CHARLOTTE — The fourth and final major of the 2016-17 season is upon us as the 99th PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., is here. And of course, the best part of the PGA is all the juicy build up we’ve had all year that provides storylines aplenty. (Although that build up won’t exist beginning 2019.)
Can Jordan Spieth win the career grand slam? Can Sergio make it two majors in one year? Will Rory continue his Quail Hollow dominance?
There’s a lot of watch, and some big-time groupings to keep an eye on. Here are our favorite pairings for the first two rounds.
7. Matt Kuchar, Justin Rose, Chris Kirk
Tee time: 1:45 p.m. 1st tee Thurs. / 8:35 a.m. 10th tee Fri.
Kuchar is not far removed from British Open heartbreak, Rose hasn’t finished in the top 50 at the last two majors after losing the Masters in a playoff and Kirk is the new guy here. He got a spot in the field when Brandt Snedeker withdrew with a lingering injury.
6. Hideki Matsuyama, Ernie Els, Ian Poulter
Tee time: 7:45 a.m. 10th tee Thurs. / 12:55 p.m. 1st tee Fri.
Here’s one big-name international grouping. Matsuyama is the hottest golfer entering the PGA after winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and is arguably the best player without a major victory (but that always depends on who you ask). Els, along with Phil Mickelson, is playing in his 100th career major this week (although he hasn’t finished in the top 10 in a major since the 2014 PGA) and Poulter hasn’t missed a cut since the Valero Texas Open. He’s also been in the top 15 in his last three starts.
5. Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed
Tee time: 8:05 a.m. 10th tee Thurs. / 1:15 p.m. 1st tee Fri.
Here we have a trio of promising players with zero majors to their name. Despite missing the cut at the British Open, Thomas has already had a memorable major season simply due to his 63 at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. Any one of these three could grab their first major at any time.
4. Jimmy Walker, Phil Mickelson, Jason Dufner
Tee time: 1:25 p.m. 1st tee Thurs. / 8:15 a.m. 10th tee Fri.
This threesome boasts three Wanamaker Trophy winners. Jimmy Walker is defending his PGA title, Mickelson won in 2005 and Dufner in 2013. Walker has battled Lyme disease this season and Dufner has made two cuts and missed two others since winning the Memorial. As for Mickelson, making his 100th career major start (like Els), he’s a fan of Quail Hollow. He has played 14 career events here, and although he’s never won, he has a 2nd, two 3rds and nine top 10s. He’s never missed a cut.
3. Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson
Tee time: 8:35 a.m. 10th tee Thurs. / 1:45 p.m. 1st tee Fri.
A group of big hitters and steely stares. Day still isn’t that far removed from winning the 2015 PGA at Whistling Straits, although he’s struggled to find his form this year. Dustin Johnson has slowed down since withdrawing from the Masters (and winning his three events prior to it), but his game should transition well to Quail Hollow, which should play long and soft. Stenson hasn’t won since the 2016 British Open at Royal Troon, but he’s finished in the top 20 in three of his last four starts. Stenson’s Quail Hollow history is not pretty. Six starts, four missed cuts.
2. Sergio Garcia, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth
Tee time: 8:25 a.m. 10th tee Thurs. / 1:35 p.m. 1st tee Fri.
With Spieth chasing the career grand slam — and an opportunity to accomplish it as the youngest player in history — this group got major consideration for the top spot, but was just beat out by a slim margin. Per usual for the PGA, it touts the season’s three major winners together for the first two days of the event, and this year we are spoiled with a great trio. Can Sergio go from majorless to a two-time major-winner in a matter of months? Can Koepka continue his ascent? And, the biggest storyline of all, can Spieth make history?
1. Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler
Tee time: 1:35 p.m. 1st tee Thurs. / 8:25 a.m. 10th tee Fri.
If only this group had a little personality. If all goes well, as golf fans are hoping, we will see plenty of big-time shots, swagger, screaming and emotion from this group. Fowler doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve as much as McIlroy and Rahm, but he’s definitely not boring and always a fan favorite. And, if there were one group to pick a winner out of, this might be it. McIlroy has won twice at Quail Hollow and finished runner-up once, and Fowler picked up his first PGA Tour victory at Quail Hollow in 2012.