The contenders who hope to win this week’s 103rd PGA Championship at Kiawah Island had better hope their big sticks are ready.
The Ocean Course will measure a whopping 7,876 yards, making it the longest course to ever host one of professional golf’s four majors.
Rory McIlroy won the previous PGA Championship played there, in 2012, running away with an 8-shot victory, the widest margin in the event’s history. After winning the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks ago, McIlroy is once again among the favorites.
Another big storyline: Jordan Spieth, who has resurrected his career this season after a long slump, will try to become just the sixth player in history to complete the career Grand Slam.
Here’s a look at the 156 players in the field, including the guys who can win, the sleepers, the club professionals and everyone in between:
Tier I: Guys who can win
Here are the legitimate contenders. They have the game, guts and nerves to handle four pressure-packed rounds on what might be a very tricky golf course if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Finally, he ended his 18-month drought without a victory at Quail Hollow two weeks ago. When he set the PGA Championship record with an 8-shot victory at Kiawah Island in 2012, he was 11 under over the final two rounds.
The Spanish player won’t be rushing to this major from the delivery room, as he did at the Masters in April. His wife gave birth to the couple’s first child a few days before Masters week. Still, Rahm finished tied for fifth, his sixth top-10 in his past 12 majors. He has to win his first major championship soon, right?
The 2017 PGA Championship winner loves the tough decisions that come with playing a Pete Dye-designed course, as evidenced by his March victory at the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. However, he’ll have to putt better than he has lately.
After a four-year struggle, Spieth has arguably been the best story on tour this calendar year, ending his winless drought at the Valero Texas Open in April after going 1,351 days between victories. He also finished tied for third at the Masters.
Other than winning the Masters, the South Carolina native would probably like nothing more than to win a major in his home state. He pulled out of last week’s start at the AT&T Byron Nelson because of discomfort in his knee and hasn’t been himself since winning a green jacket in November.
If it’s not Rahm, Schauffele is arguably the best player in the world without a victory in a major. He came painfully close — again — at the Masters in April, finishing in a tie for third after his Sunday tee shot on the par-3 16th went into the water. It was his eighth top-10 in 15 career starts in majors.
It’s no surprise that DeChambeau leads the PGA Tour in driving distance, and length off the tee is going to be a must at the Ocean Course. (He just needs his tee shots to find the fairways). He finished tied for fourth at TPC Harding Park last year, only his second top-10 in 18 starts in majors; he won the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot by 6 shots.
Morikawa navigated strong winds on the California coast quite well in winning the 2020 PGA Championship in San Francisco. Now, he’ll try his luck in potentially blustery conditions on the opposite coast. One concern: He is tied for 125th in driving distance.
The 23-year-old Norwegian player hasn’t missed a cut in a major as a pro (or amateur) and heads to Kiawah Island with serious momentum, having tied for third in each of his past two starts, at the Valspar Championship and Wells Fargo Championship. He is sixth in strokes gained: tee to green, another promising sign.
Reed’s track record on Dye tracks hasn’t been great; he has never finished in the top 20 in seven starts at TPC Sawgrass and was tied for 30th at the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. Still, his short game is so good that it wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s in contention.
In his first two starts in majors as a professional, Zalatoris finished tied for sixth at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and was runner-up at the Masters in April. No stage seems too big for the 24-year-old, who is already one of the game’s best ball strikers.
His track record in the wind and uncanny touch around the greens will make him a contender if the weather gets dicey at Kiawah Island. He tied for fifth at the Masters in April and then teamed up with fellow Australian Cameron Smith to win the Zurich Classic.
He finished in a tie for fourth at Harding Park, his first start in a PGA Championship. As with many others, it will be his first competitive round at the Ocean Course.
Other than missing the cut at the Masters, Berger has played well this season, winning at Pebble Beach in February, one of his nine top-25s in 14 tour starts. He took a month off before tying for third in this past week’s Byron Nelson.
Outside of tying for 10th at the Masters (his eighth top-10 in his past 12 starts in majors), Finau has cooled off considerably since March, missing the cut most recently at the Wells Fargo Championship. He tied for fourth at Harding Park, 3 shots behind Morikawa.
The Englishman has done most of his damage on the European Tour, where he has had six victories since 2016. He has also played well in the majors, with five top-10s. If conditions get windy and difficult, he is better equipped to handle it than most.
