The 5 best PGA Championship storylines to follow at Oak Hill
The second major of the golf season is upon us as we kick off PGA Championship week.
Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. is returning to host a major championship for the first time since 2013. And, considering it’s Rochester, we’re expecting weather will be a factor. The hot and steamy conditions of the last two PGA Championships will be traded for cool weather and a chance of rain throughout the week.
Aside from the conditions, here are five storylines heading into the midway mark of major season.
1. Does the Jon Rahm train keep rolling?
No player on the planet is hotter than Jon Rahm, who will return to competitive golf in Rochester after taking the last two weeks off on the heels of a jammed run after his win at the Masters.
In Rahm’s last appearance, he just lost out in a shootout with Tony Finau in his title defense at the Mexico Open. But even with the loss in Mexico, Rahm has won four times on the PGA Tour this season, including a four-shot victory at Augusta National.
He’s been trading the top spot in the world all season with Scottie Scheffler, but the Masters win and subsequent strong play seem to have cemented his status as the top player in the world.
A win in Rochester would put him halfway to the single-season grand slam, and just an Open Championship short of the career grand slam.
2. Phil Mickelson and LIV Golf’s return to the PGA
Phil Mickelson won the last PGA Championship he played, and even though that victory in Kiawah was two years ago, he returns to Rochester as a pseudo-defending champ.
Lefty infamously skipped last year’s PGA (and Masters) while dealing with the fallout from his comments on the Saudi Arabian backers behind LIV Golf.
Now he returns to lead a contingent of 17 LIV players to the year’s second major after a very impressive showing last month at the Masters. Mickelson led a trio of top-six LIV finishers at Augusta with a stunning runner-up result.
Tensions between the LIV Golf defectors and PGA Tour loyalists turned out to be a non-story at the Masters, but that could be different in Rochester. For many members of the rival tour, the PGA presents a valuable (and dwindling) opportunity to earn Official World Golf Ranking points. LIV still is not recognized by the ranking body.
Mickelson has been making his thoughts on the matter known on social media lately. As our Alan Bastable wrote, it’s clear the freewheeling Mickelson of old is back. As such, he’ll have our attention wherever he goes.
3. Rory McIlroy tries to shake the major monkey
Rory McIlroy began this year’s Masters with pressure to end a nine-year major drought.
He entered Augusta red-hot — coming off a consolation match victory at the Dell Match Play over Scottie Scheffler — but missed the cut at the year’s first major. Then he controversially skipped the RBC Heritage, his second designated event skip, leading to a $3 million penalty.
In his first appearance since the WD at the Wells Fargo Championship, he finished an unceremonious T47.
Now the microscope turns right back on McIlroy, who finished in the top 10 of every major a year ago. He has played well in spurts this year, including a win in Dubai on the DP World Tour. But will one of those spurts arrive in time for a major start? That much remains to be seen.
4. Jordan Spieth attempts the career grand slam for the 6th time
It’s not a true PGA Championship storyline post without a mention of Jordan Spieth’s chase for the career grand slam.
As of this writing, Spieth’s status is up in the air for the PGA after a wrist injury forced him out of the AT&T Byron Nelson last week. We’ll be monitoring that as the week gets into full swing, but assuming he makes it into the field, there’s reason to think that he could be a force.
This season, Spieth has five top-6s, including a playoff loss to Matthew Fitzpatrick at the RBC Heritage last month. That was also after a T4 finish at the Masters.
If he’s healthy, the chase for the slam will be the storyline on everyone’s mind.
5. Will the defending champion regain his major-winning form?
Since winning last May’s PGA Championship in a playoff over Will Zalatoris, Justin Thomas has just two top-10s. He’s fallen all the way to 14th in the OWGR, which marks his first time outside the top 10 since he won his first PGA in 2017.
He’s looked better of late, with top-25s in three of his last four starts — the only exception being a missed cut after getting the worst of the draw at the Masters.
Thomas begins this week at No. 69 in the FedEx Cup standings, just one spot inside qualifying for the playoffs. He hasn’t missed so much as the Tour Championship since his rookie season in 2015.
It’s not a question of if but when Thomas will recapture his tournament-winning form, and we’re guessing he’d like to do so while simultaneously adding a third Wanamaker to his trophy room.