The PGA Championship always presents an opportunity for a Major-winner-in-waiting to finish the job, and none have stronger credentials than Xander Schauffele. Born and raised nearby, this Californian talent has placed in five of his 11 Major starts, and he’s prepared ideally for this with a run of excellent performances since June.
His failure to win two close-calls this year is the only blot on the copybook but it would be no surprise were he to put that to bed here having driven it superbly in Memphis last week.
A similar player to Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay is another excellent driver and that seems key to unlocking Harding Park. Shaping long tee-shots right-to-left on a series of demanding par-fours will be a massive asset and Cantlay, whose biggest win to date came on a Major-like course in Ohio, has all the tools to rise to the challenge.
He too is a Californian for whom this is a home game, but above all else he’s made for Majors, and he showed as much in both the Masters and US PGA last year.
He can better third place in 2019.
While there are players here who are taking part in their eighth or even ninth event since the Tour returned, Tommy Fleetwood is fresh and that could prove to be a genius preparation for the season’s first major. Fleetwood has had chances to win the biggest events in golf in 2017, 2018 and 2019, latterly when second to Shane Lowry in the most recent Major to be played, last season’s Open Championship at Portrush.
So often, they’re won by players with a recent taste of Sunday pressure and Fleetwood’s final-round 65 in Memphis caught the eye in a big way.
Once you get beyond the fact he’s 50, and would be winning a Major in a sport for the 20-something, the case for Phil Mickelson is strong. He’s a Californian with five wins at Pebble Beach and plenty more across Torrey Pines, Riviera and the Bob Hope, and he loves this course.
He was unbeaten in the 2009 Presidents Cup here and only one player in the field beat him last week. All those around him are shorter in the betting yet Phil Mickelson, with three top-three finishes this year, is the five-time Major champion. Don’t rule him out.