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So many story lines in this year's PGA Championship



It’s been an unbelievable season so far on the PGA Tour, and I’m excited about this year’s PGA Championship.

There’s so many story lines in this year’s event, but let’s begin with the elephant in the room known as Phil Mickelson (Callaway Chrome Soft X), who has decided not to defend his win last year which was one of the most memorable in recent years. The walk from the fairway to the 18th green, in which he and Brooks Koepka (Srixon Z-Star Diamond) were swarmed by the gallery, remains an image for the ages.

Surely, this should have been the time for Mickelson to return from his self-imposed exile. If he is making a statement to the PGA about the rights of golfers to play in whatever tournaments they want without permission, I guess he is making a point. Only he and his entourage know the official reason.

If he needs more time to sort out of his life, I applaud him. We all say and do things that sometimes we regret.

But the tournament is far bigger than any one player, though the decision by Tiger Woods (Bridgestone Tour B VS) to tee it up clearly puts Mickelson’s absence in the rear-view mirror. The thing about sports is the changing narrative, something that often becomes like a soap opera. Woods played well enough in the Masters to make the cut. What he did after that only added yet another layer to his greatness.

If I’m being honest, I think the PGA Championship will be infinitely tougher. He knew the contours of Augusta National like a road map. He’s played and won on the Southern Hills Championship Course, but that was 15 years ago when his body was finely tuned and the setup was much different. While this course doesn’t have the twists, turns, elevations and undulations of Augusta National, the physical toll on his body will be a challenge. He was clearly in discomfort in the final round of the Masters. I imagine he will be physically challenged again. He played nine holes in a recent practice round. Playing 18 for four consecutive days against the best in the world is in a completely different challenge. But we all know he has defied logic many times before.

Will Scottie Scheffler (Titleist Pro V1) add another tournament win and another major to his magnificent breakout 2021-22 season? I’ll keep riding him until he proves otherwise. He wasn’t his magnificent self in the AT&T Byron Nelson, but his chipping was off the charts. He has played on this course many times and has done quite well.

Maybe the bigger question is how will Jon Rahm (Callaway Chrome Soft X) do? He won the Mexico Open, but as I wrote beforehand the tournament had a week field and if he couldn’t prevail that would say something about his status. Yes, he didn’t dominate, but does it matter if he won by one stroke or 10? He won and that will give him confidence.

Jordan Spieth (Titleist Pro V1x) has found his game again. It’s not the same as when he was dominating the tour seven years ago – otherwise he’d be a shoe-in to win – but the results are starting to show again following his winless spell of almost four years ago. “Air Jordan” should be a factor, and maybe he will win to complete his personal Grand Slam.

Justin Thomas (Titleist Pro V1x) has had a curious season. He’s played in 12 tournaments and survived the cuts each time. But there is something missing from his game. A bad shot here and there has cost him.

Then there is Collin Morikawa (TaylorMade TP5), who won this tournament in 2020 to announce his arrival as a young force on the PGA Tour. I’ve been surprised that he hasn’t played more often this year, but maybe he figures less is more. He’s only played 10 times and has missed the cut twice, although I’ll give him a pass in The PLAYERS Championship, which was a gong show because of the wind. He was not the only high-profile player who had good shots get lost in the gusts.

And what about Hideki Matsuyama (Srixon Z Star XV)? I liked the way he played in the Byron Nelson. He’s battled a couple injuries this year but finished in a tie for third in his first start since the Masters. I like his chances a lot. In fact, I’m picking him to win.

But of all the players scheduled to be in the tournament, Viktor Hovland (Titleist Pro V1) is the most intriguing. He knows this course so well from his college days at Oklahoma State, though it’s changed since then. The only thing stopping Hovland from taking his game to the next level is consistency, but that is crucial. I wrote back in the fall that I thought he could win a major. Maybe this is the week he does it. The one interesting thing he has done is take a break from his schedule, which I thought was fairly hectic. I think less is more for him. He is this week’s Lefko longshot at +2500.

Sam Burns (Callaway Chrome Soft X) failed to make the cut last week in the Byron Nelson. He’s been hit and miss in his last four starts, winning and then failing to qualify for the weekend play the next week. The form cycle suggests he will do better this week, but I’ve also noticed he hasn’t faced the very elite competitors in his wins this season.

Lastly, Cameron Smith (Titleist Pro V1x). The Mullet Man made a few mistakes in the Masters and placed third to Scheffler. As for the RBC Heritage the next week, his mind was clearly not on that tournament and he missed the cut. I thought he would win it and picked him. That was my second time picking him this season – and in the PG Golf pool you can only choose a player a maximum two times – and I will berate myself for the rest of the season for that bonehead move. I should have kept that pick and used it for this week. If he wins, I will not be happy.

I do not expect anyone other than the players I have not mentioned to win, and that includes Rory McIlroy (TaylorMade TP5x) and Patrick Cantlay (Titleist Pro V1x).

Perry Lefko
Perry Lefko
Perry Lefko is an award-winning writer who has published nine books, three of them bestsellers. He has been involved in sports writing for more than 35 years and has interviewed many superstar athletes. He lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada and enjoys watching golf and playing it.

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