Ranking the favorites, contenders and hopefuls in the 2023 PGA Championship
Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior WriterMay 15, 2023, 08:24 AM ET
- Senior college football writer
- Author of seven books on college football
- Graduate of the University of Georgia
The 105th PGA Championship is returning to Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, for the fourth time.
The East Course will play much different this week than it did the last time Oak Hill hosted a PGA Championship in 2013. The Donald Ross-designed course underwent an extensive restoration by architect Andrew Green in 2019.
The project included rebuilding and reshaping each of the 18 greens and every bunker on the course. The greens are now pure bentgrass. Green’s crews also removed many trees and added back tees, lengthening the course to 7,394 yards, which is 231 yards longer than it was a decade ago.
Long hitters might have an advantage in Rochester, where the weather is unpredictable this time of year. Forecasts for tournament days call for high temperatures from 60 to 70 degrees with a chance of rain.
Here’s a look at who can and can’t win this week’s PGA Championship:
Jump to a section:
Guys who can win | If everything goes right
Miracles happen | Happy to make the cut | Past champions | PGA professionals
Tier I: The guys who can win
Here are the legitimate contenders to win the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday. They have the games, guts and nerves to handle four pressure-packed rounds.
The world No. 1 should be the favorite in every major championship until he cools down. He has six worldwide victories since October, including his second major championship win at the Masters. Picking up the Wanamaker Trophy would give him three legs of the career grand slam at age 28.
Scheffler might not be ranked No. 1 in the world, but he is still a threat to win each time he tees it up at a major. He tied for 10th at the Masters, his seventh top-10 finish in 14 starts in majors. Scheffler leads the tour in shots gained: tee to green (2.309) and par-4 scoring (3.90), which should help at Oak Hill.
“Big-game Brooks” was back at the Masters, where he was in contention on Sunday and tied for second. The two-time PGA Championship winner said he is healthy and is confident again, which might not be good for the rest of the field.
At this point, it wouldn’t be too shocking to see Finau put up a 67 then take his kids to nearby Niagara Falls. He has won four times since late July and is seeking his first major championship victory.
Oak Hill’s long and soft conditions would seem to fit McIlroy’s game perfectly. Where is he mentally after missing the cut at the Masters and tying for 47th at the Wells Fargo Championship? He leads the tour in driving distance (328.2 yards) but is 172nd in strokes gained: putting (-.356).
Spieth can complete the career grand slam by hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy at Oak Hill on Sunday. He pulled out of last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson because of a left wrist injury. Spieth is still listed in the field of entries.
Cantlay hasn’t performed great in the majors in recent seasons, which is probably why he lured caddie Joe LaCava off Tiger Woods’ bag. Cantlay has just one top-five finish in 21 starts in majors as a pro. He is the highest-ranked player in the world (No. 4) without a major championship win.
Hovland, 25, is getting more and more comfortable on the big stage. He tied for fourth at The Open at St. Andrews and for seventh at the Masters. His work on and around the greens remains a concern.
Young, from Scarborough, New York, ranks third on tour in driving distance (318.2 yards). He is still seeking his first PGA Tour victory, but he had three top-10 finishes in his past four starts in majors, including a tie for seventh at the Masters.
The two-time major champion’s form hasn’t been great lately; he tied for 31st at the RBC Heritage and missed the cut at the Wells Fargo Championship. He ranks 169th in strokes gained: putting (-.325) and recently changed his putting grip again.
Schauffele spends as much time on a major championship leaderboard as the LIV Golf League’s lawyers do in court. He tied for 10th at the Masters, his 16th top 25 in 23 starts in majors. He is going to finish the deal at some point.
The reigning U.S. Open champion won the RBC Heritage, and he seems to be fully recovered from a bulging disk in his neck. He tied for 10th at the Masters, his third top-10 finish in his past four starts in majors.
The two-time PGA Championship winner has looked out of sorts for a while, especially on the greens. He ranks 138th in strokes gained: putting (-.166) and 118th in driving accuracy (57.9%). If Thomas’ putter gets hot, he’ll be in contention again.
Homa is another player with world-class talent who hasn’t yet contended in a major. He has just one top 25 in 13 starts in majors as a pro. Homa is going to turn it around sooner rather than later.
The 2021 Masters winner hasn’t finished in the top 10 at the PGA Championship since tying for fifth in 2017. After battling neck and back injuries, he has had a good stretch lately, finishing fifth at the Players Championship and tying for 16th at the Masters.
