The 2019 PGA Championship has arrived with Bethpage Black playing host to the event’s first run at its new May-based time in the major championship schedule. That’s perfectly fine if you got caught off guard because we here at CBS Sports are going to have everything you need to get ready for the weekend in addition to wall-to-wall coverage of the event.
Excitement for the second major of the season was sparked by Tiger Woods’ historic win at the 2019 Masters, but he’s not the only golfer deserving of your rooting interest. The field, which includes PGA club pros from around the country, provides dozens of stories that are worth your attention and support as a golf fan. Below, we’ve narrowed that group down to nine golfers that are going to be the easiest to root for and could provide the best stories in the event of a win on Sunday.
2019 PGA Championship Rooting Index
The encore to Tiger’s Masters win is the biggest story in golf right now. Tiger’s extended layoff from competition may have been a hint at what’s to come from these next few — and likely final — years of his career. At age 43, it’s possible that Tiger will dial it back and focus his efforts almost entirely on the majors and chasing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major wins. With fewer chances to enjoy Big Cat and recent evidence he can beat out the best in the game, each of these major appearances is going to be packed with rooting interests and intrigue.
The social media prowess of Phil Mickelson made a leap in the first few months of 2019, doubling down on the smack talk, side bets and calf workouts that make him one of the best characters on the PGA Tour. And can you imagine, in this era where the world rankings are peppered with players under 30, to see a pair of 40-plus vets take the first two majors of the season? The real pressure will ramp up for Phil next month for the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, right now we’re just rooting for success and waiting for the next swing tip video.
It’s been five years since Fowler finished top-five in all four majors of the year, and both his success and shortfalls since then have only added fuel to the “best player without a major win” conversation. There’s a patience and a steadiness to Fowler’s temperament that suggests this status isn’t having much of an impact on the golf, but it’s got a huge impact on the fan interest. At this point, plenty of golf fans — not just those ones decked out orange — want to see Rickie win.
As sports fans, we admire greatness and dominance. You don’t always have it as the top priority rooting interest, but if someone has to win and your favorite golfer isn’t going to be the guy, then it might as well be Brooks. Watching Koepka catch fire over the last couple years hasn’t quite felt as historic as the results appear on paper, but if he steps up and takes down Bethpage Black for his fourth major championship, we’re going to have to reset the conversation and wonder if we’re witnessing one of the greatest runs in the sport’s history.
Everything about DJ’s career is elite, except for the fact that he’s one of the 139 golfers with just one win at a major (2016 US Open at Oakmont) and not one of the 82 golfers with multiple major championships. He’s got 20 PGA Tour wins and has been No. 1 in the world rankings for a combined 91 weeks. He also consistently ranks among the best in the game in scoring average and strokes gained (currently No. 2 in both categories for the 2019 season). Rickie is the “best without a major” player here, but DJ is the “so good he should have more than one major” pick for rooting purposes.
JT has had a pretty good season so far, and it feels like he’s flying a little bit below the radar. Tiger and Phil command a lot of attention, and certainly Koepka needs to be a big part of the conversation, but JT has been one of the three most consistently great players since the start of the 2017 (not to mention a champion at this event at Quail Hollow in 2017). He’s hardly getting hype deserving of that profile. Rooting for JT is rooting for golf to get even crazier and more crowded at the top, where the group of elite golf talent just continues to grow.
I’m not predicting that this will be Tony Finau’s major, but he’s going to have one at some point in his career. The Tony Finau major win likely includes at least one extremely low number, one madman round with birdies, bogeys, doubles and eagles making the scorecard look like a geometry exercise, and a late Sunday heater that lets him pull away for the win. Finau is absurdly talented and still wildly unpredictable from a handicapping standpoint, but that makes it worth the price of admission and then some.
Maybe turning 30 will usher in a new era of Rory’s career and return him to the top of the leaderboard at a major championship. With an emphasis on mindfulness, a new podcast that’s letting fans into his process and a generally more open approach to discussing the game, McIlroy has certainly given the appearance of maturation and evolution. The struggle has been to replicate the results of his early major championship career, when he won four times between 2011-14.
The most overlooked yet potentially massive golf storyline heading into this week is that Jordan Spieth, with a win, can complete the career grand slam. Now there’s a reason that storyline doesn’t have top billing and it’s because Spieth’s game has been a mess. Spieth doesn’t even have a top-20 finish this season through 13 starts, and he ranked No. 202 in strokes gained off the tee, No. 122 in strokes gained approach and No. 170 in strokes gained total. He’s a generationally great golf talent grinding through some mediocre results, and personally I think it’s one of the most fascinating stories around. Oh yeah, and if for some reason it all clicks at Bethpage … the Spieth Slam will be complete.