Trying to figure out who is going to win a major golf championship is about as difficult as understanding the intricacies of the dialogue in the HBO smash hit Succession.
You might have an idea what those deplorable billionaire Roy children are saying, but unless you hit rewind and play it back, did you truly get it the first time?
It’s the same trying to handicap a field of 156 that will be teeing it up this week at Oak Hill Country Club including 99 of the top 100 players on the official world golf ranking list.
True, not all 156 have a legitimate chance – the 20 PGA club pros, for instance – but if you’re one of the top 100 players in the world, anyone in that prestigious group could be the man standing on the 18th green Sunday afternoon holding the weighty Wanamaker Trophy above his head.
You can pore through pages and pages of statistics, analyze trends and the recent form for every player, but picking the winner is not much more than a guess. Did anyone pick Shaun Micheel to win in 2003 at Oak Hill, or Jason Dufner in 2013? If someone says they did, they’re lying.
And so, here’s my 10 picks, presented alphabetically because I don’t think anyone has a distinct advantage over the other:
1. Patrick Cantlay
He’s one of the best players on tour who has yet to win a major. He has eight career PGA Tour victories including the Tour Championship in 2021, but he has only three top 10 finishes in majors, the most recent a tie for eighth at the 2022 British Open at St. Andrews. At the PGA, he tied for third in 2019 at Bethpage Black, one of the toughest major championship venues anywhere. Over his last 24 rounds, he ranks No. 1 on Tour in strokes gained off the tee, meaning he’s hitting it long and more importantly at Oak Hill, straight.
2. Jason Day
The Australian, once the No. 1 player in the world, broke a five-year victory drought Sunday by winning the Byron Nelson tournament in Dallas. Granted it’s one of the easiest courses on Tour, but 23-under 261, including a final-round 62, indicates Day was hot. Another thing to watch for is that over the last 24 rounds, he’s No. 1 on tour in bogey avoidance. That’s largely because he ranks second across the entire season in scrambling as he’s getting up and down 69.9% of the time.
3. Tony Finau
If you watched the Netflix documentary Full Swing, you very likely fell in love with Finau, a man who puts family – his wife and their five children – ahead of everything. The guy is so easy to root for, and he has crazy talent. He has six career Tour wins including the Mexico Open just three weeks ago. The only thing missing is a major championship, and his last top 10 was a tie for eighth in the 2021 PGA at Kiawah Island (S.C.). Right now, his approach stats are outstanding, but he’ll need to drive it better than he has this year.
4. Matt Fitzpatrick
The Englishman won the 2022 U.S. Open, and he did it at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., an old-style course similar to Oak Hill. It has long been said that the East Course plays the way a traditional Open course does in that thick rough is the primary detriment. Fitzpatrick proved he can handle those conditions at Brookline, and one of his recent strengths has been avoiding bogeys which certainly helped him win last month at Harbour Town.
5. Viktor Hovland
The Norwegian has started to gain some traction on the big stage as he tied for fourth at the 2022 British Open and tied for seventh at the Masters last month. He’s only 25, but he’s won three times on tour. He doesn’t do anything particularly great, but does a lot of things well and his scoring average of 69.5 ranks 17th on tour. He’d be a longshot to watch out for.
6. Brooks Koepka
It felt like Koepka was going to win the Masters, but he couldn’t make a putt on the final day, shot 75, and finished runner-up to Jon Rahm. There was some silly talk about how now that he’s on the LIV Tour, which plays three-round events, that he just tired out on the last day. No, he didn’t putt well and lost to the No. 1 player in the world. Koepka is still a force to be reckoned with in the majors, maybe more so than ever given the lesser competition he faces on LIV.
7. Rory McIlroy
His recent play hasn’t been great, but he’s one of a handful of players who has actually played Oak Hill in a major championship, albeit prior to the renovation. McIlroy is always a threat because he’s such a fantastic driver of the ball and he leads the tour in driving distance. If he can hit it as long as he always does, and keep it in the fairway, he’ll have some shorter clubs to hit on his approaches which will be helpful because his iron game has lagged a bit this season.
8. Colin Morikawa
The 2020 PGA champion is going through a bit of a rough patch. He didn’t close well at Augusta, playing the last two rounds in 2-over to finish tied for 10th, and since then has a tie for 31st and two missed cuts. He hasn’t won since the 2021 British Open, so you could say a player this talented is due, but more prevalent is that he’s fourth on Tour in driving accuracy (69.9%) and his approach game is outstanding. Those attributes will both be critical on the East Course with the revamped run-off areas around the greens.
9. Jon Rahm
I could be a contrarian and not include the No. 1-ranked player in the world and the reigning Masters champion, but that would be pretty dumb, right? No one is playing better than Rahm since the start of the 2022-23 season last fall. He has four wins, a runner-up and a third in 12 starts and his scoring average of 68.6 is the best on tour. Of course he could win. In fact, he’s the favorite.
10. Scottie Scheffler
Like Rahm, this isn’t exactly a stretch either as Scheffler is currently No. 2 in the world and has been a machine this season. He has played 13 events and finished 12th or better in the last 12 including victories at Phoenix and the Players Championship. He’s a tremendous ball striker who leads the tour in strokes gained off the tee and greens in regulation (73.9%). What could hold him back are some recent struggles with his putter which was evident at Augusta, and his below average play from the sand.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.To subscribe to Sal’s newsletter, Bills Blast, which will come out every Friday during the offseason, please follow this link: https://profile.democratandchronicle.com/newsletters/bills-blast
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Who will win the PGA Championship 2023 at Oak Hill? expected to excel