PGA Championship: Tiger Woods vs Brooks Koepka

The PGA Championship has moved to May, making it the second major on the PGA Tour schedule. Do you think that makes the tournament any more relevant or do you still think of it as “the 4th major” in terms of importance?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Excellent question!  I’ve been thinking about that very subject in recent days.  For the moment, the PGA is still very much the “5th” major to me, even behind the Players Championship in prestige and “must watch” importance.  But in its defence, the PGA does attract the strongest field, even if it always seems like an afterthought after the Open Championship, and at the end of a long and tedious schedule.  A change in date may well give it the importance, and ultimately, the respect it deserves.  It may never happen, but perhaps the various stakeholder bodies should get together and formally declare that there ARE now 5 majors, including the Players, running monthly from March to July.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: Moving the PGA into May is one of the genius marketing ploys of all time. This particular event might not prove it because the leaves aren’t even on the trees in NY yet. Bethpage will be a great test! The PGA has the strongest field of the majors but will never overcome the traditions of the Masters, the reputation of the US Open or the nostalgia of the British Open. What has happened through the move is the PGA TOUR PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP is now poised to pass all the others and not only become a major but the ‘top’ major. It has all the earmarks of doing so.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): It’s still the 4th major and will always be the 4th major. Its rank has nothing to do with its position on the calendar. The other three majors have distinct personas: The Masters is played every year on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National, the most beautiful and revered golf club on earth, and marks the beginning of spring and the golf season; the U.S. Open is always tricked out, forcing players to battle both one another and a beefed up golf course that is armed to the teeth with trouble; and the Open has historic significance on its side, being the oldest golf tournament and the first major in addition to always taking place on a rotation of iconic, British golf courses. The PGA Championship is just the other major and will always be that other major. It’s not as old as the U.S. or British Opens and its rotation of courses isn’t as significant. Not that it’s a bad tournament, by any extent . . . there have been some incredible moments and storylines over the major’s 103 iterations. It’s just that it will always pale in comparison to the other three, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

TJ Rule, GolfAwayTours (@GolfAwayTJ): I have to admit, I’m more interested in the tourney now that it’s the 2nd major of the year, so it’s a much better spot in the calendar for the 4th best major!  It’s still clearly bottom of the major barrel for me, but at least there is excitement around it with it being early in the year, and the fact that Tigermania is in full effect.  It also doesn’t hurt that the tournament is at a great course, which will be fun to watch.  I always enjoy watching tournaments on a course on which I’ve played.  So, in short, it likely isn’t any more relevant as a tourney, but I’m more interested to watch it this year for sure.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It makes it more relevant and gives it a shot at getting on par with The Players’ Championship only because it now fits with big guy tune ups for The Open and the U.S. Open. I always liked the PGA just the way it was, but now it will have to get a bit more serious. At 7,400 + yards and par 70, the Black doesn’t need U.S. Open rough and wacko green speeds and nutty pins — the weather should prevent that anyway — so if it remains its own self but with a great field, it just could be #5.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): For me, the PGA Championship falls behind the other three majors and maybe even the Players Championship. Over the years it has produced a number of “lesser” champions like Shaun Micheel and Rich Beem, that somehow detract from the significance of the event. The date doesn’t change that. While that’s my feeling, I’m pretty sure the players don’t think of it any less than the other majors. When all is said and done, it’s the number of majors won that counts, not their name.

Tiger Woods has some history at Bethpage Black having won a U.S. Open there in 2002 and finished sixth at the national championship in 2009. Combined with his recent win at Augusta, oddsmakers have Tiger listed as the favourite to win the PGA Championship at 8-1. Do you think that’s reasonable or are people just too caught up in Tigermania?

Deeks: I think (and hope) people are too caught up with Tiger.  No doubt he’ll be in contention, but I wouldn’t be putting more than five bob down on him.  To its misfortune, the PGA has produced some less than superstar winners over the years, so it’s literally more of an “everyman’s” tournament.  I think whoever can best plug his ears and not get trampled by the screaming horde that will accompany Tiger’s every step at Bethpage, and post a lower number, will be a most deserving winner.

Schurman: I am even more tired of hearing about Tiger Woods than I was before. However, at least this time it’s about golf and not bimbos, drugs and surgery. Tiger is playing a style of golf that very few have ever attained. If he continues to drive the ball distances that are within his capacity to hit the fairways, he will become very difficult to beat. Strangely, the big question mark is his putting. Distance control with his irons has taken years to master but master it he has. He is one of the finest ever from 60 to 90 yards. He has always been a great ‘chipper and pitcher/sand shot’ player. So, it comes down to can he drive the ball in the fairway, and will the putts drop. Tigermania yechhhhhhhh!

