RORY McIlroy is ranked second in the world, but will start this week’s PGA Championship in San Francisco as the man to beat.
The Northern Irishman is fancied to land his fifth Major title ahead of world number one Spaniard Jon Rahm and American super-hero Bryson DeChambeau. They are joint second in the odds on who will prevail at TPC Harding Park - the Californian course making its debut as one of the Major venues.
Justin Thomas is tipped to win after the leading trio, with defending champion Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson joint next best. Tiger Woods and Xander Schauffele, seeking a first Major like Rahm and DeChambeau, are also backed to figure in the showdown on Sunday afternoon.
After this lot comes a string of players who could contend if they get off decent starts and stay with up there. Among them are Patrick Cantlay, Webb Simpson, Parick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Tony Finau and Jordan Spieth.
McIlroy’s support is massive, with many a pundit believing the time ripe for the former world number one to add to his US Open, British Open and two PGA Championships. These were achieved in the space of just over two years, from the 2011 US Open to 2014 PGA Championship.
The 31-year-old last won the PGA Tour when he clinched the WGC-HSBC Champions Tournament in Shanghai in November, and looked primed to add that prior to the coronavirus outbreak. Since the restart after lock-down he has shown glimpses of the form that made him world number one on more than one occasion.
But it’s more than likely that he will be hard pressed to come out on top at Harding Park. Not with the likes of those also in the conversation and not in the least Rahm and DeChambeau.
Rahm assumed the top ranking in golf when he won the Memorial Tournament a fortnight ago. And there is no doubt he will be keen as ever to secure his first Major this week and consolidate his status as the best player in the world.
Indeed, many are of the belief that it is only a matter of time before he adds a Major to his trophy haul, rather than if he will.
The same is being said of DeChambeau. The player who has bulked up considerably over the last couple of years or so and did the same to his game, also won recently - claiming the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit at the beginning of last month.
Koepka, 30, and Johnson, 36, reportedly good friends off the course, are both laid-back players who enjoy enormous support of their own. While not favourites with the media, these two lads have what it takes to win at the Majors.
Koepka has four Majors to his credit, two US Opens (2017,2018) and two PGA Championships (2018,2019), including last year’s one when he pipped Johnson by two strokes at Bethpage Black Course in New York.
Johnson’s only Major victory came at the 2016 US Open at Oakmont Country Club and there are many out there who believe that he should have won more than that by now. A former world number one himself, with more than 20 PGA titles under his belt, Johnson could alter that stat with a triumph here next Sunday. There won’t be many betting against him doing just that.
If Woods wins, it would be his 16th Major and one that follows his remarkable comeback at the Masters last year. That victory came a decade after his 14th Major and prompted his fans to talk of more to come, as he reeled in another in his quest to match jack Nickluas’ record 18 Majors.
Woods’ worrisome back gave him problems again at the Memorial, but if he’s fit and fine at Harding Park, he could again throw his name into the hat, come Sunday afternoon.
Schauffele is another one of those players who operates under the radar yet has great potential. The 26-year-old American knows how to handle the big stage, having won the Tour Championship and WGC-HSBC Champions already. A Major, one would have to say, is definitely achievable, and this could well be his week.
But with so many permutations on the table, it’s difficult to say with much certainty who will actually come out on top.
For the likes of McIlroy, Rahm, DeChambeau, Koepka and Johnson, they’ll just be hoping to play well enough to stay in contention and then let loose over the back nine on Sunday.
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