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Golf

Five golfers to watch at the PGA Championship

Tiger Woods has an undefeated record in his two trips to Harding Park, site of this week's PGA Championship.
Tiger Woods has an undefeated record in his two trips to Harding Park, site of this week's PGA Championship.Tom Pennington/Getty

The season’s first men’s golf major gets underway Thursday with Glory’s First Shot, the PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco.

Five players to watch:

Brooks Koepka

World ranking: 6

Best finish at PGA Championship: Two wins (2018, 2019)

Brooks Koepka talks with his caddie, Ricky Elliott, during a practice round prior on Wednesday.
Brooks Koepka talks with his caddie, Ricky Elliott, during a practice round prior on Wednesday.Tom Pennington/Getty

The big, bad Koepka can become the first player to win the same major in three successive seasons since the 1950s (Peter Thomson, British Open, 1954-56). Koepka, who has won four of the past 11 majors, found his mojo last week at the WGC FedEx St. Jude, finishing in a four-way jam for second. His left knee appears healed and he’s driving the ball confidently. That will be the key on the tight fairways of Harding Park.

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Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods has played only once since the PGA restart.
Tiger Woods has played only once since the PGA restart.Tom Pennington/Getty

World ranking: 15

Best finish at PGA Championship: Four wins (1999, 2000, 2006, 2007)

He’s major-to-major for life now. Will his back hold up in the cool of the San Francisco summer? He has played only once since golf’s restart, a T-40 at the Memorial. He has good memories from Harding Park, where he beat John Daly in a playoff in the 2005 American Express Championship and went 5-0 at the Presidents Cup in 2009. He’s 44, and to win his 16th major, he might need a putting week similar to the one 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus had at the 1986 Masters.

Bryson DeChambeau

World ranking: 7

Best finish at PGA Championship: 33rd (2017)

Bryson DeChambeau plays a shot on the 16th hole during a practice round Wednesday.
Bryson DeChambeau plays a shot on the 16th hole during a practice round Wednesday.Ezra Shaw/Getty

The mad scientist with the XXL physique is the biggest and most polarizing figure in the sport. When he is not releasing the Kraken, he has been battling a cameraman and rules officials. Last week he wanted a ruling because red ants were in the neighborhood of another wayward tee shot. Championship golf, with narrow fairways and high rough, would not seem to suit his new power game. He has never had a top 10 in a major.

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Rory McIlroy

World ranking: 3

Best finish at PGA Championship: Two wins (2012, 2014)

Rory McIlroy looks on during a practice round prior Wednesday.
Rory McIlroy looks on during a practice round prior Wednesday.Ezra Shaw/Getty

He hasn’t won a major since 2014, a year in which he won back-to-backs (British Open, PGA Championship), and he’s the most talented player in the post-Tiger era. Like Woods in his prime, McIlroy is the only player in the field who can win without a divine putting week. His game revolves around his driver, and he is among the longest and straightest to ever play. He’s 31 and hasn’t won a major in six years. Seems unfathomable.

Jordan Spieth

Jordan Speith needs only a PGA Championship to complete the career grand slam.
Jordan Speith needs only a PGA Championship to complete the career grand slam.Katharine Lotze/Getty

World ranking: 62

Best finish at PGA Championship: second (2015)

Comments: Can it be five years ago that he burst onto the scene by winning the Masters and the US Open, and finishing fourth at the British and second at the PGA? Spieth, 27, needs a PGA victory to complete the career grand slam. He has won three majors but none since 2017, which seems like a massive swing change — chasing distance, of course — and eons ago. He hasn’t won in three years and he has been superseded by his buddy, new world No. 1 Justin Thomas. If the PGA turns into a putting-and-chipping contest, don’t count him out.


Jim Hoban can be reached at james.hoban@globe.com