Kaplan: I think 8-1 is reasonable and I like his chances this week, although I don’t think he’s going to win. Going into the Byron Nelson, Tiger was T58 in driving accuracy and 1st overall in greens in regulation percentage. He won the U.S. Open there in 2002, he knows the course well, and I think some of the fear that he used to command has returned on the circuit.

Rule:  Of course, it’s reasonable.  He even has the chance to regain the No 1 ranking in the world if all the chips fall into place this week, so it’s not a stretch to think of him as the favourite, especially given his previous success at Bethpage.  At the same time, I don’t think the course suits his game as much as other top players.  When he won there in 2002, he hit 74% of greens (against tourney average 51%) and more importantly 73% of fairways (vs 59% field average).  I don’t see him hitting that many more fairways than the field, which will make it difficult for him to win given his average putting stats. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be manic Tigermania this week!

Quinn: Having never been afflicted, I can’t really empathize with the victims of terminal cases of Tigermania. The oddsmakers seem to be trying to avoid another long shot payoff, and as always, set the numbers to make money not predict a winner. But the mouth-breathers, the ‘Go in the Hole’ mob that will be invading the Black layout will be down at 8-1. Everyone else will be thinking about how massive and opulent and profitable (other than Trump’s) all those casinos are and remembering that line about the frequency of the birth of suckers.

Mumford: It’s total hype. Tiger shouldn’t win, can’t win and won’t win. The bookies will clean up with massive wagering placed on Tiger. (Note: I’ve been wrong before.)

Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy are close behind Woods on the betting line followed by more of the World Top 10. Who’s in the mix on Sunday afternoon and who ultimately walks away with the trophy? If you had to pick a player not currently on the radar to win, who would it be?

Deeks: Having said what I said above, my pick isn’t a longshot, but not on most pickers’ radar, either: Jason Day.  If he can stay healthy and avoid myriad mental and physical complications that have kept him from the Top Five over the years, I think he’s got the game for Bethpage (length and patience), and it’s his time to shine.  Couldn’t happen to a nicer, more deserving guy.  (I’m holding off on my Rory pick till the Open, at Royal Portrush.  If that happens, you’ll literally hear six million people cheering, all the way from Northern Ireland.)

Schurman: At least you included Brooks Koepka, which is more than Brandel Chamblee did. JD is a terrific player but seems unable to either get started well or finish well. Rory doesn’t seem to have the ‘killer’ instinct. When he is ‘on’ he is unbeatable, but we haven’t seen that for a while. Brooks is solid, reliable, and angry about being ignored, making him a good bet. Going down the list Henrik at 60 – 1 is a good choice because of his record of long tough courses and a top 10 in 2009, Scott Piercy at 150 – 1 is really playing well and has good length too, Kevin Tway is trending and has really good length and what a neat story that would be. But, my outside the radar pick is Patrick Cantlay at 40 – 1. He is playing well, is due for a win in a major and has been trending too.

Kaplan: As for my picks — in the mix on Sunday: Koepka, Woods, McIlroy, Sang, Cantlay and JT. Dark horse: Patrick Cantlay (I’m going to keep picking him as my dark horse until he wins one). Winner: Koepka for the repeat!

Rule:  It’s hard to pick against Brooks Koepka isn’t it?  He played well last week, and obviously ramps up for the majors, so he should be in the mix this week.  I like DJ’s chances, with the course likely playing long because of all the recent rain.  But my pick to win this week is Jon Rahm.  He’s played well all year and has the complete game to win on a long tough golf course.  My long shot pick for the week is Alex Noren.

Quinn: Justin Rose. Love his total focus now on what matters — aside from his lovely family I’ve seen him relaxing with, anonymously (or at least not at all hassled), at Albany, where they live outside Nassau — and that of course is the Majors. Money was last a goal long, long ago. Bethpage is going to be a long, wet slog — like a summer’s day in Jolly Olde — and that might just suit him like something from Savile Row.

Mumford: I want to say Jordan Spieth to complete the Career Grand Slam but I’m afraid Brooks Koepka will be in his way. Brooks’ record in majors is exceptional and he’s playing well right now (T2 at the Masters, 4th last week at the AT&T Byron Nelson). Bethpage suits his game too. More than anything, Koepka has a confidence level that only a few other players have ever had. Tony Finau may not be off the radar, but he’d be my longshot choice to win.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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