By Tom LaMarre
In this strangest of all PGA Tour seasons, it’s time for the first major of the year in the first week of August, not April, and it’s not the Masters.
The 102nd PGA Championship will be played beginning Thursday at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, and the ninth tournament since the restart after the shutdown because of the Coronavirus pandemic will be played without fans like all the rest.
“We are thrilled to welcome the PGA Championship to San Francisco,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said. “We are able to safely take this step toward reopening because of the ongoing sacrifices of our citizens, the continued committed work of our healthcare workers and the early action we took to battle COVID-19.”
The PGA Championship originally was scheduled to be played on May 14-17, but like the other three majors that was changed because of the pandemic.
The 87th Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., was set for April 9-12 but now will be held Nov. 12-15; the 120th U.S. Open was scheduled for June 18-21 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamoroneck, N.Y., but has been rescheduled for Sept. 17-20, and the 149th Open Championship was to be played on July 16-19 at Royal St. George’s Golf Club in Sandwich, England, but has been postponed until next year.
The PGA Championship, which last year was moved from August to May after being the final major of the year for many years, will be the first major championship of the season for the first time since 1971.
TPC Harding Park, which plays to 7,234 yards and a par of 70, will be the first course on the West Coast to host the PGA Championship since it was played in 1998 at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash., in 1998, and the first in California since Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, near Los Angeles, hosted in 1995.
A scenic course that plays along Lake Merced, TPC Harding Park opened in 1925 and was designed by Sam Whiting and Willie Watson. It is named after Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States, who died of a heart attack in San Francisco in 1923.
Johnny Miller, Bob Rosburg and Ken Venturi grew up playing at Harding Park, which hosted the San Francisco Open Invitational in 1944 and 1945, with the great Byron Nelson winning both times.
Harding Park fell into disarray during the final years of the last century, but a renovation which added 400 yards early in the 2000s made it tournament-worthy again. The course hosted the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship won by Tiger Woods, the 2009 Presidents Cup, the Charles Schwab Cup Championship on what is now the Champions Tour in 2010, 2011 and 2013, and the 2015 WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship won by Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland.
“It’s unbelievable how much they’ve changed the golf course,” Woods, who played the course as a youngster and went 5-0-0 to lead the United States to victory over the International team in the 2009 Presidents Cup, said after beating John Daly in a playoff in 2005. “It used to be basically a clover field out here.”
Brooks Koepka is going for a three-peat in the PGA, having won in 2018 at Bellerive Country Club near St. Louis and last year on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y.
Woods has won the PGA Championship four times, McIlroy has taken the title twice, and other former PGA winners in the field include Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh of Fiji, Jason Day of Australia, Jimmy Walker, Jason Dufner, Martin Kaymer of Germany, Shaun Micheel, Rich Beem, Davis Love III, John Daly and Keegan Bradley.
Jordan Spieth will be making his fourth attempt to complete the Career Grand Slam, but the best thing about this PGA Championship is that major championship golf is back for the first time in more than a year.
- Brooks Koepka, United States – After struggling for much of the season, the two-time defending PGA champion warmed up for his attempt at a three-peat by finishing in a tie for second in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. Koepka has won four majors, including the U.S. Open in 2017 and 2018, and has four other top 10s during that time.
- Justin Thomas, United States – Coming off his third victory of the season and 13th of his career in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude, Thomas is seek his second major title, having won the 2017 PGA at Quail Hollow. He is back at No. 1 in the world rankings and leads the FedEx Cup standings, having captured the FedEx Cup in 2017, when he won five times.
- Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – Even though he is fifth in the FedEx standings, Rory hasn’t played his best since the restart, with a tie for 11th in the Travelers his only top 30 finish in five events. McIlroy has won four majors, including the PGA in 2012 and 2014, but none in the last six years. He has 20 top-10 finishes in the majors in his career.
- Dustin Johnson, United States – Captured the Travelers in June and bounced back from two sub-par finishes by tying for 12th in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude last week. Johnson has only one major title in his career, the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, although he has been in contention often with 17 top-10 finishes, including four runner-up results.
- Jon Rahm, Spain – Even though he lasted only two weeks as the No. 1 player in the World Golf Rankings, the 25-year-old Rahm probably is the best player in the game without a major title. He has 11 victories in his career and four finishes in the top 10 in the majors, including a tie for fourth in the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive.
- Webb Simpson, United States – His only major victory came in the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, not far from TPC Harding Park. He has only two other top 10 results in the majors, including a tie for fifth in the 2019 Masters. Simpson is second in the FedEx Cup standings with two victories and six top 10 results this season.
- Bryson DeChambeau, United States – With seven victories since 2017, the muscled-up DeChambeau is on the short list of best players without a major title, although his best result was a tie for 15th in the 2016 U.S. Open. He won the Rocket Mortgage Classic after the restart, has eight top 10s this season and ranks fourth in FedEx Cup standings.
- Tiger Woods, United States – Even though Woods has played only once since the restart and tied for 40th in the Memorial, you can never count out the man with 15 major titles, including four in the PGA. Among his 82 PGA Tour victories is a playoff win over John Daly in the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship at TPC Harding Park.
- Collin Morikawa, United States – One of the game’s rising stars, Morikawa would be a local favorite if fans were allowed since he played across San Francisco Bay at Cal. Won the Workday Charity Open and was second in the Charles Schwab Challenge since the restart, and has five top 10s. Tied for 35th in 2019 U.S. Open, his only major start.
- Patrick Cantlay, United States – Played in the majors for the first time in 2019 and was not awed, tying for ninth in the Masters, tying for third in the PGA and tying for 21st in the U.S. Open. Cantlay, who has won twice on the PGA Tour since 2017, tied for 11th in the Travelers and tied for seventh in the Workday Charity Open since the restart.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Phil Mickelson, United States; Tommy Fleetwood, England; Jason Day, Australia, Hideki Matsuyama, Japan; Tony Finau, United States; Rickie Fowler, United States; Gary Woodland, United States; Shane Lowry, Ireland; Brendon Todd, United States; Matthew Fitzpatrick, England.
- Viktor Hovland, Norway – Winner of the 2020 Puerto Rico Open, Hovland is playing in his first major as a pro. Low amateur in 2019 U.S. Open (T-12) and Masters (T-32).
- Matthew Wolff, United States – The 2019 NCAA individual champion at Oklahoma State, who won the 2019 3M Open, is making his major championship debut this week.
- Abraham Ancer, Mexico – Has won as a pro in Australia and Nova Scotia, and his best finish in four major appearances was a T-16 in the 2019 PGA at Bethpage Black.
- Erik van Rooyen, South Africa – Winner of three pro tournaments around the world, his best finish in the majors was a tie for eighth in the 2019 PGA at Bethpage Black.
- Scottie Scheffler, United States –Was low amateur at T-27 in the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills. T-15 last week in WGC event and has four top 10s, nine top 25s this season.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html