The season’s second major is upon us, the latest in a COVID-initiated seven majors in 12 months. After a one-year delay, the PGA Championship returns to its new spot on the sports calendar. Here’s all you need to know prior to Thursday’s first shots.
Setting the stage
Golf’s reworking of its annual calendar shifted the PGA Championship from the late-summer doldrums of August to the still-warming days of May. We’ve only had one true year with the new calendar — 2019, when Brooks Koepka repeated as PGA champion at Bethpage Black — but the reworked lineup puts the PGA in the heart of major season, rather than at the tail end of it.
A chameleon among majors — for a time it was match play, and it’s bounced all over golf’s annual schedule — the PGA Championship often struggles to define itself against the other three titans of the golf calendar. With an enormous field of 156 players, made up of both top pros and PGA club professionals, it’s a bit of an odd mix of known stars and unknown cameos. Those 20 club professionals don’t tend to hang around too long — only three have even made the cut in the last seven years — but when one does, it’s always worth seeing how they handle the sport’s brightest spotlight.
The PGA Championship has a well-deserved reputation for first-time, and often only-time, major winners. It’s a hospitable tournament for players who otherwise struggle at Augusta, the U.S. Open or the Open Championship. In the last 10 years, for instance, six of the tournament’s winners won what is, to date, their only major. (Rory McIlroy and Koepka also took two apiece over that timespan.) Whatever you may think of the major futures of Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Jason Day, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa — and some definitely have brighter futures than others — they’re all major champions thanks to the PGA.
Key storylines: Who's coming in hot?
The last time the PGA Championship came to South Carolina, McIlroy took the place apart. The 2012 PGA Championship marked McIlroy’s second major in as many years, second won by a wide margin, and appeared to kick McIlroy into a Tiger-esque run into history. McIlroy would go on to win two more majors in 2014, and then … nothing since. But McIlroy’s victory earlier this month at the Wells Fargo Championship, his first win in 19 months, has fans wondering if he might just be ready for another major.
Also worth noting: Jordan Spieth, who lacks only a PGA Championship to complete the career Grand Slam. After four years of wandering in golf’s wilderness, Spieth has rediscovered his game. He’s on a run of four straight top-10 finishes, including a win at the Valero Texas Open just prior to the Masters. He’s coming off a bout with COVID but also a ninth-place finish at the AT&T Byron Nelson.
Beyond those two mid-2010s legends, you’ve got a strong lineup of contenders: Jon Rahm, still looking for that first major; Justin Thomas, hoping to claim a second PGA; Bryson DeChambeau, bringing his big driver to a course where a driver is a liability; Dustin Johnson, looking to reclaim that Masters mojo. Who are the favorites? Glad you asked ...
The odds: Who's the favorite?
BetMGM favors McIlroy (+1100, bet $100 to win $1100) thanks to his recent success and his strong history on this course. Rahm, Spieth and Thomas all come in next at +1400. DeChambeau and Johnson are at +1600, the only other players at better than 20-1 odds. Defending champion Collin Morikawa comes in at +3000. A touch further down, Koepka and reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama are in at +3300.
The course: Kiawah Island
The windswept greens and oceanside fairways of Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course will host this year’s championship. Located 30 miles from Charleston, S.C., the Ocean Course is a devious beauty. Every hole has a view of the Atlantic Ocean, which means every single hole is subject to unpredictable crosswinds.
Kiawah hosted the Ryder Cup in 1991, a legendary, patriotism-soaked battle that ended with the United States claiming a late victory. Thirteen years later, in 2012, the PGA Championship came to Kiawah, and McIlroy put on one of the dominating performances of the decade in winning by a record-breaking eight strokes.
The Ocean Course runs in a figure-eight out-and-back alignment along the water. Its greens are elevated to give players a view of the water over the beachside sand dunes … which also allows the wind to play a role in putting. This year, the course will play 7,876 yards at a par 72, 200 yards longer than in 2012 and the longest in major championship history. Somehow, today’s big swingers will probably manage.
TV/Streaming Times: Where and how to watch
ESPN and CBS will handle the broadcast of the PGA Championship this year, with ESPN handling the first two days and CBS stepping in to close it out. Bad news is, if you want the full tournament experience, you’ll have to subscribe to ESPN+. Good news is, if you do, you’ll get wall-to-wall coverage of the tournament, dawn to dusk. Tournament broadcast times are as follows:
Thursday & Friday, May 20-21: ESPN+ (online, subscription required), 7 a.m.- 1 p.m; ESPN, 1 p.m.-7 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday, May 22-23: ESPN+, 8 a.m.-10 a.m.; ESPN, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.; CBS, 1 p.m.-7 p.m.
All times Eastern. Featured group coverage and featured holes will run on ESPN+.
Tee times: When to watch
The PGA Championship will release its groupings later in the week.
The weather: Windy but beautiful
We’re still a ways out from the first tee times, but at the moment, the weather is looking pretty much ideal for South Carolina in May. Temps will be high 70s/low 80s, with little to no rain forecast. The only trick will be the wind, currently predicted to run in the double digits every day. Will gusts shape shots? Will the course play longer, or shorter, than expected? Will high winds affect approaches and putts? Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Should be an outstanding major tournament.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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