TULSA, Okla. — The second major championship of the year has arrived, and a lot has changed since the start of the season. There is an undisputed No. 1 player in the world who is also the co-favorite to win the 2022 PGA Championship, and wouldn’t you know it, he tops this list as the most likely to do so. Two former multiple-time major champions have improved their games over the last few months and now have an opportunity to add to their already-impressive totals, while another pair of multiple-time major winners have fallen back a bit.
The list of players most likely to win this tournament is certainly affected by what happened at the Masters as many of the golfers who finished in the top 10 on that leaderboard are represented here. There are two reasons for that. The first is that playing well at the first major of the year speaks to the kind of shape your overall game is in, and the second is that Southern Hills is being talked about as a facsimile for Augusta National in terms of how it’s going to play.
Interestingly, you’re not going to find either of the two most-talked about players this week on this list. Tiger Woods is still too rusty to include on any list of even the 40 most likely to win, and Phil Mickelson is not playing at all, instead opting to sit this one out after his divisive comments about both LIV Golf and the PGA Tour.
Still, it’s a compelling list rife with young stars and superstars trying to further establish their major championship resumes and own personal legacies. We start with the No. 1 player on the planet and the golfer who has to be No. 1 on any list of best or most likely to win any tournament in the world right now.
2022 PGA Championship field, ranked
1. Scottie Scheffler (Best finish — T4 in 2020): Scheffler has quietly become a major championship threat, and that has less to do with his Masters win in April and more to do with how he’s played at the four biggest events since 2020. Scheffler, who comes into the week ranked No. 1 in the world, has seven consecutive top 20s, including five top 10s and that green jacket. Of all the players who are favorites to win this week, he’s the one who it would surprise me most if he finished outside the top 10.
2. Justin Thomas (Won in 2017): When I read that Gil Hanse’s renovation to Southern Hills included changing the greens so that they again flowed away from the middle instead of funneled into them, I thought of Thomas. His ability to hit towering iron shots of varying speeds and distances is perhaps unparalleled in modern golf, and he comes in having finished in the top 10 in eight of 13 worldwide events so far this season. I have some mild concerns about his accuracy off the tee and some serious ones about his ability to cash in with the putter, but this is the perfect golf course for him to go dominate for four straight days.
3. Jon Rahm (T4 in 2018): His ball-striking of late has been tremendous, but he’s struggled around the greens. Because this is a recent phenomenon and because everything we know about Rahm is that he’s elite on and around the greens, I’m confident he’ll get his touch back at some point in the near future. I’m just not sure if “some point” is going to be this week at Southern Hills. Still, his resilience at major championships has been immense. In his last six, his worst finish is a T27 at this year’s Masters. Everything else is a top eight or better. Plus, he’s coming in off a win at the Mexico Open a few weeks ago, and along with Jordan Spieth, he has probably gained the most momentum of anyone in this field since the Masters.
4. Rory McIlroy (Won in 2012, 2014): McIlroy hasn’t been as good at PGAs in recent years as his early career at this tournament makes it seem. He has just one top 10 since he won in 2014 at Valhalla, and that was the backdoor-iest of backdoors at Bethpage in 2019. If this golf course does play like Augusta National, as has been insinuated this week, then McIlroy should thrive (he’s been unbelievable there), and the two things I’m most interested in are his start (see below) and how his short game (tremendous this season) holds up at Southern Hills. It could be one of the sneaky interesting parts of this week if he’s in contention.
5. Jordan Spieth (2nd in 2015): We might have to budget in a 3-foot miss or two to his final weekly tally, but Spieth is playing tremendous golf right now. He ranks 17th in this field in strokes gained from tee to green across his last 20 rounds played, and he currently holds the “if his putter heats up, it’s going to be a problem” title belt.
6. Collin Morikawa (Won in 2020): If you were to draw up a statistical profile for the modern game, it would be difficult to do better than Morikawa. In five positive strokes-gained putting weeks this season, he’s finished in the top five of those tournaments four times. In four negative strokes-gained putting performances, he’s finished outside the top 50 three times. This sounds like a wild seismograph, and in a lot of ways it is, but it also gives him an opportunity to win so many tournaments. The other thing about Morikawa this week is that “huge greens but tiny landing areas” screams third major for him. If he does win this week it will be three in 10 major starts. An eye-popping (albeit unsustainable) pace.
7. Cameron Smith (T25 in 2015): Smith is the forgotten man right now. What Scheffler has done has buried Smith’s dominance over the first part of this year. This course, though, should play to his strengths if it plays anything like Augusta National, which he has dominated over the last five years to the tune of four top 10s. Smith is the best iron player in the world (and it’s not that close) over his last 20 rounds, and Southern Hills’ wide fairways will benefit him off the tee as he has a tendency to get a little wayward. If you drop a ball in the fairway, he might be the best player in the world, and this course will help him play from there.
8. Hideki Matsuyama (T4 in 2016): Matsuyama has quietly had an elite season with two PGA Tour wins and a handful of other top 10s plus a T14 at the Masters. There aren’t many players at this point who could potentially upend Scheffler for this season’s Player of the Year, but if Matsuyama takes this major, he’s suddenly in that conversation.