Burns, who picked up his fifth PGA Tour win at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, is still searching for a breakthrough at a major. He has one top 25 in nine starts as a pro.
The 2015 PGA Championship winner has been healthy and is playing well this year, including claiming his first victory in five years at last week’s Byron Nelson. He is T-7 in shots gained: total (1.975) and 15th in total driving.
The reigning Open Championship winner didn’t have a great showing at the Masters, tying for 34th. The Australian golfer has yet to record a top-10 finish in seven PGA Championship starts.
The English golfer is still searching for his first victory in the United States. He tied for fifth at the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and was in the mix at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Scott missed the cut in his past two starts in the PGA Championship, but he has six top-10 finishes in 22 starts in the event. He tied for fifth at the Wells Fargo Championship and played well at the AT&T Byron Nelson. He is heating up again.
After finishing runner-up in two straight PGA Championships, in 2019 and 2020, DJ missed the cut in the past two. He tied for 48th at the Masters and claimed his first LIV Golf 2023 victory in last week’s Tulsa event.
Tier II: If everything goes right
Here are the sleeper candidates to win the PGA Championship. This tier includes a few previous major champions and a handful of players who have made comebacks this season.
The LIV Golf League member has two straight top-10 finishes at the PGA Championship, tying for eighth in 2021 and for ninth in 2022.
Im might not hit it far enough to contend at Oak Hill; he is averaging less than 300 yards off the tee. But the South Korean golfer hits a lot of fairways and greens, and he finds ways to score well.
Gooch finished first in back-to-back LIV Golf League events, in Australia and Singapore, collecting $8 million before taxes. He tied for 20th at Southern Hills.
Oak Hill might be too long for Hoge, who ranks 136th in driving distance (294.8 yards). He tied for ninth at Southern Hills, his best finish in a major.
Kim, 20, already has won twice on tour. He tied for 16th at the Masters, his best finish in a major.
Fowler’s steady play has helped him climb back into the top 50 in the world for the first time since November 2020. He made the cut in 38 of 46 starts in majors.
Mickelson became the oldest man to capture a major championship when he won the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, at age 50. His tie for second at the Masters proved he has something left in the tank at 52. Don’t expect the PGA of America to roll out the welcome mat.
Rose posted three straight top 15 finishes at the PGA Championship, placing ninth in 2020 and tying for eighth in 2021 and for 13th in 2022.
If driving the ball well is a prerequisite for winning at Oak Hill, then Mitchell should be in good shape. He leads the tour in total driving and is fifth in shots gained: off the tee (.799).
The English golfer was second at the Players, so he is more than capable of showing up on the big stage. He tied for 13th at Southern Hills.
The 2019 Open Championship winner finished in the top 10 in two of his past four starts in the PGA Championship: a tie for eighth at Bethpage Black on Long Island, New York, in 2019 and tie for fourth at Kiawah Island in 2021.
Kirk tied for fifth at Southern Hills, his best finish in a major. He picked up his fifth tour victory at the Honda Classic, a tough track, in February.
Clark earned his first PGA Tour victory at the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks ago. He has been one of the longest hitters off the tee on tour, and the rest of his game is coming around, too.
Bradley, the 2011 PGA Championship winner, has cooled off a bit over the past two months. But his driving efficiency and strong wedge play could put him in the mix.
Power, from Ireland, tied for ninth at the PGA Championship and tied for 12th at the U.S. Open last season. He tied for 18th at the Wells Fargo Championship after a mini-slump in March.
The first man from Poland to play on the DP World Tour, Meronk picked up his third victory on the circuit by winning the Italian Open two weeks ago. His latest victory came at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club outside Rome, which will host the Ryder Cup in September. He is probably going to be back there while playing for Europe.
Niemann, who was among the highest-rated players to leave for LIV Golf, tied for 16th at the Masters, his best finish in a major championship.
Theegala finished ninth in his first Masters start in April. He’ll be making his first start at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
Outside of a tie for second at the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club, Reed hasn’t had much success in the event.
The 2019 U.S. Open winner had been struggling for a while, but he turned things around with a tie for 14th at both the Masters and the Wells Fargo Championship. He is among the longest hitters off the tee on tour.
Pereira had the lead going to the 72nd hole at Southern Hill and knocked his tee shot into the water. He tied for third. He’ll be asked about it more than a few times this week.
