The second Major of the year, and the 2023 PGA Championship could end up being the most compelling of all. From a historical perspective, he may not hold that title once he’s awarded the Wanamaker Trophy; however, when your last six winners are Justin Thomas (twice), Brooks Koepka (twice), Collin Morikawa and Phil Mickelson, you know things are going pretty well for your main championship.
This week in Oak Hill will be about golf and the golf course, much more than anything outside parties are arguing about. And when it comes to golf (and the golf course), there are plenty of fascinating stories to bring to Oak Hill as the second major of 2023 kicks off.
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights as the practice rounds get underway. CBS Sports will be live on the site on the PGA Championship all week, so keep it locked here early in the week for predictions and late in the week for analysis during all four rounds of play at Oak Hill. .
Stories from the 2023 PGA Championship
1. Jon Rahm’s slam: I’m not necessarily predicting that Rahm is going to win the Grand Slam this year, but this is the most interesting look we’ve had at such an event since Jordan Spieth swept Augusta National and Chambers Bay in 2015. When the No. 1 player from the world (and favorite of the PGA Championship) already has a jacket in his closet, what is surprising is going to the second major of the year.
Will he do a little dancing to the impossible feat before someone ends the dream? It’s hard to say, but Oak Hill seems well suited for a big bopper with outrageous hands like Rahm. He’s been, along with Scottie Scheffler, so easily the best of even the best players in the world that it’s hard to imagine he’s at least not in contention until well into the weekend.
2. The return of Phil Mickelson: Lefty skipped last year’s PGA Championship even though he was the defending champion, and it was all somehow crazier than the fact that he actually won the 2021 PGA Championship at age 50. Now he’s back and he’s bringing his Twitter account with him, constantly firing missives about legal battles and league wars.
Incredibly, his actual game, at times this year, has been better than Twitter’s. He finished T2 at the Masters in April and beat or tied every golfer in the world except the best (Rahm). That’s remarkable, and while it would be easy to write off a 52-year-old who just finished near last at an event called LIV Golf Tulsa, the combination of that Masters and the 2021 PGA gives pause. Regardless of how he plays, there should be fireworks this week around Mickelson, which is a perennial statement and one that could bring a bit of drama earlier in the week to the specialty that perhaps needs it most.
3. Justin Thomas defends: Since winning last year’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills, JT has just two top-five finishes in all-course events (Canadian Open, Phoenix Open). He doesn’t come in with momentum, even though he’s playing well, and he doesn’t come in feeling like the defending champion, even though he has that title.
However, that’s pretty much how things felt before last year’s PGA Championship. He hadn’t won since the 2021 Players Championship, and while he’d had some good results, he wasn’t finishing second or winning. He was not living where he wants to live. And then? Thomas came out and did it on Sunday at Southern Hills. The lesson is twofold: (1) JT is constantly and consistently underestimated. He has been the 14th best player in the world for the past six months, according to Data Golf, and he can win at any time. (2) This golf tournament has produced a batch of historically significant champions in recent times.
4. Rory McIlroy’s recovery: After a disappointing performance at the Masters and facing a major 10-year drought, Rory returns to a place that means something to him. His wife’s family is from the area where Oak Hill is located, and he has spent a lot of time in this part of the country. Obviously, that has nothing to do with how he’ll play on the actual golf course, but he presents his own set of emotional and mental hurdles that he may need to overcome this week.
Add in the fact that McIlroy obviously isn’t playing at the same level he was a year ago, when he competed for all four major championships, and it’s hard to see a clear path to victory for him. However, like Thomas, McIlroy can explode at any moment, and this course apparently plays to his strengths. His perpetual quest for the No. 5 major win is always interesting, no matter the venue or the major, and this year, especially if he does what he did last year by leading after Round 1, will be no different than before. However, the question is a little different for me in 2023 than it was a year ago: It’s not about whether he can shut down No. 5, but whether he can get into the mix.
5. The unflappable Scottie Scheffler: Rahm is the favorite, but you could make a good case for Scottie given the way he’s played in recent months. Look at these numbers.
There’s no course he can’t dominate on, and really the only question about this week is whether the putter delivers because his hitting, at least in 2023, is almost automatic (all tournaments through RBC Heritage listed below). ).
6. Oak Hill Restoration: The Oak Hill you remember from 2003 and 2013 when Shaun Michael and Jason Dufner won respectively… that’s gone. In its place is Oak Hill that is much more open with far fewer trees and completely revamped green communities. At first it looks like this will benefit the bombers and play at least a little like Winged Foot did in 2020 when Bryson DeChambeau bombed and ripped him to pieces through the openings on some of those greens. It remains to be seen, however, if that will be true. This will be a whole new Oak Hill than the one we saw 10 and 20 years ago; For my money, it seems to be a better version of a classic Donald Ross golf course that hosts his seventh major championship.
7. The last few PGA Championships have been absolute successes: Given that Jimmy Walker won at Baltusrol in 2016, it could be argued that the worst (worst!) winner is Collin Morikawa at Harding Park in 2020. That’s amazing because, on the other side of one of the best young players in the game, you’ll find two Thomas wins, two Koepka wins, and a crazy Mickelson win. Those are three guys who will probably finish in the top 50 of all time (heck, Morikawa might as well).
The PGA Championship doesn’t have the storied history of the US Open or Open Championship, and it doesn’t have the cachet of the Masters. But his actual tournament, the 72 holes from Thursday to Sunday, has probably been the best royal golf and the most important championship golf played in the last half decade.
8. A second title: Jason Day’s win at the Nelson last week got me thinking (once again) of the list of players who only have one major championship. That list includes Day, of course, who previously won the PGA. It also includes Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and younger players with a little more runway like Scheffler, Bryson DeChambeau, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed, Cameron Smith and Matt Fitzpatrick.
We discussed the main club zero (Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Viktor Hovland, Tony Finau, etc.) ad nauseam, but the main club is just as interesting. It could be argued that players like Day and Scott have careers more commensurate with winning two or more majors than just one. Day probably has the best chance for slightly older players to get to two this weekend.
9. What Koepka are we receiving? the angsty “couldn’t finish inside the top 50 of a major” Brooks of 2022, or the rude “yeah, that’s right, none of you guys have won four of your first 22 majors, I’m back” Brooks we saw at the Masters this anus? It will certainly be difficult. It will certainly be surly. But if it’s definitely great, then nothing else matters. And if we have a Koepka competing in all four major championships once again this year, then that’s an incredible thing for golf and everyone who follows him. There are so few characters in golf and even fewer historically relevant players. Getting a player that somehow encapsulates both sides of that is a treasure trove of content and intrigue that we look forward to receiving once again at this event.
10. Where is Jordan? Typically, that sentence means “what body of water did Spieth hit?” but this time it means “where’s the three-time major winner with his wrist injury?” It’s an injury that took him out of Nelson last week and could reportedly prevent him from challenging for what would be the Grand Slam of his career. He’s playing well enough to win it with two top-five finishes in his last three starts, including one at the Masters, but whether he’s healthy enough to do so is another question.
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