PGA Championship: ESPN predictions on who’ll win golf’s first major of the year


It’s been an odd year — for golf, for everybody. Before the coronavirus shut down sports and forced golf into a three-month break, Rory McIlroy was on fire. He hasn’t been himself since the restart. Brooks Koepka, who comes in having won back-to-back PGA Championships, looked hurt and a bit lost — until he found his game a week ago. Justin Thomas is coming off a win and a return to the No. 1 ranking in the world, a spot he took from Jon Rahm, who has also played well.

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And Tiger Woods? Well, this will be only the second time he’s seen in an event in five months.

So who’ll win golf’s first major championship of the year? We asked our experts.

Matt Barrie, ESPN
Winner: Justin Thomas
Why he’ll win: I wanted to pick JT before his win in Memphis, and I feel just as good about it today. He’s been the No. 1 player in the world over the past year, despite what the actual rankings said. Going into a major, you want confidence. He has it. You want major championship experience. He has it, winning the PGA in 2017. We’re witnessing a “Koepka-esque” run right now out of Thomas. He’ll win his second career major at Harding Park.

David Bearman, ESPN Betting
Brooks Koepka
Why he’ll win: A week ago, I was very concerned about Koepka’s knee and recent results. He put that to rest with the 62 on Thursday and his late run on Sunday. If not for a bad drive on the 72nd hole, he very well could’ve won in Memphis. If he’s healthy, there’s no reason to pick against the two-time defending champion and a guy who has four wins, two runner-ups, a T4 and a T6 in his past 10 majors.

Michael Collins,
Winner: Brooks Koepka
Why he’ll win: Last week we witnessed Brooks doing what he always seems to do around majors — ramping up. Also note, the only water that’s in play at TPC Harding Park is in coolers on tee boxes. Koepka wants the three-peat, and what Brooks wants …

Michael Eaves, ESPN
Winner: Webb Simpson
Why he’ll win: Not only has he been one of the most consistent players this season with two wins and six top-10s in his 10 PGA Tour starts but he’s also produced impressive showings in major championships held in Northern California, including a T16 at last year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and, of course, his 2012 U.S. Open win at Olympic Club, which sits just across Lake Merced from TPC Harding Park.

Chris Fallica, ESPN Stats & Information
Winner: Patrick Cantlay
Why he’ll win: Cantlay appeared to figure it out on the weekend in Memphis after four rounds in a row over par dating back to the Memorial. He’s a top-10 player on tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green and strokes gained: total. He’s been in the fire of majors before — last year’s Masters, followed up by a third-place finish at the PGA. At home in California, he could be poised to become the next first-time major winner.

Dave Fleming, ESPN
Winner: Brooks Koepka
Why he’ll win: I’m picking the three-peat. He looked healthy last week, the course suits his game perfectly, and no one has played big events better over the past three years

Charlotte Gibson,
Winner: Tiger Woods
Why he’ll win: The year is 2020 — the first major is being played in August without fans, and Tiger Woods wins. This might sound like fiction or a fever dream, but stranger things have happened this year. And, although Woods has made only one cut at the PGA Championship since 2014 and has played only one PGA Tour event since February, Woods winning a major this week might be the least unprecedented event that happens this year.

Mike Greenberg, ESPN
Winner: Justin Thomas
Why he’ll win: He’s having a great year and he’s won this event before and he is just too great to have just one major on his résumé.

Bob Harig,
Winner: Jon Rahm
Why he’ll win: His time atop the Official World Golf Ranking was brief, aided in part by a tie for 52nd at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. But his victory two weeks ago at the Memorial occurred at a course that played like a major, and Rahm is primed to get his first this week. And there will be extra motivation after losing the top spot to Thomas so quickly.

Peter Lawrence-Riddell,
Winner: Rory McIlroy
Why he’ll win: I think my best chance of being right at any of the majors this year might be picking McIlroy until he wins one, so I’ll start at TPC Harding Park, where he’s had success before, winning the 2015 WGC-Match Play. He hasn’t actually played great since golf’s return in June (best finish a T11 at The Travelers), but maybe he was just saving it up for the first major of the year? It would be McIlroy’s first major championship win since 2014.

Anita Marks, ESPN Betting
Winner: Brooks Koepka
Why he’ll win: Shot an opening-round 62 last week at the WGC and kept three of his four rounds in the 60s. Looking to defend his PGA Championship again for a third win in a row, this is the major stage Brooksie shows up for. Looking at metrics that win at TPC Harding Park, this past week Koepka ranked first in strokes gained on approach and tied for third in par-4 scoring birdies or better. Third time is a charm!

Sean McDonough, ESPN
Winner: Jon Rahm
Why he’ll win: I believe he is the best player in the world right now. The next step is to get that first major.

Andy North, ESPN
Winner: Justin Thomas
Why he’ll win: He’s playing well. It comes down to the putter. If he makes some putts, he wins.

Ian O’Connor,
Winner: Rory McIlroy
Why he’ll win: It’s far too easy to pick Justin Thomas. Beyond that, McIlroy really likes TPC Harding Park; he won there five years ago. Rory is just too damn good to be stuck on four majors forever. It’s high time for his one for the thumb.

Nick Pietruszkiewicz,
Winner: Collin Morikawa
Why he’ll win: Sure, he’s 21. But have you seen him hit an iron? Or looked at his results this year? Or noticed the person he beat in a playoff to claim the Workday Charity Open? (That would be new world No. 1 Thomas). You never know what’s going to happen next in 2020, so it’s time to think outside the box a bit for the winner of golf’s first major in 13 months.

Mark Schlabach,
Winner: Brooks Koepka
Why he’ll win: Nobody has played better in majors than Koepka the past three years. He seemed to figure some things out in Memphis and was only a couple of putts and an errant drive from getting it done. It’s cliché to say guys like him turn on a switch when they get to the big stage, but it’s clearly how his mind and ego work.

Marty Smith, ESPN
Winner: Brooks Koepka
Why he’ll win: Rare is the professional athlete who can always find a higher level of production on the grandest stages. Koepka is one of those. I recently asked him why he’s that guy: “You gotta be mentally tough, I think that’s what makes the great ones great. Your mind sets you apart. Everybody’s talented, but at the same time, you’ve got to take it a step further — and to be able to do that is all mental.”

Curtis Strange, ESPN
Winner: Jon Rahm
Why he’ll win: He’s strong, talented and playing well. So he is extremely confident.

Scott Van Pelt
Winner: Xander Schauffele
Why he’ll win: For no other reason than it seems like time. He’s been close a lot. Knock on the door enough, it opens up.

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