FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — The top 99 players in the Official World Golf Rankings are headed to the Black Course at Bethpage State Park in New York this week for the 101st PGA Championship. (It would have been 100, but Justin Thomas pulled out this week because of a wrist injury).
Of course, Woods is coming off his first major victory in 11 years at the Masters in April. It was Woods’ 15th major championship, leaving him three behind the record held by Jack Nicklaus.
It’s the first time the PGA Championship is being played at Bethpage Black, and it’s the first time the event is being played in May since 1949.
Who’s in the best position to handle what might be cool and wet conditions? Here’s a look at each of the players in the field, divided into groups from the legitimate contenders to the PGA club professionals:
Tier I: The guys who can win
Here are the legitimate contenders to win the PGA Championship. They have the games, guts and nerves to handle four pressure-packed rounds to win the Wanamaker Trophy.
The defending PGA Championship winner will try to join Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back PGA winners in stroke play. The two-time defending U.S. Open champion would also become the first player in golf history to hold concurrent back-to-back major titles. He is a combined 47 under par in his past five PGA Championship appearances.
The four-time PGA winner hasn’t won the event since 2007. He hadn’t won the Masters in 14 years before slipping on his fifth green jacket in April. A victory this week would tie Woods with Jack Nicklaus with five PGA titles.
Johnson hasn’t finished better than a tie for fifth at the PGA Championship. He’s arguably the most talented player in the world, but has only one major — the 2016 U.S. Open title — to show for it.
McIlroy was playing better than anyone in the world until a disappointing performance at the Masters. He leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, which figures to be extra important at Bethpage Black. Plus, it’s hard not to like his driving distance if the course is wet.
Fowler is perhaps the best player in the world without a major championship and might be ready to break through at the PGA Championship. Three of the past four winners of the Wanamaker were first-time major champions — Thomas, Jimmy Walker and Jason Day.
The Spaniard finished tied for fourth at the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive and tied for ninth at the Masters. He will be making his Bethpage debut.
The former world No. 1 missed the cut at the Masters with rounds of 75 and 73. He was third at the Wells Fargo Championship in his only event since then. His track record at Bethpage Black — missed the cut at the 2009 U.S. Open and tied for 46th and tied for 31st at the Barclays in 2012 and 2016, respectively — might be cause for concern.
The Italian’s collapse in the final six holes at Augusta National might be difficult to forget. It seems almost cruel that he’ll spend the first two rounds at the PGA Championship playing with Woods, the man who beat him. Still, Molinari has four top-10 finishes in his past six majors.
After firing an opening-round 66 at Augusta National, DeChambeau posted three straight rounds in the 70s and fell out of contention. He missed the cut at Hilton Head the next week and hasn’t played competitively since.
The Australian battled through back problems to finish in a tie for fifth at the Masters. He tied for fourth at the Barclays at Bethpage Black in 2016, when he made a ridiculous 71-foot birdie putt.
With two victories and a tie for second at the Masters this season, Schauffele looks like one of golf’s next stars. He already has four top-six finishes in eight majors in two-plus seasons on the PGA Tour.
The Englishman is still looking for his first victory on American soil, which figures to come sooner rather than later. He was second with Sergio Garcia at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and was runner-up at the 2018 U.S. Open after firing a 63 on Sunday.
Spieth hasn’t won since the 2017 Open Championship, but his game finally seems headed in the right direction again. He’ll try to complete the career Grand Slam for the third time at the PGA Championship. Only five men — Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen — have won all four majors during the Masters era.
After playing in the final threesome and finishing in a tie for fifth at the Masters, Finau missed the cut at the Zurich Classic and tied for 60th at the Wells Fargo Championship. He’s 145th in strokes gained: around the green, and players will have to scramble well at Bethpage Black. He has finished in the top 10 in four of his past five appearances in majors.
Kuchar has finished tied for 12th or better in each of his past four tour events, including runner-up at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and the RBC Heritage. His tipping habits will likely be a popular topic among the Bethpage galleries.
Mickelson wants to become the oldest major winner at 48 years, 11 months. He was runner-up to Woods at the 2002 U.S. Open and to Lucas Glover at the 2009 U.S. Open, both played at Bethpage Black.
Tier II: If everything goes right …
Here are the dark horse candidates to win the PGA Championship. This tier includes a few previous major champions and a handful of players who are seeking their first major title.
Cantlay followed his top-10 at the Masters with a tie for third at the RBC Heritage.
Matsuyama finished in a tie for 32nd at the Masters and hasn’t had a top-15 in a major since tying for second at the 2017 U.S. Open.
Casey was runner-up at Pebble Beach and won the Valspar Championship earlier this season, but he also missed cuts at the Players and the Masters.
The South African grabbed a share of the 36-hole lead at the Masters with a 66 in the second round before falling out of contention on the weekend.
Reed hasn’t won since the 2018 Masters and hasn’t finished in the top 10 since October. He won the Barclays at Bethpage Black in August 2016.
The Swede hasn’t won since the Wyndham Championship in August 2017 and has just one top-10 finish this season.
Scott finished third in the 2018 PGA Championship, 3 shots behind Koepka, which was a good indication that the 38-year-old Australian can still be a factor at majors.
Watson is going to wish he had Mickelson’s calves for the grueling 6-mile walk on Long Island. Watson has only two top-10s in 11 tour events and hasn’t finished better than a tie for fourth.
Leishman withdrew from last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson at the last minute because of a lower-back injury, infuriating daily fantasy players around the country. I’m guessing he didn’t lose much sleep about it.
Dahmen’s runner-up finish at the Wells Fargo Championship left many believing he’ll win for the first time on tour sometime very soon. Doing it at a major might be asking too much, however.
It has been 17 years since Garcia flipped off hecklers at the 16th hole at Bethpage Black during the 2002 U.S. Open. The good news: His waggle is back.
Bethpage Black will host the 2024 Ryder Cup. Given Poulter’s play and antics in France in September, “Mr. Ryder Cup” is probably going to hear from quite a few American fans this week.
Simpson tied for fifth at the Masters, his third straight finish of 12th or better in a major.
Kisner might not hit it far enough to truly be a contender at Bethpage Black, but that doesn’t mean he might not play his way into the mix. If the PGA wanted to really liven things up this week, it’d let Kisner share a golf cart with John Daly.
Woodland tied for sixth at the 2018 PGA Championship, 6 shots back of Koepka. He has eight top-25s in 15 events this season.
Mitchell ranks 157th in driving accuracy, hitting only 57.9 percent of fairways. That might be a problem at Bethpage Black, where the fairways aren’t very generous.
Tier III: Hey, miracles happen
They are the long shots. Everything would have to fall perfectly into place over 72 holes in four days for someone from this tier to win.
Charles Howell III
Si Woo Kim
Rafa Cabrera Bello
Harold Varner III
Tier IV: Happy to make the cut
They aren’t expected to be among the contenders unless something truly magical happens.
Erik van Rooyen
Tier V: PGA club professionals
Twenty PGA club professionals will tee it up this week after qualifying earlier this month through the PGA Professional Championship in Bluffton, South Carolina. Alex Beach of Stamford, Connecticut, won the event.
Rich Berberian Jr.