9. Dustin Johnson (2nd in 2019): If players were ranked by how quickly they can find fifth gear after a period of consistent difficulty, D.J. would be ranked No. 1. And while I’m not feeling a third major from him this week, the pieces are situated in such a way that it wouldn’t be shocking if it happened. D.J. has been one of the best putters on Tour over the last five years, but he’s really struggled in that area this season and hasn’t gained strokes since he finished T9 at The Players in March. If that flips this week — admittedly, a big if — then he’ll be in the mix on the weekend.
10. Shane Lowry (T4 in 2021): Here’s an interesting stat: Scheffler has gained 2.89 strokes on the field in his last 20 rounds, best in the world. Lowry has gained 2.88. If the wind blows like it’s forecasted to this weekend, that should benefit him immensely as it did last year at Kiawah Island. I was wrong about Lowry, by the way. After winning The Open Championship in 2019, I thought he was a one-and-done major winner, but it’s clear that he’s going to mix it up at a few more as he ages into his late 30s and could end up winning at least one more before he finishes his career.
11. Will Zalatoris (T8 in 2021): Zalatoris has walked in Scheffler’s footsteps at the majors. He’s made the cut in four of his last six and all four have resulted in top 10 finishes, including last year’s PGA where he notched a top 10 behind Mickelson and Brooks Koepka at the top. His game is perfect for the type of weather we could see this weekend (cool and windy), though as is true of Spieth right now, you may have to budget in a few missed 4-footers across the entirety of the tournament.
12. Brooks Koepka (Won in 2018-19): The four-time major champ is perhaps the most difficult player on this list to rank. On one hand, he absolutely destroys worlds at majors (15 top 10s in his last 25 majors). On the other hand, he’s been a worse ball-striker than Seamus Power, Hudson Swafford and Kevin Streelman over his last 20 rounds. On the third hand (if you have a third hand), he also missed the cut at the Masters and withdrew from the AT&T Byron Nelson last week. So I’m scared to bet on him this week, but I’m equally scared to bet against him.
13. Viktor Hovland (T30 in 2021): Hovland leads the field in strokes gained ball-striking in his last 20 rounds, but there’s a potentially fatal flaw as it relates to his game, specifically on this golf course. He’s still not that good around the greens. At a course where greens will repel iron shots (envision Pinehurst midwest) and everyone is going to miss at least some of the greens, an ability to get up and down will be paramount. He’s by far the worst around the greens of the top 25 in strokes gained total across their last 20 rounds. I have faith in Hovland in a lot of different categories, but that’s certainly not one of them.
14. Xander Schauffele (T10 in 2020): This has actually been Schauffele’s “worst” major thus far, which is a bit tongue in cheek considering he has nine top 10s overall in 19 major championship starts. If Schauffele wins this week, I’m convinced it will be in the same style he nearly won the Byron Nelson last week — by shooting 61 at the end and swiping the trophy out from somebody.
15. Patrick Cantlay (T3 in 2019): You would expect to see the Player of the Year from 2021 a little higher on this list, especially when he’s a high-caliber of iron player like Cantlay. However, Cantlay has more missed cuts at majors (three) than he has top 10s (two), and even though I know he’s a great golfer, I don’t yet count him among the truly elite major championship golfers that I can blindly trust.
16. Corey Conners (T17 in 2021): Last year’s first-round leader is one of the elite iron players in the game, and again, if success at Augusta National is a harbinger for playing well this week, he’s setup nicely with three consecutive top 10s at the Masters.
17. Joaquin Niemann (T30 in 2021): Niemann’s all-around game has been tremendous of late, and if you can win at Riviera in that field by opening 63-63, you can win a PGA Championship at Southern Hills. It’s time for him to start mixing it up at the four biggest events of the year. To date, he has five missed cuts and just a single top 25.
18. Sam Burns (T29 in 2019): He might be the least talked about young American star (as defined by his rise into the top 10 in the world) of the last 20 years. Burns is a tremendous player, but like a few others on this list, he has yet to shine in a major with no top 25s to date. Burns has improved his iron play by an almost unfathomable level over the last two years and is well-equipped to contend on this stage. Now, he just needs to go do it.
19. Max Homa (T64 in 2013): Homa has not been good at major championships to this point in his career, but he’s also not been as good at any point in his career as he is right now. Homa comes in off a win at the Wells Fargo Championship a few weeks ago, and in the same way it’s time for J.T. to start contending for majors, it’s time for Homa to start making the weekend and making some noise in a space where he has yet to do so.
20. Tony Finau (T4 in 2020): Finau has mostly struggled this year, but he finished T2 at the recent Mexico Open and is almost always a menace at major championships (10 top 10s in 23 starts).
21. Matt Fitzpatrick (T23 in 2021): I generally don’t believe in Fitzpatrick as it relates to major championships (just one top 10 in 27 starts), but he’s been playing incredible golf (eighth in total strokes gained since January 1), and he has a magical short game, which will come in handy around these Southern Hills greens.
22. Keegan Bradley (Won in 2011): The winner of the PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club is having a tremendous year with more top fives than he’s had since the 2017-18 PGA Tour season. Much of this is on the back of a resurgent putter, which is unsustainable as it relates to Bradley, but if that continues for another week he could absolutely win this golf tournament.
Who will win the PGA Championship, and which long shots will stun the golfing world? Visit SportsLine now to see the projected PGA Championship leaderboard, all from the model that’s nailed eight golf majors, including this year’s Masters.