(CBS Miami) — And just like that it’s time for another major. The PGA Championship on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina follows the Masters by a little more than a month. It’s the next in a string of seven majors in a 12-month period. The stretch started with last year’s PGA Championship, which COVID pushed until August. And it will end with the this year’s Open Championship in July.
The field for this PGA Championship doesn’t want for top talent, nor is it short of big storylines. Every one of the world’s top 25 players will be on hand, from Dustin Johnson to Cameron Smith.
Johnson and Brooks Koepka, for their part, haven’t been in top form. The world’s top-ranked player has finished in the top 10 in a Tour event just once since his November win. Koepka, ranked 13th, has won two of the last three PGA Championships, but an injured knee has hindered his game of late.
Bryson DeChambeau, who is ranked fifth in the world, has a power game well suited for this course. DeChambeau’s last win came at the Arnold Palmer Invitational more than two months ago. The list also includes the defending champion, sixth-ranked Collin Morikawa, who won by two strokes at TPC Harding Park. His most recent win came at the WGC-Workday Championships in February, but he tied for seventh at the RBC Heritage last month. Then there’s 15th-ranked Hideki Matsuyama, who won the last Masters and will be looking to make it back-to-back majors. He tied for 39th at the AT&T Byron Nelson last week.
Rory McIlroy, ranked seventh, won the last PGA Championship held at Kiawah Island in 2012 by eight strokes. He enters in top form after his recent win at the Wells Fargo Championship. “It was great what Rory did,” said CBS Sports lead golf analyst Nick Faldo. “That’s going to be a huge inspiration.”
And the names continue down the rankings. Jordan Spieth and Will Zalatoris will also be on hand. The 26th-ranked Spieth is hoping to complete his career grand slam. His game has seemingly fully recovered, given his win at the Valero Texas Open and his third-place tie at the Masters. This is his best chance in years to win the one major he has yet to win. The 30th-ranked Zalatoris hasn’t sniffed the top 10 since his second-place finish at the Masters. But the young pro’s first win is likely to come sooner than later.
The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island isn’t for the faint of heart. The par-72 track stretches a whopping 7,876 yards, making it the longest in major championship history. Ten of those holes stretch along the Atlantic Ocean, so wind is always a factor. In the second round of the 2012 PGA Championship, the wind off the ocean kicked up so much that the average score was 78, 6-over par. That was the highest scoring average for a single round of the PGA Championship since 1958.
The course, designed by Pete Dye, is located on the east end of the island. It was originally intended to sit behind the sand dunes, which are nature’s way of protecting land from waves and wind. But Dye’s wife convinced him to raise the course and open up the coastline views. The bunkers merge into the surrounding dunes. But the natural wind barrier isn’t particularly effective.
“It’s a brutal golf course, according to Faldo. “If it plays that length, it could be a ball-strikers course. If it plays firm and fast, then it will probably be a real scramblers golf course. To keep the ball on the green, especially downwind, just impossible on some holes, especially with championship hole locations. I think it’s a stern test, a great course. Amazing what Pete Dye did there. Took a natural coastline, leveled it dead flat like a runway, and started again. Basically created a links. It has all the Pete Dye traits, how awkward and how difficult it is. Nothing easy the minute you step on that first tee to the 18th green.”
The course plays like both a links course and a classic Dye course. The rolling terrain and figure-eight layout make it feel like the former. The variety of tricky slopes found on the greens make it feel like the latter. As with any coastal coarse, wind is a major factor. In fact, it’s probably the major factor here. Wind affects each hole a little differently, depending on the size and elevation of the greens and the direction the wind is blowing.
“The wind is a really serious factor on the golf course,” Faldo said. “And it’s the toughest wind in golf.”
Four of the course’s par-4’s are somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 yards. And the par-5 16th tops 600 yards. But it’s the 223-yard par-3 17th that presents the most headaches. The raised tee shot plays over water to a green guarded by bunkers to the left. At the 2012 PGA Championship, the long par-3 yielded 28 double-bogeys (or worse) as compared to 31 birdies.
Here are the favorites:
Rory McIlroy (11-1)
McIlroy has found a little more consistency in the first part of 2021, though he has still missed three cuts in the last few months. But CBS Sports golf anchor Jim Nantz noted that McIlroy seemed energized in his recent win at the Wells Fargo. McIlroy put on a driving exhibition at the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. If he’s truly found that form again, he’ll be tough to beat.
Justin Thomas (14-1)
Somehow the world’s second-ranked player is a bit of an afterthought this week when it comes to storylines. He hasn’t had a top-10 finish since his Players Championship win in March. But the PGA Championship is his one major title to date. He’s also ranked third in Shots Gained: Total, and is one of the Tour’s best with an iron in his hands.
Jon Rahm (14-1)
Rahm, ranked third in the world, has yet to win a major. But he has seven top-10 finishes this year, the last coming at the Zurich Classic. He’s third on Tour in Shots Gained: Off-The-Tee, which should help if the wind cooperates.
Watch the PGA Championship Saturday, May 22 and Sunday, May 23, 1:00 – 7:00 p.m. ET on CBS.