2024 PGA Championship picks, predictions: Five trends to help determine this

A total of 156 golfers will tee it up this week at the 2024 PGA Championship, and while all would love to believe they have a chance to raise the Wanamaker Trophy at Valhalla Golf Club, history suggests otherwise. There are 21 PGA professionals, a number of past champions who are there for a bit of a joy ride and those that play on the PGA Tour, DP World Tour or LIV Golf who are simply out of form.

That’s not to say it is impossible for someone to catch lightning in a bottle … just look at Phil Mickelson three years ago. He defied conventional wisdom arriving on Kiawah Island without a top-20 finish that calendar year only to leave the South Carolina coast with the Wanamaker Trophy and his sixth major triumph in hand. Oh, and all this happened at the ripe age of 50.

There have been other close calls from unlikely contenders — like Mito Pereira at Southern Hills — but with a list of winners that features Brooks Koepka three times, Justin Thomas twice and Collin Morikawa in his championship debut, it’s hard to look past the quality of player who is likely to come away with the second major championship of the year.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look back at the 10 most recent winners of the PGA Championship and identify what trends exist as we attempt to whittle down the field of 156 players to pinpoint this year’s champion.

1. Official World Golf Rankings

The rankings have lost some accuracy and completeness amid the LIV Golf drama, but they are still sound for tours that receive points. We are going to have to get a little flexible here as nine of last 10 winners found themselves ranked inside the top 50 of the OWGR at the time of triumph (Mickelson was ranked 115th). Seven of the last 10 were ranked inside the top 12, a list that does not include Koepka last season. Let’s start with that top-50 cutoff point for those players on tours that do receive points.

Eliminated: Non-LIV golfers outside the top 50 of the OWGR, notably Jake Knapp, Adam Scott, Taylor Moore, Alex Noren, Tiger Woods and Michael Block

2. Course changes, stakes do not

The PGA Championship has moved in more ways than one over the last 10 years. Not only does the championship rotate golf courses, it has also moved up from August to May on the calendar; that switch happened in 2019. Regardless, quality has proven to be an important barometer at this championship in particular. Nine of the last 10 champions had a top-20 finish to their name with the lone exception being Morikawa, who won in his debut appearance (2020).

Eliminated: Dean Burmester, Adrian Meronk, Joaquin Niemann, Andy Ogletree, David Puig, Wyndham Clark, Sahith Theegala, Ludvig Åberg, Matthieu Pavon, Byeong Hun An, Tom Kim, Nick Taylor, Denny McCarthy, Akshay Bhatia, Nicolai Hojgaard, Stephan Jaeger, J.T. Poston, Adam Schenk, Austin Eckroat

3. What have you done for me lately?

Major champions rarely pop up unannounced, and even Mickelson had flashed some form in 2021. The six-time major champion won a couple times on the Champions Tour that fall and actually held the first-round lead at the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks prior to his victory. Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Thomas (2017) had already claimed multiple victories, while Koepka (2018, 2023) and Morikawa entered the winner’s circle within the prior handful of starts. Nine of the last 10 winners had at least one top-five finish under their belt during the calendar year.

Eliminated: Martin Kaymer, Phil Mickelson, Viktor Hovland, Lucas Glover, Rickie Fowler, Si Woo Kim, Emiliano Grillo, Harris English, Kurt Kitayama, Corey Conners

4. Major-championship pedigree

Six of the last 10 winners already had a major victory on their résumé. The last winner at Valhalla, McIlroy, already had three at the time of his victory. Last year’s champion, Koepka, already had four. Once again, Morikawa bucks this trend — it was only his second major championship — but nine of the last 10 winners had at least one top-10 finish in a major championship.

Eliminated: Sam Burns, Lucas Herbert, Talor Gooch

5. Let’s get technical

If finishing positions don’t do it for you, strokes-gained data is likely your vice. The last 10 champions all averaged positive strokes gained per round over the last three months with Mickelson and Walker bringing up the rear at +0.43 and +0.04, respectively. When looking at this, it makes sense they flew in under the radar. The same cannot be said for Day (+2.03), Koepka in 2018 (+2.09), Thomas in 2022 (+2.36) and McIlroy (+2.86). All together, this group of champions averaged +1.64 strokes gained per round — the benchmark we will be utilizing much to the dismay of many recent major champions and many potential contenders.

Eliminated: Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Cameron Smith, Patrick Cantlay, Max Homa, Brian Harman, Tommy Fleetwood, Collin Morikawa, Cameron Young, Russell Henley, Jason Day, Keegan Bradley, Sepp Straka, Jordan Spieth, Chris Kirk, Justin Thomas, Sungjae Im, Will Zalatoris, Min Woo Lee

That leaves us with … five golfers

Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Hideki Matsuyama

Scheffler is far and away the best player in the world with four wins in his last five starts and all the statistics to back it up, but can he overcome a month layoff en route to his second major championship this season? McIlroy, fresh off back-to-back wins, eyes his first major title in a decade at the golf course where he last raised the Wanamaker Trophy. DeChambeau has returned to a major-caliber player grabbing the first-round lead not only at the Masters this year but also the PGA Championship last year. Will he string it together for all 72 holes?

Meanwhile, Schauffele continues to be a statistical darling and top-10 machine, but at some point, a player of his skill level has to go out there and grab a big-time golf tournament away from big-time competitors. Matsuyama may be the biggest question mark of the bunch following his withdrawal from the Wells Fargo Championship, but if he is healthy, he is capable of adding another major trophy to his mantle.

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