TULSA, Okla. – Enough Phil talk – the defending champion is not among the 156 players teeing it up here at the PGA Championship, as you may have heard. It’s the storyline that has dominated the discussion so far at Southern Hills, but Mickelson’s absence will be forgotten once the first tee shot is struck at 7 a.m. local time Thursday.
With that in mind, here are 22 random things – tidbits, notes, riffs, predictions – to get you ready for the year’s second major:
1.) It’s funny, in hindsight, to think of Scottie Scheffler sobbing before the final round of the Masters, unsure if he was ready for all of [waves arms wildly] this. Spoiler alert: He was. He expertly handled that Sunday, and he has aced every test since – the interviews and the responsibilities and the expectations that come with being the newest major champion and the hottest player in the game. Scheffler isn’t an outsized personality, nor does he have outsized ambitions. He doesn’t fret about the future because that means he’s not purposeful in the present. If (when?) he’s in position again here at Southern Hills, he won’t be in tears. Totally at peace, he’ll know he’s ready.
2.) At times Tuesday, Tiger Woods sounded realistic, even self-deprecating, when talking about his game. How he’d prefer 6,200-yard courses. How soreness is an everyday part of life. How he’ll get stronger and fitter, if not more mobile. But when asked about contending, he shifted into that familiar Terminator mode, as if we were transported back to 2007. Asked if he can win: “I feel like I can, definitely. I just have to go out there and do it.” It’s about what you’d expect him to say – this is Tiger, after all – but making the cut against the strongest major field in golf still feels like a realistic goal here.
3.) How Jordan Spieth will fare that particular week is usually apparent in his pre-tournament news conference. If he’s loose and light, he’s feeling good about his chances. If he’s short and edgy, he knows there’s much work to be done before Thursday. At 10 a.m. Wednesday, he was the former, and that’s an encouraging sign as he tries to become the sixth player to capture all four legs of the Grand Slam. This is his sixth and best chance: He’s a few hours from his Dallas home, at a track that requires precision into the greens and creativity around them, and in a stress-fest, that will reward sound strategy. With another shot at immortality, Spieth has every reason to feel good vibes.
4.) Of course, his greatest obstacle might be the first two rounds, alongside mega-stars Woods and Rory McIlroy. The PGA did Spieth no favors over the first 36 holes; the place is gonna be a zoo. “Selfishly, it’s pretty exciting to be able to play these events growing up with the guy that you idolized,” Spieth said, but he also recognized the inherent challenges of the featured grouping. Spieth said it feels like a weekend round, with the constant noise and the movement after Woods putts out and the crosswalk backups. “If I can play well these next couple days, given the crowds that will be out there, the weekend might actually feel a little like a breather in a way,” he said with a smile.
5.) For those wondering, Spieth has actually survived this cauldron before: In 15 stroke-play rounds on Tour, he’s 8-6-1 head-to-head against Woods. They’ve played only together twice in majors, and not since 2019.
6.) McIlroy is playing five of the next six weeks, and he recently packed on 10 pounds (“not all muscle,” he said sheepishly) to gird himself for the upcoming challenge. There is an added benefit outside of having a bit more energy in reserve: The extra beef allows him to crank up his swing speed. Ah, but don’t worry, folks: He showed up for his presser in Nike gym attire, his biceps bulging, so he hasn’t exactly let him go.
7.) McIlroy’s stark splits in the first rounds of majors and the ensuing 54 holes have been well-documented. Justin Thomas has had a similar issue. The 2017 PGA champion hasn’t been shy in criticizing his own major performance, and his surprisingly pedestrian record boils down to his starts. Just two of his past 11 major opening rounds have been under par. At the Masters, he shot a listless, unfocused 76 that left him utterly befuddled. (He rallied for a T-8.) We expect him to be more locked in here. He’s so due it hurts.
8.) Also #trending is Xander Schauffele, who is fresh off a sizzling performance at the Nelson in which he played his last 49 holes in 26 under par. It’s been a quiet season by Schauffele’s standards, even with a team win at the Zurich Classic, but the Sunday 61 may have been just the spark he needed. If he’s a couple of shots off the lead heading into Sunday, he’s established himself as one of the game’s most feared closers.
9.) And what of X’s usual partner-in-crime, Patrick Cantlay? They teamed up for the win in New Orleans, a week after Cantlay lost in a playoff at Harbour Town when he had a chance to win on the 72nd hole and then drew a plugged lie in a bunker in the playoff against Spieth. He’s one of the most complete players in the game – eighth in the Tour’s strokes gained: total statistic – and when asked about his light major record (just two career top-10s), he was quick with an explanation: He hasn’t played that many! This is just his 21st career major appearance; Spieth, by contrast, is making his 37th start, despite being two years younger. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I played a bunch of major championships really well coming up,” Cantlay said, before issuing a warning: “When you have a small sample size, it’s tough to judge critically. Give me a little time.”
10.) Speaking of time, Bryson DeChambeau certainly has sped up his timeline for a return. But after three days of prepping at Southern Hills, he determined Wednesday afternoon that his surgically repaired left hand wasn't ready for the grind. It seems a wise move from the former U.S. Open champion, who is now targeting the Memorial for his return to competition, ahead of the Brookline Open.
