Tour Confidential: PGA storylines, LIV expectations, Jason Day’s comeback
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss PGA Championship storylines, expectations for LIV golfers, Jason Day’s comeback and more.
1. Major No. 2 has arrived, as the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y., kicks off on Thursday. Jon Rahm is looking for his second straight major, Jordan Spieth still needs a win here to complete the career grand slam, and Tiger Woods won’t be among the field teeing it up. Name the best storyline you can’t wait to see unfold, plus another under-the-radar one.
Josh Sens, Senior Writer (@joshsens): I’m curious to see which version of Rory McIlroy shows up. The addled, uncertain-looking Rory from Augusta, or the bouncy world-beater we know he can be. He was playing so well heading into the Masters this year. But that poor showing seemed to throw him for enough of a loop that he skipped the next designated event and has been quiet since. Whether he can return to form is something worth watching.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): That’s a good one, Josh. I’ll stick with the obvious — I’m intrigued to see how the top LIV guys fare against the best players from the rest of the world. LIV had a dream leaderboard at its Tulsa event over the weekend, with Cameron Smith and Dustin Johnson battling for the top spot and Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau not far behind. On paper, they’d make sense for Oak Hill. How ‘bout in reality?
For under-the-radar storylines I guess I’m intrigued in the course setup; Kerry Haigh has earned nearly universal praise for his PGA setups the last few years. How high will they dial the difficulty at Oak Hill?
James Colgan, news and features editor (@jamescolgan26): Best storyline? How about the best player alive with a real chance to go back-to-back in the first two majors of 2023? Most underrated story: Brooks Koepka with a post-Augusta head full of steam.
2. LIV Golf had a strong showing at the Masters, with three players in the top six. Do you expect to see a better or worse showing from LIV competitors at Oak Hill?
Sens: It would be tough to top their showing at the Masters and I wouldn’t expect it. More than maybe any course, Augusta lends itself to repeat patterns, and the LIV guys who did so well in April — Phil, Reed, Koepka, Smith— all had great track records there, with games that fit. I expect Oak Hill to be more of a wild card, and less favorable to likes of Phil and Smith. But it wouldn’t be a shock if a LIV player won. A few shekels on DJ or Koepka would not be a crazy bet.
Dethier: On a percentage basis there will be fewer LIV guys at the PGA; 18 of the 88 Masters contestants were LIV golfers vs. 17 of 156 at the PGA. So yeah, I think it’s logical to expect a slightly worse showing than three in the top five. But there are a few LIV guys who seem like good fits to contend; Koepka feels like the obvious contender, Johnson seems to be rounding into form, Smith and Joaquin Niemann have plenty of game. It’ll be fun to see how they all stack up.
Colgan: Agreed, DD — a worse performance is as much a mathematical probability as it is a performance-based one. Also fair to point out that Oak Hill represents a slightly different challenge for LIV’s contingent than Augusta National, where most of the LIV field has been traveling annually for the last decade. If there is a LIV competitiveness dropoff (I’m skeptical), it’d stand to reason it would hit here instead of at Augusta.
3. One of those LIV players, Phil Mickelson, tied for second at the Masters and is playing in his first PGA Championship since he won in 2021. Mickelson then decided to skip last year’s title defense during a lengthy stay away from the game. With no Tiger in the field, is Mickelson the field’s most enthralling entry?
Sens: Only if we are giving points for provocative tweets. Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler are playing riveting golf these days. And one of them still has a chance at the grand slam this year. They rank 1 and 2 as most compelling in my eyes.
Dethier: We were already interested to hear what Mickelson has to say. Given his result at the Masters, his play has earned our attention, too. The last time Mickelson played the PGA Championship, after all, he won. Only he and Justin Thomas can say that entering this week. I’d be surprised to see him in contention to equal that result at Oak Hill, but I was surprised at Augusta, too…
Colgan: Phil is, as per usual, one of the most interesting stories in a very interesting field. But, as per usual, that intrigue only sticks around as long as the red scores do. Most interesting, though? That’s the Rochester Garbage Plate for me.
4. Rory McIlroy finished in the top 10 in all of 2022’s majors, but he missed the cut at the Masters. What version of McIlroy will we see at Oak Hill?
Sens: I touched on this above. I think this is one of the more interesting questions heading into the week. My guess is that he will shake off the Augusta flu (a mental affliction for Rory) and that we will see the free-swinging, clear-headed McIlroy who has already won this event twice.
Dethier: I often tend towards optimism on McIlroy just because he’s been such a constant at the top of the game; when things are going poorly that’s typically a blip rather than a trend. The key will be what happens once things start to go sideways. At Augusta and again at Quail Hollow he seemed to get into full tilt mode; one mistake led to another and then another. A patient, confident McIlroy who gets off to a hot start should be a contender.
Colgan: I know how fickle hot streaks can be in pro golf, but Rory was one of the best players on earth for nine months before the Augusta debacle. I feel like it’s more likely we see that McIlroy than Augusta’s.
5. The last time Oak Hill hosted a major, Jason Dufner won the PGA in 2013. The East Course has been updated since and will be a slightly new look for pros who are back again this year. What kind of player should excel on a course like this?
Sens: Guys with the last names Rahm and Scheffler, whose games are suited for any course.
Dethier: Yeah, those guys. I’m excited to visit Oak Hill in person this week to see for myself — stay tuned for on-the-ground sights and sounds! — but I’d expect a U.S. Open-style leaderboard. Tough cookies with complete, well-rounded games. Relentless dudes. No pretenders. For several years running, the majors have separated the best from the not-quite-best. I’d expect that this week, too, and I couldn’t be more excited to see it shake out.
Colgan: If our first glimpses at rough length and fairway width are any indication, Oak Hill looks built for big brutes. Your Koepkas, Rahms, Finaus and Homas — those are the names I expect to see looming.
6. Former World No. 1 Jason Day shot a final-round 62 to win the AT&T Byron Nelson by one, picking up his 13th career PGA Tour victory but first since the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship (more than 100 starts ago). Given his struggles he’s had to overcome the last several years — injuries, swing changes and vertigo — how impressive was it to see him win again? And are you surprised he did?
Sens. Inspiring return to the winner’s circle. But this was not so much a bolt from the blue as it was a simmer that reached a boil. He’d been heating up. Getting healthy. Dialing in his swing. Day was always an epic talent so not a complete shock. Just great to see it finally all come together.
Dethier: A few years ago this dude was thinking about walking away from golf. He was playing PGA Tour events just to check ‘em off his sponsor obligation list. His heart wasn’t in it. But somewhere along the line he doubled down on getting better and it’s been impressive as hell to see his progress. Happy for him. He had to fend off a wild leaderboard and hit a wedge shot in the rain at No. 18 that was absolute nails. There’s more to come, I’m sure — but I hope he enjoys this one.
Colgan: As I watched JDay sample cowboy hats on Sunday afternoon in Texas, I found myself reflecting on something I heard him say at the 2021 Masters: he was on the path back to World No. 1. At the time, I chuckled it off — he was ranked 58th in the world and en route to another MC. Now, at World No. 20, I’m paying attention.