Golf's revamped major season began with one of the greatest comebacks in sports history. What will the second major tournament have in store?
It's a tough performance to follow, but the PGA Championship annually has the best field in all of golf and 2019 is no different. Despite Justin Thomas' late withdrawl, the field is stacked once again. Tiger Woods is coming off arguably the biggest win of his career, Dustin Johnson is No. 1 in the world again, Rory McIlroy has been red-hot in 2019 and Brooks Koepka is still being slept on (allegedly) despite winning three of the last seven majors.
With the 2019 PGA Championship teeing off Thursday at Bethpage Black, SI.com paneled its golf experts and asked them for their predictions.
One sleeper to watch?
Michael Rosenberg:Brooks Koepka. Nobody pays attention to him! (What? We're tired of that narrative?) How about Cameron Champ? Monster hitter, hasn't made a cut since February ... if he pulls it together this week, the New York crowd will go nuts.
Daniel Rapaport: Matt Kuchar. It feels weird calling him a sleeper since he's leading the FedEx Cup, but most Vegas books have him listed around 40-1. That's mostly because the course seems a bit big for him. Still, no one has played better, more consistent golf than Kuch this year, and he knows he's running out of time to get out of the Best Player to Never Win a Major conversation. He's certainly a guy to keep an eye on.
Stephanie Apstein: Ryan Armour. He's unlikely to win, but Ryan Armour is hitting 72.4% of his fairways this year, fourth-best on Tour.
Mark McClusky: Patrick Reed. The guy who won at Bethpage in 2016 was Patrick Reed. He’s had a tough year so far, with no finish higher than T13 back at Torrey Pines in January. But somehow I can imagine the New York crowd kind of getting behind the controversial Reed as a heel character, and maybe the good vibes from his win here can jumpstart his season.
Matt Dollinger: J.B. Holmes. New Yorkers treated Sergio Garcia like golf's version of Reggie Miller when he couldn't stop re-gripping the club in 2002. But Sergio's yips are gone and Bethpage Black needs a new villain. How about the infamously slow Holmes? Nothing goes together quite like New York and six-hour rounds.
How will Tiger play?
Rosenberg: Top 15. Taking a month off was wise. Whatever Woods does, he must make sure he stays healthy. He drove it well enough over the weekend at Augusta to give me some confidence in that part of his game. But winning back-to-back majors with no reps in between ... on a long, difficult course this week ... against a field this strong? That's a big ask.
Rapaport: He'll be in the mix, but this is Brooks Koepka's tournament to go out and win. So I'll say Tiger finishes in the top five, three shots behind Koepka's winning total.
Apstein: Tiger will finish second, sparking at least one New York tabloid to declare him washed-up.
McClusky: It’s a total cop-out, but Tiger will perform as well as his driving can carry him. I’d be surprised if he’s not in the mix, but feel like a win is too big an ask with his history of accuracy issues.
Dollinger: As great as it was to watch Tiger's game hold up all week at Augusta, it was just as important to see the pressure and decade-long burden melt off his face when he tapped in on the 72nd hole. Tiger no longer has to wonder if he's ever going to win a major again—he's done it. Don't underestimate how big of a monkey that is off his back. Tiger has played well recently, he's played well at Bethpage and he's playing pressure-free golf. Sounds like a good pick to me.
Who will win?
Rosenberg:Rory McIlroy. I love everything about this for McIlroy. The course favors long hitters. It's a tournament he has won twice. and all the pre-tourney attention is on Tiger Woods, so he won't battle the same kind of forces that occasionally mess with his head. McIlroy has finished in the top 10 in eight of his last nine starts. This feels like his week, and fun fact: I have never made a bad prediction about a golf tournament. (Editor's note: lol.)
Rapaport: Brooks Koepka. This tournament seems almost too perfect for him. There's his recent major history—three wins and a runner-up in the last seven majors he's played in. There's his form coming in—he was one iron shot away from winning the Masters and cruised to a T4 finish at last week's Byron Nelson. And there's his course fit—Bethpage is playing as long as any course you'll ever see, and it's going to put a premium on finding fairways, and no one has the combination of power and accuracy like Koepka does. Brooks Koepka and the 2019 PGA Championship are a match made in golfing heaven.
Apstein: Brooks Koepka. I will keep picking him until he finishes worse than second at a major again.
McClusky: Jason Day. Bethpage is going to be a long slog after a wet spring in the northeast, and to win majors, you’ve got to make some putts. I’m going with a guy who’s got perhaps the best combination of driver prowess and a putter that could get very, very hot — Jason Day. He’s got four top-10s so far this season, finished T4 last time the pros played at Bethpage in 2016, and at a course that might straddle the divide between a traditional PGA and US Open set up, something seems right for him this week.
Dollinger: Tiger Woods. I feel pretty good taking Tiger with all of my colleagues passing, but I also really like Rickie Fowler's chances this weekend. He's finished tied for third or better in all four majors and it just feels like he's finally due to break through on one of golf's biggest stages. He has the distance and experience to win at Bethpage.