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Top Players to Watch at the PGA Championship

PGA Championship – Top 11 Players and two Dark Horses to Watch

2018 marks the final year that the PGA Championship will be played in its traditional August time frame. Starting in 2019, the PGA Tour’s schedule will experience a dramatic shift, with several tournaments switching dates. The PGA Championship is one of them, moving from August back to the middle of May, in part so the playoffs can start and finish earlier, thus avoiding going up against the start of football season in the ratings.

This, the 100edition of the PGA Championship, will take place at Bellerive Country Club outside of St. Louis. Opened in 1897, Bellerive has only hosted two other major championships – the 1965 U.S. Open and the 1992 PGA Championship. The Robert Trent Jones design (redesigned by Rees Jones in 2005-06) plays to a par of 71 and measures 7,547 yards from the championship tees.

Bellerive is notable for not only its length but also its large and undulating greens, as well as a large creek that meanders through the course and comes into play on nine of the 18 holes.

When you think about the PGA Championship, it’s important to note that seven of the last nine champions were first-time major winners – think Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jimmy Walker, and Martin Kaymer –and that many end up being one-off winners. Perhaps that’s due in part because this event, more so than the other three majors, is most like a regular PGA Tour event, with a similar layout and course conditions.

So as we take a look at our top 11 players to watch, we’ll keep in mind several decorated players who are in search of their first major title.

 

Rickie Fowler

The 9ranked player in the world has a successful track record at the PGA, having made seven of eight cuts, with a T3 in 2014 and T5 last year at Quail Hollow. Rickie has the distance to navigate Bellerive’s lengthy track, but his usually reliable putting stroke has been unsteady as of late (66in SG: Putting this season on the PGA Tour). That’s something to look out for should he find himself in contention and his first potential major hanging in the balance.

But if he starts rolling the rock like we know he can, perhaps this is the week Rickie finally breaks through to capture his first major title.

What’s in the Bag

  • Driver: Nardo (8.0 degrees) Shaft: Aldila NV 2K Blue 70X
  • 3-4 Wood: (14.5 degrees) Shaft: Aldila Synergy 75 TX
  • 4-5 Wood: (18.5 degrees) Shaft: Aldila Synergy 75 TX
  • Irons: (4-PW) Shaft: KBS C-Taper Tour 125 S+
  • Wedges: (52-10B, 56-10F, 60F) Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400
  • Putter: Scotty Cameron Circle T prod-Newport 2 Grip: Standard Scotty Cameron Pistol
  • Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1

 

Jordan Spieth

The only man in the field who can complete the Career Grand Slam by winning this championship is Spieth, who finished runner-up to Jason Day in 2015. Despite a winless season so far, Spieth finished T9 at the year’s third major. His putter has been cold this year, but if he can figure out the undulating greens of Bellerive and find that little swing thought that gets him rolling in the right direction, he may find himself poised to become just the fifth golfer in history to win all four majors and all before the age of 26.

What’s in the Bag

  • Driver: Titleist 915D2 (9.5 degrees) Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD IZ-6X
  • 3 Wood: Titleist 915F (15 degrees) Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI-7X
  • Hybrid: (21 degrees) Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI-95X Hybrid
  • Irons: (4), (5-9) Shafts: Graphite Design Tour AD-DI 95X (3), True Temper Project X 6.5 (4-9)
  • Wedges: (46-10, 52-08F, 56-10S, 60-04L) Shafts: True Temper Project X 6.0 (52, 56, 60) True Temper Project X 6.5 (46)
  • Putter: Scotty Cameron Circle T 009 Grip: SuperStroke Flatso 1.0
  • Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

 

Rory McIlroy

Fresh off a runner-up finish at the year’s third major, Rory is rounding into form just in time for the sprint to the season’s finish, with a WGC event, a major, and four FedEx Cup playoff events on the horizon. He’ll be fresh off a trip to Akron where he won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2014, followed by his second PGA Championship win, so his confidence should be high. Two of Rory’s four majors have come at PGA Championships, where he traditionally feels very comfortable with the style of course and course setup. If he can find the similar form to what he had in 2014, he could just run away from the rest of the field.

