Major number two, coming right up. The world’s top golfers on the PGA Tour will all gather in Farmingdale, NY, to play at the PGA Championship. For the first time, the PGA Championship heads to Bethpage Black and will also be held in May rather than the usual mid-August window.
Here’s a little more about Bethpage Black, the last few years of the PGA Championship, and some golfers who can capture the title come Sunday.
Bethpage Black Preview
The difficulty of Bethpage Black can be summed up in one sentence; Right next to the course’s first tee, a sign warns players that only “highly skilled” golfers should attempt to play the Black. It is a course that has long held a reputation as one of golf’s toughest places to play, hosting two US Opens, two Barclays tournaments, and the 2024 Ryder Cup.
This course is only a par 70, but a ridiculously long 7,459 yards in length. Plus with the long stretches of rain and cold that have affected the area for much of April and early May, the course could play even longer. The Black features at least two bunkers per hole, thick trees surrounding the fairways, and smaller-than-average greens. Fortunately, the rough has been cut down to a very practical height, and minimal winds along with the wetter course could make it slightly easier for golfers than in years past.
Some of the hole layouts are, of course, trickier than others. The two likeliest holes to give golfers trouble are 12 and 15. Hole 12 is a 515-yard par 4 that features a left dogleg and had just 20 total birdies in the 2009 US Open. Then there’s Hole 15, a 457-yard par 4 that has an abnormally steep uphill climb to the green, yielding only 17 birdies in 2009.
PGA Championship History
Formerly played in mid-August as the fourth and final major of the season, the PGA Championship has officially moved to mid-May. It is now a week before Memorial Day weekend and plays as the second major between The Masters and the US Open. Starting as a stroke-play tournament in 1958, the PGA has been held at many different courses around the country, but in recent years been limited to a small group of prominent courses.
In last year’s PGA Championship at Bellerive, Brooks Koepka won his second major tournament of 2018, and his third overall in 14 months. With Tiger Woods gaining ground, Koepka hit several clutch birdies to shoot -4 on Sunday and record a total score of 264, a PGA Championship 72-hole record. Woods shot a 64 on Sunday, his best-ever final round in any major, and ended up two strokes behind Koepka.
Recent PGA Championship winners include Justin Thomas in 2017, who withdrew from this year’s field, Jimmy Walker in 2016, Jason Day in 2015, and Rory McIlroy’s second in three years in 2014. As for the tournaments actually held at Bethpage Black, Woods won the 2002 US Open as the only player to finish below par. Other past winners include Lucas Glover at the US Open in 2009, as well as Nick Watney (2012) and Patrick Reed (2016) at The Barclays, now The Northern Trust.
With the course and tournament history covered, now it’s time to look at a few players who can capture the title this weekend.
Tiger Woods – 8/1
The betting favorite, Tiger has been the talk of the golf world since his dramatic Masters victory last month. Now with his 15th major victory under his belt, Woods returns to a course that he conquered in 2002 in search of number 16. He has finished near the top of the leaderboard in three straight major tournaments and should once again be in the running.
Brooks Koepka – 12/1
If it’s a major, Koepka should be taken seriously. The defending champion has three major tournament wins, as well as three other top-fives and a couple top-10s. In addition to being excellent in majors, he has been one of the Tour’s best in total driving and greens in regulation, ranking ninth and 14th, respectively. Expect Koepka to be in contention.
Rickie Fowler – 16/1
Eventually he has to win a major, right? Fowler has shown his abilities in majors, finishing in the top-20 in seven of his last nine. He has also shown he can withstand Bethpage Black, leading the field at the 2016 Barclays after 54 holes before finishing T7. While his driving leaves something to be desired, his putting (seventh in SG: putting) can potentially give Fowler his first major victory.
Jason Day – 25/1
Day is one of the world’s best but still manages to fly under the radar. Including his PGA Championship win in 2015, Day has 15 top-10s in majors, as well as a top-10 at the Barclays in 2016, played right here at Bethpage Black. He ranks fifth in strokes gained: off-the-tee, and as long as his back holds up, he could be an interesting pick to win.
Xander Schauffele – 25/1
Schauffele is another player who seems to elevate his play for a major. The 25-year-old finished T2 at Augusta last month, T2 at last year’s Open Championship, and in the top-6 at the last two US Opens. While the PGA is the only major where he has yet to crack the top-5, Schauffele has never been one to back away from a challenge.
So many good choices haven’t even been looked at, including Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jon Rahm, and Francesco Molinari. But call me crazy, because I think this is when Rickie Fowler’s long drought finally comes to an end. I’m picking Fowler to capture his first major title and win the PGA Championship.
The first round from Farmingdale, New York tees off Thursday morning at 6:45 am EST.