11.) DeChambeau's recent foe, Brooks Koepka, also has plenty of question marks heading into the PGA. Koepka downplayed any injury concerns after he withdrew last week from the Nelson, but it’s clear something is amiss. His ball-striking has tailed off significantly (he’s actually losing strokes to the field with his iron play), and he’s tinkering with everything from his stroke to his setup on the greens. As battle-tested as he’s been in the majors over the past half-decade, his game has also never been this stale. An interesting player to watch.
12.) Collin Morikawa has been a popular pick this week – and why not? He’s the world No. 3, the 2020 PGA champion and one of the game’s preeminent iron players. But his short game and putting bears close inspection. He ranks 192nd on Tour around the greens, and this event could turn into a scramble-fest with the forecasted winds. Another wrinkle: After playing with Viktor Hovland in New Orleans, Morikawa also decided – for the first time – to use a line on his ball for alignment on the greens. “Do I wish I had maybe another event to try it out? Yeah,” he said, “but we’re here. Taking risks.”
13.) Mentioned earlier about the winds. Yep, it’s gonna whip. For each of the first three rounds, the wind is expected to gust to at least 30 mph, with the strongest gusts on Friday. Temperatures will be hot and humid for the first two days (highs of 90), with a cold front that night plunging the high to about 70 for Saturday’s third round, with the wind shifting from the southwest to an even more southernly direction. On Sunday: 70 degrees, with the wind in an entirely new direction, out of the northeast. You love to see it.
14.) That’s why we’d expect to see the winning score somewhere in the 5- to 10-under-par range, as it was in 2007 when Woods won at 8 under par. Southern Hills is a par 70.
15.) At least it won’t be the oven that was the ’07 PGA here, when the heat index soared over 110 degrees. Colleague Rex Hoggard still has sweat stains from that week. In his opening comments here, Woods recalled playing behind John Daly in the opening round that year, when the high was 109. Afterward, Woods asked Daly how many waters he drank on the course: “None, but I had 13 Diet Cokes.” Fortunately for Daly (who last week, despite being in semi-contention, was DQ’d at a senior major for failing to sign his card after four-putting the last green), he’ll avoid the worst of the heat on Thursday: He’s off first, at 7 a.m. local, most likely with a Diet Coke in hand.
16.) Apparently, not even Daly could be bothered to turn up for the PGA Champions Dinner on Tuesday night, as evidenced here in this snap by Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis. The defending champion, obviously, was not in attendance either, but the former winners still went home with a gift, as is the tradition. This year’s gift: a high-end fire pit. Mickelson’s life, of course, was upended after incendiary comments that appeared on … the Fire Pit Collective. Alas, it wasn’t a cheeky move by the notoriously cheeky Mickelson; the PGA made the call to gift Solo Stoves, following the outdoorsy theme of the past few years.
17.) Players in the interview area were peppered with questions about the LIV Golf Invitational series, which kicks off next month in London. Doubling down on comments made late last year, Rickie Fowler – in a move that raised more than a few eyebrows – said that he remained intrigued by the idea of the Saudi-backed league: “Do I currently think that the PGA Tour is the best place to play? I do. Do I think it can be better? Yes.” Now in his 13th year on Tour, Fowler has never served on the Player Advisory Council. Note to one of the game’s most popular players: Be a part of the solution!
18.) Of course, one of the players who long was connected to the breakaway circuit was Henrik Stenson – and he’s now the 2023 European Ryder Cup captain. The captaincy announcement was delayed by a few months, presumably because of those ongoing discussions. Stenson wouldn’t say Wednesday when pressed whether the captaincy precludes him from any future involvement with LIV. “There’s a captain’s agreement that’s been signed between the captain and Ryder Cup Europe,” he said, “and what’s in that contract is not something I can really disclose at this point.” Read into that what you will.
19.) With an eye on the 2023 matches in Rome, Stenson also offered little guidance on any potential repercussions for those who defy their respective tours to join the LIV circuit. There’s been speculation that the defectors will be banned from future Ryder Cup participation or the captaincy. “I would refer those questions to the tour,” Stenson said.
20.) In any case, PGA CEO Seth Waugh said that he preferred the current “golf ecosystem” and openly criticized the LIV efforts as not “good for the game.” What his organization can do about it remains to be seen. The PGA bylaws stipulate that, to be eligible to play the PGA, a player must be a recognized member of a recognized tour. As currently constituted, the LIV series is not yet a recognized tour, despite the substantial investment made by the Saudi-backed fund in the Asian Tour.
21.) One of the few people who have found peace among all this chaos appears to be Richard Bland. The 49-year-old, who is in the midst of a career renaissance, cracking the top 50 in the world for the first time, said that he is willing to be banned by the DP World Tour in order to play in the inaugural LIV event, which features a record $25 million purse. “I have an opportunity to play these events and secure my future,” he told the BBC, “and I’d be pretty foolish to turn that down.” Respect to Blandy for his honesty. At least he treated us like adults.
22.) That admission wasn’t the biggest controversy of the week. Far from it, actually. Folks were too busy whining about the beer prices at the PGA, which has a Michelob Ultra going for $18. Hey, it’s a tall boy, 25 ounces, so it’s more bang for your buck, though on a warm day it better be consumed quickly. “You drink enough, you’ll be fine,” argued Koepka, who counts Mich Ultra as one of his sponsors. Shane Lowry, known to enjoy a pint or three, offered this take: “It wouldn’t bother me. I’d probably still buy them.” Fortunately for us, there’s a fridge of ice-cold (and free!) beers waiting in the back of the media tent. I’m willing to part with one for the bargain price of $17.