What’s in the Bag

  • Driver: (8.5degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei Orange 70TX
  • 3 Wood: (15 degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro White 80TX
  • 5 Wood: (19 degrees) Shaft: Fujikura Rombax P95X (or TaylorMade P790 UDI (2) Shaft: Project X HZDRUS Black 6.5 105X shaft)
  • Irons:  (3, 4), TaylorMade “Rors Proto”(5-9) Shafts: Project X 7.0
  • Wedges: (48, 52 and 58 degrees),(60 degrees) Shafts: Project X 6.5
  • Putter: TaylorMade TP Black Copper Collection Soto
  • Golf Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

 

Tiger Woods

Like the rest of the golfing world, your heart probably skipped a beat when you saw Tiger’s name suddenly atop the leaderboard on the Sunday at Carnoustie. It certainly looked as though his comeback was about to culminate in his 15major title, but several wayward shots later and it was not to be.

It does appear that Tiger has found some confidence with his new putter, and he’s shown that he certainly still has the length to keep up with most of the big hitters. He’s eager to cap off a surprisingly – even to him – good year with a strong showing at Bellerive, and potentially lock up a Ryder Cup spot in Paris.

What’s in the Bag

  • Driver: (8.5 degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei CK Orange 70TX
  • 3 Wood: (15 degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei CK Orange 80TX
  • Driving Iron: TaylorMade GAPR Lo (2 iron) Shaft: Project X PXi 7.0
  • Irons: TaylorMade TW-Phase1 prototype (3-PW) Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100
  • Wedges: (56 and 60 degrees) Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400
  • Putter: TaylorMade TP Black Copper Ardmore 3 Grip: Ping Pistol
  • Golf Ball: Bridgestone Tour B XS

 

Dustin Johnson

Fresh off a dominating performance at the RBC Canadian Open, DJ has put the missed cut at Carnoustie well behind him and looks poised to go on a run, much like Rory did in 2014 when he reeled off back-to-back-to-back wins, capturing two majors and a World Golf Championship. With three wins already this season, if he can capture his second major title, DJ will be firmly in the driver’s seat for Player of the Year honors.

He’s made six of eight cuts at the PGA Championship and should feel right at home at the lengthy Bellerive, where distance off the tee will certainly be an advantage.

What’s in the Bag

  • Driver: (9.5 degrees) Shaft: Fujikura Speeder 661 Evolution 2.0 Tour Spec X
  • 3 Wood: (16.5 degrees) Shaft: Project X HZRDUS Black 95 6.5
  • Irons: TaylorMade DJ Proto (3-PW) Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100
  • Wedges: (52-09SB, 60-14THB, 60-10SB,) Shaft: KBS Tour 120S
  • Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Black Grip: SuperStroke Pistol GT 1.0
  • Golf Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

 

Justin Thomas

JT – the defending champion – missed the cut at Carnoustie and hasn’t carded a top 10 finish since the Memorial in early June. He’ll likely have spent the last couple weeks refocusing and tightening up his short game and putter, where he ranks 55on Tour in SG: Putting. Couple that with the fact that no player likes to give up his trophy without a fight, it’s a good bet we’ll see JT in contention come Sunday afternoon at Bellerive.

What’s in the Bag

  • Driver: Titleist TS3 (8.5 degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana BF 60TX
  • 3 Wood: Titleist TS3 (15 degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei CK Blue 80TX
  • 5 Wood: Titleist 915 Fd (18 degrees) Shaft: Fujikura Motore Speeder VC 9.2 Tour Spec X
  • Irons: (4 iron), (5-9 irons) Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100
  • Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM5 (56-14F), (46-08F, 52-12F, 60-12K) Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue (46-60), Nippon N.S. Pro Modus 3 (60)
  • Putter: Scotty Cameron Circle T X5 Grip: SuperStroke Pistol GT Tour
  • Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

 

Patrick Reed

Reed has taken his fair share of criticism over the past few years as a player whose brash talk often overshadowed his performance on the course, especially in big events. But his success in Ryder Cups – he’s been dubbed Captain America – has finally translated to majors this season, and he’s eager to build on a Masters win and fourth place finish at the U.S. Open.

Reed has the all-around game to get it done around Bellerive, where length off the tee and touch on the greens will be critical. He’d like nothing more than to bookend his most rewarding season to date with a second major championship.

