision to let them hit up again. Still, Rory putted out in the blackness and collected his fourth career major. It was also his third title in a row having won the Open and WGC the two weeks prior.
2nd Place – 2010 – The Grounding of the Club
Whistling Straits unofficially has over 900 “bunkers” surrounding the golf course. That seems a little excessive to me but they are the defining feature of this Wisconsin golf hub.
In 2010, many of the bunkers were labeled as waste areas and players were allowed to ground their club. These areas had fans walking through them and were typically well off the fairways. On the 72nd hole, Dustin Johnson appeared to find one of these bunkers. He hit his shot over the green, made a miraculous bogey, and was set to join a playoff with Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer.
A rules official met up with DJ as he walked off the 18th green, telling him that he had grounded his club in a bunker, not a waste bunker. Confusion followed and DJ was ultimately assessed a two stroke penalty. It was one of the strangest scenes in major championship history.
Martin Kaymer went on to win his first major championship over Bubba, but the Dustin Johnson penalty will forever be the defining moment of the 2010 event.
1st Place – 2009 – What the Hell is Happening?
Before 2018, the only PGA Championship that Tiger Woods had been seriously involved in happened 10 years ago at Hazeltine. Tiger was leading after the 1st round, 2nd round, 3rd round, and through 11 holes of the final round. Then all of a sudden, he wasn’t.
Y.E. Yang chipped in for eagle on the 14th hole and took a one shot lead over Tiger. He then hit an incredible shot on 18 to inside of 10 feet and defeated Tiger Woods. It is the only time in Tiger’s career that he blew a 54 hole lead in a major.
I was 15 years old when this happened but I remember it like it was yesterday. The sense of pure astonishment as I finally had to accept that Tiger was not going to win. It was an uncomfortable, unfamiliar feeling.
Hard to believe this is the 10th anniversary of Tiger’s only real defeat in a major championship. It was a stunning day, and one that would soon be followed by pure chaos in the life of Tiger Woods.