The Masters champion returned home to Japan and spent two weeks in quarantine. He was honored by Japan’s prime minister before returning to the U.S. to play in the Byron Nelson, where he tied for 39th. He admits he didn’t have much time to practice.
The 43-year-old English player was tied for runner-up at Harding Park, finishing 2 shots behind Morikawa with four sub-70 rounds. He’s looking to become the oldest first-time major champion since Roberto De Vicenzo of Argentina won the 1967 Open Championship at 44.
The former UCLA star arrives at Kiawah Island headed in the wrong direction with missed cuts in each of his past three stroke-play starts. He tied for third at the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.
Simpson pulled out of the Wells Fargo two weeks ago, missing a start on his home course, because of a neck injury. He has never finished higher than a tie for 13th in the PGA Championship.
The two-time PGA Championship winner tried to play through a right knee injury at the Masters in April and missed the cut. He made his first start since then at the Byron Nelson, where he again missed the cut. He said the knee feels better, although he still can’t squat to read putts and is struggling to get to his right side.
Tier II: If everything goes right
Here are the sleeper candidates to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday. The list includes previous major champions, recent first-time winners and some very talented players who are still searching for their first wins in the U.S.
Kokrak won his first PGA Tour event at the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek in October and has become one of the sport’s best putters. His driving distance and prowess on the greens might make him a legitimate dark horse.
Niemann, from Chile, has missed the cut in five of his seven starts in majors, but his form is trending in the right direction, with 11 top-25s in 16 tour starts this season.
The past two seasons haven’t been great for the English golfer, but a tie for fifth at the WGC-Match Play and tie for 14th at the Wells Fargo show he might be turning his form around. He’s another player who is good in tough conditions.
The Englishman is No. 17 in the Official World Golf Ranking and seems to be getting closer to breaking through at a major; he has just one top-10 in his previous 20 career starts.
Smith’s best finish in a PGA Championship was a tie for 25th in 2015. His work around the green and putting have been stellar. If he wins his first major championship, we’re betting he will finally fulfill his girlfriend’s wish and cut his mullet. OK, maybe not.
An opening-round 65 led to a seventh-place finish at the Masters in April, his only top-10 on tour this season. He tied for third at the 2012 PGA Championship, finishing 9 back of McIlroy.
The South African tied for second at the 2017 PGA Championship, which completed his career runner-up “Grand Slam.”
He is still searching for his first PGA Tour victory but has played remarkably well in majors on American soil, making the cut in each of his six starts. He comes in with momentum, after finishing fifth at the Valspar Championship and solo second at the Wells Fargo Championship.
The South Korean golfer hasn’t played particularly well at the PGA Championship, missing the cut in his previous two starts after tying for 42nd in 2018.
Scott has the advantage of being among the players who competed in the 2012 PGA Championship, in which he tied for 11th.
Woodland hasn’t done much since winning the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, but a solo fifth at Quail Hollow was a promising sign.
If the wind whips off the Atlantic Ocean this week, the Irishman will feel right at home. He survived absolutely awful conditions to win the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
He tied for fourth at Harding Park, 3 shots behind Morikawa. He might miss a major for the first time since the 2012 Open Championship, though, because of the pending birth of his fourth child. His wife is due in early June.
He’s one of the longest hitters in the field, and he’s getting better in majors. He tied for 10th at the 2020 PGA Championship, his best finish yet at a major.
There will be plenty of spots for Horschel to go barefoot and roll up his pant legs on the Ocean Course. (He has gone into the water to hit a shot more than once this year). He made the cut in each of his past seven starts in the PGA Championship.
The Canadian golfer has posted back-to-back top-10s at the Masters, where second shots are a premium. His accuracy off the tee will come in handy at Kiawah Island.
The 48-year-old recently won the Seve Ballesteros Award for his performance on the European Tour in 2020. He’s been pretty good in the U.S. this year but he is still seeking his first major championship victory.
Tier III: Hey, miracles happen
They are the long shots. This tier includes a handful of aging former major champions and some first-timers.
Si Woo Kim
Harold Varner III
Erik van Rooyen
Tier IV: Happy to make the cut
They aren’t expected to be among the contenders unless something magical happens.
Daniel van Tonder
Tier V: Past champions
They’re here only because they’ve already won the Wanamaker Trophy, earning the right to come back and play, but their days of competing are in the rearview mirror.
Tier V: PGA professionals
These are the PGA professionals who earned exemptions into the field by finishing in the top 20 of last month’s PGA Professional Championship.
Frank Bensel Jr.