This week is the PGA Championship — Glory’s Last Shot, as it was once called and should be again this year. Due to the return of Olympic golf, the final major was moved up from its usual mid-August slot, which means an even longer break until the 2017 Masters (you can check the countdown to Augusta here but be warned, it’s depressing). So with a condensed major schedule and the fact that 2016 has produced first-time major champions at a perfect three-for-three clip, it seemed necessary to rank which of the top-ranked players needs his hands on the Wanamaker Trophy the most. -- Shane Bacon
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A year ago he would have been much higher on this list, but his 2016 has been a struggle since the Waste Management Open, and for the first time in a long time, Fowler is flying under the radar. One of the best young players without a major, Fowler would be a surprise champion to most if he left Baltusrol with the hardware. And while it would be great for golf if he snagged his first major this weekend, he doesn’t “need” it as much as some of the other guys, and isn’t as much in the conversation this week as he was at all the majors last year and at Augusta in April.
Getty ImagesSam Greenwood
Dustin Johnson/Danny Willett/Henrik Stenson
Another major win would be a career year for any of these guys. But even with a missed cut at Baltusrol, these three will remember 2016 as a turning point in their respective careers — no PGA trophy needed for that.
Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY SportsThomas J. Russo
I had a great conversation about Phil and his chances of winning majors on The Clubhouse podcast this week with Kevin Van Valkenburg of ESPN.com. And while I don’t totally agree that Phil only has 2 to 3 more serious chances at a major (I think he will be in the conversation at Augusta well into his mid-50s), I do think that another major jumps him into the top-10 best of all time, and what better time to do it than right now? Phil has won at Baltusrol before — he played golf well enough to beat every human except one at the Open, and he seems to be trending in a direction that has to make him feel like he’s the favorite this week. A win would be epic for Phil for where he stands in history, but I’m not sure the golfing world is as desperate for a Mickelson win this week as they are for some of the names in front of him on this list.
Getty ImagesMatthew Lewis
You know who is having a sneaky good summer? Sergio Garcia. Here are his last six worldwide starts: 3, T-54, WIN, T-5, T-5, T-5. Two of those T-5 finishes happened to be at the Opens, so it’s safe to say that he is one of the favorites this week at Baltusrol. Do fans really think Garcia is finally going to win his first major? History says no, but the way he’s played has to sway people in a different direction. The difference between this PGA and ones in the past is; if he doesn’t win this weekend, when is he going to win one? I still believe Sergio will win a major. I do. I just don’t know if it’ll happen at a major that has seen him fail to finish in the top-10 since 2008.
He should have won the Masters; we all know that story. But in the other two majors of 2016, he has broken 70 in a round just once. Spieth brought the expectations on himself when he finished 1-1-T4-2 at the majors in 2015, a welcome burden to have as a young player. But the way he’s played since his win at Colonial hasn’t exactly screamed “major champion ready.” Will he look back on 2016 and think it was disappointing if he doesn’t take home the PGA Championship this weekend? I don’t think he will, but people expect greatness — and in golf, that falls on the majors. Of the “Big Three” or whatever we’re calling them now, I think Spieth will be the least shocked if he fails to win a major in 2016. He had his shot at Augusta, but just didn’t have his best stuff at Oakmont and Royal Troon. It happens, and I think Spieth understands that.
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Let me remind you of his 2016 — nine top-six finishes in 15 starts. In his last five starts, Rory has finished WIN, T-4, MC, 3, 5. I’ve typed that more times than I want to, but it’s so insane that people look at Rory like he’s in some sort of slump. Personally, I think Rory The Brand needs this major win. I’m not sure if Rory The Person will lose sleep if he doesn’t take this PGA, but I think the way he’s playing, it sure would be disappointing to go all season winless in the majors (and, frankly, the PGA Tour). I wrote about Rory’s stats a lot this year in my predictions piece, but I think it would quiet so many people that like to focus on all the things “wrong” with Rory’s game if he was able to contend — and win — this weekend. Rory is number two on this list for a reason, and the only reason he isn’t number one is because ...
Getty ImagesMatthew Lewis
How has this guy not won a major in 2016? Seriously. He bucks the “best current player without a major” title last year at this championship, follows that up with wins at the Barclays and BMW Championship, comes back to the PGA Tour after the winter off and wins Bay Hill, Dell Match Play and the Players Championship in a span of six starts. He becomes the No. 1 player in the world. And then … nothing. He finishes T-8 at the U.S. Open after battling his tail off to get back in the conversation on Sunday, then never really factors into the Open, failing to break 70 any of the four days, finishing T-22 — his worst finish in a major since the 2015 Masters. Day has had an incredible season. But if we’re talking about majors and the expectations he had coming into the 2016 season, I think Day is the man that needs this PGA the most.