PITTSFORD, N.Y. — It’s often called the strongest field in golf, though Phil Mickelson might like to offer a rebuttal.
The PGA Championship marks the second major of the season and the second time the best golfers in the world — including PGA Tour and LIV Golf members — will gather in one spot as they compete for the Wanamaker Trophy.
Mickelson won the 2021 PGA Championship at the record-setting age of 50. He sat out in 2022 while self-exiling after his comments about LIV and Saudi Arabia. He’s back in the mix this week at Oak Hill Country Club following a surprising tie for second at last month’s Masters.
The championship begins Thursday, and 17 LIV players were in the initial field before Paul Casey withdrew on Wednesday. Lefty thinks it should have been more.
“Colluding with Tour and against LIV,” Mickelson wrote in a since-deleted tweet after the PGA of America, which organizes the major, gave exemptions to certain PGA Tour players over LIV members like world No. 104 Cameron Tringale.
When Shaun Micheel, the 2003 champion at Oak Hill, hits the first tee shot Thursday morning, the focus will shift onto the many stars in the field — Jon Rahm of Spain, Scottie Scheffler and plenty more.
Justin Thomas is the defending champion after rallying from seven strokes down in the final round last year at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla. He drew even with Will Zalatoris and won a three-hole playoff.
But Thomas hasn’t won since, and he’s been frustrated over results like a missed cut at the Masters.
“How I described it for a couple months is I’ve never felt so far and so close at the same time,” Thomas said. “That’s a very hard thing to explain, and it’s also a very hard way to try to compete and win a golf tournament.”
Since the dawn of the new season, Rahm and Scheffler have gone back and forth for the title of best golfer in the world, while Rory McIlroy has faded a bit into a clear No. 3 role. McIlroy once again will try to break his major championship drought that’s reached nine years after he missed the cut at the Masters.
“It wasn’t really the performance of Augusta that’s hard to get over … it’s the mental aspect and the deflation of it and sort of trying to get your mind in the right place to start going forward again, I guess,” McIlroy said. “I think I’m close.”
Rahm captured the green jacket for his second major title and is aiming to be the first golfer to win back-to-back majors since Jordan Spieth in 2015.
Oak Hill is hosting a major for the first time since the 2013 PGA. After a renovation sought to bring it closer to Donald Ross’ original design, hundreds of trees were removed to clear some sightlines. But the rough figures to be thick and the course has been lengthened to a 7,394-yard par-70.
“I would say whoever did the redo has done a good job,” Rahm said. “It’s challenging, but it’s one of those where if you hit the shots you’re supposed to hit, put it in the fairway, go to the center of the green, nothing crazy should be happening.”
Spieth, who needs only a PGA Championship title to complete the career grand slam, missed last week’s PGA Tour event citing “severe pain” in his left wrist. As of Wednesday morning, Spieth was still in the PGA Championship field, seen with Kinesio tape on his left arm while practicing.
One player who won’t compete is Tiger Woods. The 15-time major winner made the cut at the Masters but couldn’t finish the weather-disrupted third round, withdrawing due to plantar fasciitis.
Brooks Koepka won the LIV event that directly preceded the Masters and went on to lead for much of the weekend at Augusta before tying Mickelson for second. This week, it’s two-time major winner Dustin Johnson entering with momentum from a win at LIV Tulsa.
For all the decorated golfers on the property at Oak Hill, the PGA Championship often sees a player break through to win a major for the first time. Elite players like Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele are still hunting for their first. Cameron Young, a New York state native who tied for third in his tournament debut last year, is a popular pick among bettors.
Max Homa is also gaining steam, having won twice on tour this season.
“I’m not sure anything could happen at this point that would change my life,” Homa said, “but (winning a major) sure would change my career.”
–By Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media