What’s in the Bag

  • Driver: (10 degrees) Shaft: Aldila 70 Tour X
  • Fairway Wood: Nike VR Pro Ltd. Edition (15 degrees) Shaft: Aldila 80 Tour X
  • Irons: Callaway MB-1 (5-PW) Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100
  • Wedges: Artisan (51 & 56), Titleist Vokey SM5(61) Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400
  • Putter: Odyssey White Hot Pro #3
  • Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1

 

Justin Rose

Rose has climbed to a career-best #2 ranking in the world and is having one of the most successful seasons of his career. The 38-year-old is looking to strike while he’s at the height of his powers and win his second major championship (U.S. Open – 2013). After making the cut on the number at the third major of the year, Rose shot 64-69 over the weekend to post 6-under and finish in a share of second place.

Known throughout his career as a superior ball striker, Rose has found something in his putting (he’s 8in SG: Putting on the PGA Tour) that makes him one to watch at Bellerive.

What’s in the Bag

  • Driver: (8.5 degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei CK 60TX
  • 3 Wood: (15 degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei CK 80TX
  • 5 Wood: (19 degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei CK 80TX
  • Irons: (3),(4-PW) Shafts: KBS Tour C-Taper 125 S+
  • Wedges: (52-09SB, 56-12SB,,) Shafts: KBS Hi-Rev 2.0 135X
  • Putter: TaylorMade TP Ardmore 2 Grip: Flat Cat Svelte
  • Ball: TaylorMade TP5

 

Tommy Fleetwood

Fleetwood fits the mold of a top-ranked player (11in the OWGR) who’s come close to claiming major glory, but just hasn’t broken through yet. He’s shown fantastic form in the majors this year, and despite only making one of three cuts at the PGA Championship in his career, he’s full of confidence, striking the ball excellently, and getting up and down from everywhere. Will this be the major that finally puts Tommy in the pantheon of major winners and propels him to golfing superstar status?

What’s in the Bag

  • Driver: (8.5 degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Kuro Kage 70TX
  • 3 Wood: (15 degrees) Shaft: UST Mamiya ProForce VTS 7X
  • 5 Wood: Nike Vapor Fly (19 degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana Blue 80TX
  • Irons: Nike VR Forged (4 iron), Nike VR Pro (5-9 iron) Shafts: Project X Rifle 6.5
  • Wedges: (48-09, 52-10, 56-10, 60-08) Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400
  • Putter: Odyssey White Hot Pro #3 Grip: Super Stroke Mid Slim 2.0
  • Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

 

Jason Day

With two wins this season at the Farmers Insurance Open and Wells Fargo Championship, Jason Day is feeling revived after a less than ideal 2017 season. The 2015 PGA Champion is looking to capture his second major and is an excellent candidate to do so, having finished T-10 or better in 5 of 8 PGA Championships since his debut in 2010. Although he has won twice in 2018, Day missed the cut in the U.S. Open and finished outside the Top 15 in the years other two majors. Look for him to change that narrative and play lights out at Bellerive Country Club.

What’s in the Bag

 

Hideki Matsuyama

Although it’s been a disappointing year so far for Hideki – no wins and no top 10s since January – he does, nonetheless, fit the bill of a top-20 player looking to claim his first major title. He’s experienced success in the PGA Championship, making all five cuts he’s played in and finishing T4 in 2016 and T5 last year. If he’s able to put himself in position come Sunday, will he be able to control his nerves and remain in the moment, with the pressure of becoming Japan’s first major winner in history firmly resting on his shoulders?

What’s in the Bag

  • Driver: TaylorMade M3 Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI-8TX
  • Fairway Wood: (15 degrees) Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI-9TX
  • Utility: Honma Tour World TW727(19 degrees) Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI-115SX
  • Irons: (4-PW) Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400
  • Wedges: (52-10, 60-10) (56-10) Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400
  • Putter: Scotty Cameron Circle T GSS Grip: Scotty Cameron Standard Pistol
  • Golf Ball: Srixon Z-Star XV

 

Dark Horse(s) – Paul Casey & Alex Noren

Casey and Noren both fit the bill of aging, veteran players with successful careers who want that major championship to help validate their success. Neither are particularly long, but both know how to strategize their way around a tough course and show the patience that it takes to experience the highs and lows of a major championship and be in contention come Sunday afternoon.

Notables

Francesco Molinari, Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Webb Simpson, Jon Rahm, Brian Harman, Kevin Na, and Gary Woodland.