Five players you need to keep an eye on this weekend at the PGA Championship

TULSA, Okla. – Phil Mickelsondefending champion of the PGA Championship, not available at Southern Hills Country Club this week to defend his title. Scottie SchefflerThe world No. 1, who won the Masters a month ago, will not be attending this weekend.

But there’s still plenty to be excited about this weekend, as two of the sport’s biggest stars, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroywill try to end the long droughts without winning a major championship.

They will chase Will Zalatoris and Mito Pereira, who has never even won a PGA Tour event, let alone a major. Not available Abraham Ancer, Davis Riley and Matt Fitzpatrickall are within striking distance after 36 holes.

“Something that Scottie Scheffler said the other day, I think has a huge resonance, where what makes him such a big champion, he said it’s belief,” said Zalatoris, who is 9. age and led Pereira by 1 shot after Monday on Friday. ring. “I think it’s the same attitude as any of us here to win, whether it’s a casual event, a Korn Ferry event or a pro. Maybe it’s an attitude. fake, I don’t know.”

Here are five players worth watching in the 104th PGA Championship this weekend:

Will Zalatoris

The former Wake Forest star is yet to win the PGA Tour and has claimed only one win on the Korn Ferry Tour. But with some of the best batting skills on the planet, it’s only a matter of time before he wins the tour – and in a professional league.

Zalatoris will try to be the first player since Martin Kaymer in 2010 and only the fifth person in the last 50 years to win his first tour of the PGA Championship – Jeff Slumman (1988), John Daly (1991) and Shaun Michael (2003) are others.

There’s no doubt that Zalatoris can hit a ball straight – and in any other way he wants. The concern is what happens when the ball lands on the pitch. He entered this week in 185th place on the tour in hit hit:shots. Somehow, he’s top in that category this week, hitting 3,090 on the field. He was a perfect 18-year-old with a 10-foot hit on Friday.

The good news for Zalatoris is that each of the previous seven big winners at Southern Hills has led or co-led after 36 holes.

“I have 36 holes left,” said Zalatoris. “I think if something happens, you can map your path around this golf course. If you hit as many greens as possible, it’s very difficult to mess it up. You can still do it. You you know, if you get on the wrong slopes it still has a bit of an Augusta-like attitude, where you can hit 18 greens and go out there and shoot 80.

“I’m going to go out and do my job. Hopefully that’ll be enough.”

Mito Pereira

Pereira, who grew up in Chile, started playing golf after watching his father play on weekends. At the age of 15, he retired from playing and did not choose his club for two years.

Now, a dozen years later, he’s taken the lead at the PGA Championship. He is the first Chilean golfer to finish second on a round at a major tournament since 1983, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. The 27-year-old player is only playing in the second major. He didn’t win the tour. He’s ranked 100th in the world.

“I took two years off, but when I came back, I knew I could do it,” Pereira said. “I know I can get here, and I just keep the confidence. Obviously, there are some ups and downs, but really happy to be here.”

Pereira played one season at Texas Tech in 2014-15 before turning pro. He finished 129th on the Korn Ferry Tour and failed to make it past Q-School in 2018. When he returned to Chile, he fell off his bike and broke his collarbone.

Pereira credits all of those failures to get him here.

“It hasn’t been a good year,” he said. “But since then, I’ve built and gone up. I’ve had some experience of everything – good days, bad days, bad golf, really bad golf, good golf. But I think everything has helped me be here and play like I’m playing now.”

Bubba Watson

Aside from winning the Masters in 2012 and 2014 and finishing fifth at Augusta National in 2018, Watson hasn’t had a great track record in majors (not that winning two green jackets is too bad). ).

But Watson hasn’t had a record of breaking into the top 10 at any major tournament other than the Masters since losing in the playoffs and coming in second to Kaymer at the 2010 PGA Championship in Whistling Straits. Watson, 43, hasn’t made the top 50 at the PGA Championship since 2015.

But there Bubba was on Friday, shooting just his third 63 games in a pro at Southern Hills, taking part in Tiger Woods (2007 PGA) and Raymond Floyd (1982 PGA), both won the tournament.

“It’s an honor to be able to shoot 63 on any golf course,” said Watson, who is in fourth solo and four shots behind Zalatoris. “I mean, I’ll take it. But I have to look forward to [Saturday] and see where I am. “

A few weeks ago, Watson removed the driving axle he’s been using since 2002 for a 30-gram lighter axle. He hits the ball much farther and straight off the tee. He ranks first in the field for strokes hit: from tee to green and is averaging 318.1 yards on hits.

On the 13th hole on Friday, after Watson failed to miss a fairway, he told his runner, Gabe Sauer, that he would intentionally hit his tee shot into the rough.

“I wanted to get that out of my head,” said Watson. “I haven’t missed a fairway yet, and I don’t want to be 17 or 18 to have a chance to hit every fairway.”

Watson still made a birdie on the 13th par-5 and hit 13 out of 14 fairways in the round.

Davis Riley

The former Alabama star placed fifth after consecutive innings with a score of 2 under 68. He was five shots behind Zalatoris.

Riley, from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, entered the PGA Championship, his second tournament, on a nice fireplace. He’s had three consecutive top-10 finishes – a fourth draw at the Zurich Classic (with teammate Zalatoris), a fifth solo at the Mexico Open and a ninth draw at AT&T last week. Byron Nelson.

In March, Riley finished second at the Valspar Championship, losing Sam Burns in the knockout match. Since missing the game at RBC Heritage in mid-April, Riley has shot in the 60s in nine of his past 10 rounds in stroke events. He’s a top contender for the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.

“I know I’ve played some good golf games so far this year and I’m trying to be patient,” Riley said. “It’s great. I knew I could do it at some point, but when it finally came to fruition and the chance to win a golf tournament like I did at Valspar, I feel like I am. really turned the page there.”

Matt Kuchar

Last season was pretty forgettable for Kuchar. He’s only made the top 10 once in 25 tour starts, missing 5 of the last 6 starts of the year. Plus, he’s won 0-6 in the majors (including the US Open 2020 and the Masters that have been postponed because of COVID-19).

Kuchar, 43, has been much better this season. He has six top 25 finishes in 14 starts, including a second-place draw at the Valero Texas Open and a third-place draw at RBC Heritage.

He hit 3 under 67 in the first round at Southern Hills, then 1 over 71. He’s in 2nd under 67, 7 points behind Zalatoris.

Kuchar credits his change to being able to spend more time with swing coach Chris O’Connell.

“I started regaining control of the golf ball, starting to be able to predict a little bit what was going to happen,” said Kuchar. “I struggled there for a while. I really didn’t know if the ball was going to go left or right, and now I feel very good about the way the ball is going. I feel that way if I have any part of it. can predict the outcome I can point it in the right direction and do OK.

“I was able to spend more time with Chris O’Connell as we continued to tackle this COVID issue. I had to spend more time with him and I always felt like I had more time. combined with him, the more I tend to do better.”

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