Oak Hill is producing an epic major championship. Here’s what’s coming
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Once the wind ceased and the rain calmed and the thick cloud of all-you-can-eat cheeseburger grill smoke cleared, the leaderboards at Oak Hill revealed the all-world cast members that’ll star in this weekend’s piece of cinema.
Seriously, take a peek at these PGA Championship contenders. The top four names (Corey Conners, Viktor Hovland, Scottie Scheffler, Bryson DeChambeau) grew up in four different countries (Canada, Norway, Texas, California) but all speak the same language: certified flusher. The chase pack consists of a compelling group of relative unknowns, stars in their prime and big names gunning for one more shot at glory. And Oak Hill has, through two days, kept its footing on the wobbly slack line upon which major championships dangle between “challenging” and “comical” without a single objection. (Okay, without too many objections.) Through two days, conditions have been relatively calm — but just nine players are under par. And even those pros used words like “patience” and “grinding” to describe their early-week successes. These things are supposed to be hard. This one is.
At the halfway mark, the tournament favorite is obvious. Scheffler is, at worst, the second-best player in the world. He’s last year’s Masters champ. It’s been seven months since he finished worse than 12th at any tournament anywhere, which means he’s pleased to be on top of the leaderboard but he’s hardly surprised. A PGA Championship would double his major total and catapult him into a different echelon of vague, lofty conversations like best player of the next generation.
He was typically matter-of-fact after his round.
“I find myself comfortable in these situations,” he said. “These are the positions I want to be in.”
But that hardly means the tournament winner is a sure thing. Look no further than T1; this marks the third consecutive major in which Viktor Hovland has contended after exactly zero time in the mix before then.
“I think that’s been because I’ve just been a little bit young and stupid,” he said. The golf world likes him that way. But we like him in contention even better.
Conners has played well on big stages — he logged three consecutive top-10s at the Masters from 2020-2022 — and while he’s known for his all-world ball-striking, he’s still in search of a signature big-stage win. We’re not far from the Canadian border and the leaderboard reflects that, too: Conners leads a contingent of Canucks (him, Taylor Pendrith and Adam Svensson) inside the top 10.
Things didn’t come as easily to DeChambeau on Friday as they had Thursday, when he’d come off the course giddy with his opening 66. But three back-nine birdies left him optimistic — if philosophical — following a second-round 71.
“If it’s not my time, it’s not my time — but I feel like I’m definitely trending in the right direction, finally.”
It’s important to acknowledge the worthy efforts of Justin Suh, who made just one bogey in a second-round 68 (“pars are good out here,” he said by way of mantra), and Callum Tarren, whose 67 has him T6 (“I’ve stayed out of my own way, I think,” he said). But we’ve somehow gotten this far without mentioning Brooks Koepka, who put on his business boots for an all-par front nine before torching the back with five birdies to launch into T6. He’s won two of the last five of these things. He nearly won the Masters, too. There’s no ignoring him now. Oh, and did I mention he’s paired with his ex-enemy come Saturday afternoon? Brooks vs. Bryson is back.
Twelve years after Keegan Bradley’s lone major — the PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club — he’s still in the hunt despite three late bogeys.
“As I get older and play on the Tour for a long time, I realize how special it is to win one of these,” Bradley said on Thursday, admitting he’d felt a lump in his throat on the first tee. “I don’t know, this week’s felt a little different for me.”
Ten years after Justin Rose’s lone major — the U.S. Open at Merion — he’s chasing something special; he may have the golf gods on his side given he managed a second-round 70 despite hitting just two fairways. “Smoke and mirrors, I guess,” he said with a laugh.
And nine years after Rory McIlroy’s fourth major — the PGA Championship at Valhalla — he poured in a birdie at No. 18 to get back to even par and a share of 10th place. He said he’s felt “terrible” standing over the golf ball, which means he’s considering adopting a thrilling strategy on the weekend:
“I think at this point I might just tee it high and just bomb it everywhere,” he said, glimmer in his eye.
At this PGA, there are weekend thoroughbreds from the top of the leaderboard to the bottom. The cut settled at five over par; that’s the current home of pros like Phil Mickelson, Tyrrell Hatton, Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth and defending champion Justin Thomas, who had to hole an eight-footer for bogey just to slip in on the number.
“Tiger has always said it, I’ve always said it, you’ve got to give yourself a chance and anything can happen,” Thomas said afterward. He came from seven shots back on Sunday last year, after all. Why not 10 back entering Saturday? “On this golf course I gave myself a chance, so see if we can do something crazy this weekend.”
Fridays at majors mean some storylines inevitably end. This won’t be Matt Fitzpatrick’s second major, for instance, nor Rickie Fowler’s first; both posted six over par to miss by one. But the list of ways this could end is still longer than ways it couldn’t.
So fire up those grills, gang: a fiery golf weekend awaits. There’s a champion on that leaderboard.
Now it’s time to find him.