After missing much of last season with a hip injury, English tied for second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and for third at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Horschel is another talented player trying to break the ceiling at a major. He has one top-10 finish — a tie for fourth at the 2013 U.S. Open — in 37 such starts.
Montgomery cooled off after a sizzling start to his rookie season. He drives the ball well enough and is one of the best putters in the world.
Kitayama claimed his first tour victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, another difficult course.
Kuchar, 44, has been playing very steady golf, with four straight top 25s after missing the cut at the Players. He had the second-lowest 36-hole score at 7 under in the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
Harman’s form hasn’t been great lately, but he had runner-up finishes at the World Wide Technology Championship in Mexico and the RSM Classic earlier this season.
Henley, who has quietly climbed to 28th in the world, hasn’t had much success in the PGA Championship. He doesn’t have a top 10 in nine starts.
The Canadian golfer loves the Masters, where he has three top-10 finishes, but he has yet to produce another one in the other three majors.
Pieters, a former University of Illinois star, is ranked 53nd in the world. Pieters will have to be in the top 60 of the Official World Golf Ranking on May 22 or June 12 to qualify for the U.S. Open field. That will require a good outing at Oak Hill, since he isn’t receiving world-ranking points for his LIV Golf League finishes.
Varner had another solid week at the Masters, tying for 29th. He is ranked 65th in the world and is in the same boat as Pieters in regard to the U.S. Open.
Tier III: Hey, miracles happen
They are the long shots. Everything would have to fall perfectly into place over 72 holes in four days for someone from this tier to win. There have been more than a few underdogs who have hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy.
The 2016 PGA Championship winner has been quietly playing good golf. He tied for 15th at the Mexico Open and tied for 14th at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Casey received a special invitation from the PGA of America to compete this week. He missed last year’s tournament because of a back injury, after tying for fourth the year before.
The former UNC star, who walked away from the game to work as a mortgage loan officer, will be making his first start in a major.
MacIntyre, from Scotland, had to pull out of the second round of the Italian Open, an event in which he was the defending champion, because of a back injury. He is 97th in the world and needs good results to get into contention for the Ryder Cup.
Riley, who matched up with Hardy to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, tied for 13th at Southern Hills.
The former University of Arkansas star picked up his first PGA Tour victory at the Valspar Championship. He tied for 39th in his first start at the Masters.
Tier IV: Happy to make the cut
They aren’t expected to be among the contenders unless something truly magical happens, like it did for Shaun Micheel two decades ago.
The German golfer, who played at Colorado, will make his first starts in the PGA Championship and The Open this year.
The Danish golfer accepted special temporary membership from the PGA Tour for the remainder of the 2022-23 season. Ranked No. 107 in the world, the 22-year-old is considered a potential future star for Europe in the Ryder Cup.
Nicolai’s identical twin isn’t too bad at golf, either. He was the third youngest player to ever win on the DP World Tour when he claimed the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open in December 2019.
The Australian won the Australasian Tour’s order of merit and made his PGA Tour debut at the AT&T Byron Nelson, carding a 6-under 65 in the first round. He’ll make a start in The Open at Royal Liverpool too.
The South African golfer had 19 runner-up finishes on the DP World Tour before finally finishing first in the Alfred Dunhill Championship in his native country in December. He won again at the Singapore Classic in February.
Tier V: Past champions
These are past PGA Championship winners who aren’t included in the tiers above.
It is the 10th anniversary of Dufner’s memorable 2-shot victory over Jim Furyk at the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
And it’s the 20th anniversary of Micheel’s improbable 2-shot triumph over Chad Campbell in the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill. It was the only PGA Tour victory of Micheel’s career.
Tier VI: PGA professionals
These are the top 20 finishers from the PGA Professional Championship, which took place at Twin Warriors Golf Club in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico, in early May.
Cahill, runner-up at the PGA Professional Championship, is the head pro at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida.
Grove is the head men’s and women’s golf coach at North Idaho College. He is playing in his first PGA Championship.
Koch has six career starts on the PGA Tour, and he made his first cut at the 2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational, tying for 68th.
Shattuck, from Rolling Green Golf Club outside Philadelphia, drained a 12-footer for par on the 72nd hole to win the 2023 PGA Professional Championship. He is making his debut in the PGA Championship.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.