ST. LOUIS – The final major of the year gets underway Thursday at Bellerive Country Club, and we assembled our team on the ground – senior writers Rex Hoggard and Ryan Lavner, and associate editor Nick Menta – to tackle some of the biggest questions heading into the 100th PGA Championship:
THE MONDAY MORNING HEADLINE WILL BE …?
REX HOGGARD: The Return of Rory. It’s been four years since the Northern Irishman won a major, but everything about Bellerive screams for another McIlroy victory.
RYAN LAVNER: Rory Snaps Four-Year Winless Drought with Dominant Performance. Bellerive is long. It is soft. It has slow greens and a lot of dogleg-left holes. Come on, let’s not overthink this.
NICK MENTA: Back to Back: Justin Thomas Defends PGA Title. Sure, it’s dicey to pick a guy coming off a victory, but Rory won the WGC-Bridgestone in 2014 and rolled right into Valhalla. Plus, I picked JT to win last year. Might as well try it again.
WHO WILL BE THE BIGGEST SURPRISE?
HOGGARD: A mid-length hitter will be in contention on Sunday, despite the widely held belief that Bellerive will be a bomber’s paradise. The long hitters will have an advantage, particularly on a long, wet layout, but second shots will be crucial so don’t sleep on a player like Kevin Kisner.
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LAVNER: The sheer number of low scores this week will be eye-opening. It’s not crazy to think that someone is going to challenge a sub-60 score this week. Or that someone will go deeper than the tournament record four-round score of 265 (15 under). And that’s OK! Give the best players in the world a course this soft and scoreable, and they’re going to light it up.
MENTA: Sergio Garcia will break out of a year-long funk in a final push to impress European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn. A top-25 finish after an early run up the leaderboard is enough to justify a captain’s pick that was likely already headed his way.
WHO WILL BE THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT?
HOGGARD: Dustin Johnson. All the stars seem to be aligned for the world No. 1, but DJ will not win his second major this week. Despite his victory two weeks ago in Canada and his prodigious power, he will struggle to find fairways and will finish in the middle of the pack.
LAVNER: Jordan Spieth. Despite some middling form this year he’s managed to play his best in two of the three majors, but Bellerive in particular and the PGA Championship in general presents a challenge for him, with an emphasis on long, straight driving and making boatloads of birdies.
MENTA: Tiger Woods has a lot of golf ahead of him in the next two months, so this season is far from over. But his major campaign will end without title No. 15 this week. See you at Augusta.
WILL SOMEONE MOVE INSIDE THE TOP 8 IN RYDER CUP POINTS, AND IF SO, WHO?
HOGGARD: Yes, Bryson DeChambeau. Although the American, who is currently one spot out of the top 8 automatic qualifiers, has had an interesting few weeks, he springboards himself onto the U.S. team thanks to a clutch performance on Bellerive’s greens.
LAVNER: Yes, Xander Schauffele. Bryson DeChambeau is the easy choice, since he doesn’t have as much work to do, but Schauffele is lurking a few spots further back at No. 11. He’ll need to earn nearly $350,000 more than Webb Simpson this week (and get some help from the other pursuers), which is a tall task, but he’s proven his big-game chops by winning the Tour Championship and finishing in the top 6 this year in The Players, U.S. Open and Open Championship.
MENTA: Yes. I suppose this might have to invalidate that Justin-Thomas-is-going-to-repeat claim I made earlier, but Tony Finau has finished in the top 10 in every major this season. Bellerive is long, it’s soggy, and it’s set up for Finau to be around late on Sunday.