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2024 PGA Championship is a real horse race



The spotlight will be back again in Louisville, Kentucky, less than two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, this time with the 2024 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Course.

And just like the Derby, there are several interesting story lines, from the logical contenders to a bunch of middling choices to long shots.

If you didn’t see this year’s Derby, Mystik Dan, a 16-1 long shot, won in a three-horse photo finish, beating second favorite Sierra Leone. Betting favorite Fierceness finished up the track.

Could that be an omen? Lately, the heavy favorites are winning on the PGA Tour after huge long shots early in the year.

Scottie Scheffler (Titleist Pro V1), the hottest player on the planet prior to taking a two-week break while he and his wife, Meredith, awaited the birth of their first child, is back in action. Prior to his mini sabbatical, Scheffler won four of five tournaments since switching from a blade to a mallet putter. He goes into the tournament as heavy favorite, or the chalk as they say at the racetrack.

He didn’t just win his last two; he dominated with every aspect of his game.

In his absence, Rory McIlroy (TaylorMade TP5x) won twice. He did it first playing with fellow Irishman Shane Lowry (Srixon Z-Star XV), in the Zurich Classic, and then by himself in the Wells Fargo Championship. He recorded a record fourth victory in the tournament. He pulled a Scheffler running away from the field on a course with which he had had previous success.

He was a horse for that course and has also won at Valhalla in 2014. Similarly, he did so off two consecutive wins. The victory in 2014 gave him his second major.

So, is McIlroy turning back the clock? He clearly has found something in his game, notably his driving, which for the most part has seen him keep his ball in the fairway or not far off of it, compared to spraying it wide left or wide right. It comes at a time when he just received a reported $50 million from the PGA Tour Enterprises to which he showed his allegiance to the PGA Tour. LIV Golf purloined major stars with offers that were too good to turn down. McIlroy said he has never received an offer from LIV, but the $50 million is a nice reward for his fidelity to the PGA Tour. Then came two big payouts for wins in his last two tourneys.

Maybe the golf gods are finally shining their Irish eyes on McIlroy, who struggled this year prior to his recent run.

Make no mistake, when McIlroy is winning or in strong contention it moves the fan needle. In the absence of Tiger Woods (Bridgestone Tour B X) playing full-time, McIlroy is the man.

Woods will be in the PGA Championship, but the expectations should be modest to just make the cut. Yes, he made the cut in the Masters on a course he knew all too well, but he tired badly and faded. The field will be bigger in this tournament and the competition stronger. Damp weather is also expected to play a role.

Justin Thomas (Titleist Pro V1x), playing in his hometown and on a course he knows well, will receive lots of support. But he’s still so hard to predict, having missed the cut in three of his last seven starts and having switched caddies. He tied for fifth two starts ago at the RBC Heritage but fell to a tie for 21st in the Wells Fargo.

The presence of the premium LIV Golf players will provide the significant difference in this tournament. Yes, some of them were in the Masters, but none figured in the end after slimmed-down Bryson DeChambeau (Titleist Pro V1 X Left Dash) flamed out in the final round after a solid 54 holes.

The player all the experts are looking at it is Brooks Koepka (Srixon Z-Star), who is coming into the tournament with a victory in Singapore in his last LIV Golf start two weeks ago. Koepka tied for 45th in the Masters and was never a factor. He didn’t even appear interested. Last year he tied for second. He’s won the PGA Championship three times in the last six years and comes into this one as the defending champion.

It's always a difficult task to repeat as champion, especially when the courses are not the same, unlike the Masters. He won back-to-back in 2018 and 2019, but was a non-factor in 2020, finishing tied for 29th. He tied for second in 2021, in which Phil Mickelson (Callaway Chrome Soft X Triple Track) won to become the first PGA Tour player to win a major at the age of 50. In 2022, he tied for 55th.

So which Koepka will show up, the one who is laser-focused or the one who isn’t? Most figure he will be dialed in.

Cameron Smith (Titleist Pro V1x) tied for ninth in last year’s PGA Championship. He tied for sixth in this year’s Masters. He finished second to Koepka in the last LIV Golf tournament. I like his chances as somewhat of a long shot.

One player who comes into the tournament as a dark horse is Jon Rahm (Callaway Chrome Soft X), who won the 2023 Masters but was a non-factor this year and never appeared comfortable. He has not won in seven starts in his first year with LIV Golf but has finished on the top-10 in each and has four top-5 placings.


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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