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Monday Scramble: Ranking the PGA Championship favorites

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PGA Championship week arrives, Sung Kang wins in a snoozer, Jordan Spieth treads water, John Daly revs up his cart and more in this week's edition of  Monday Scramble:

The PGA Championship's move to May couldn’t have been scripted much better.

Coming off his game-changing Masters victory, Tiger Woods returns to Bethpage Black, a place where he won in 2002, the prospects for major No. 16 (and more!) still very much alive.

All of the other big names – Brooks and Rory, DJ and Rose – are in fine form, too.

New Yawwwkers bring the juice. The Black Course oozes major charm. And the weather appears likely to cooperate, at least once the tournament begins, with highs in the mid-60s – perfect for those of us (hello!) still toweling off from last year’s summer sweat-fest in St. Louis.

Everybody ready to witness more history? It should be a fascinating week on Long Island.

1. Sung Kang might never be able to shed a shady reputation after he was accused by another PGA Tour player of cheating last summer, but at least now he has a Tour title to his credit.

On a 27-hole Sunday, Kang regained his lead at the AT&T Byron Nelson, lost it, and then retook it for good after a three-birdie-in-a-row run on the back nine to seal his first title in his 159th start.

The key was the 22-footer that Kang dropped on the 15th hole – his second of three in a row – to leave Matt Every and Scott Piercy in the rearview mirror.

For the week, Kang ranked second in strokes gained: putting and made 414 feet worth of putts. Rolling it like that, it’s hard to lose.

2. It’s wild to think that in nine career starts, Jordan Spieth’s best finish in his hometown event remains the T-16 he enjoyed there in 2010, as a 16-year-old. His even-par Sunday left him in a tie for 29th at Trinity Forest, as he’s still looking for his first top-20 finish this season.

So how much progress is he actually making? 

His putting has certainly come around – he's now 28th on the greens – but his ball-striking remains miles away from where it needs to be competitive among the world's best. At wide-open Trinity Forest, he made two double bogeys and ranked 65th out of 71 players in strokes gained: tee to green.

It’s a long shot for him to join golf’s most exclusive club this week at the PGA. Those predicting an imminent return to glory aren't paying attention.

3. Trinity Forest hasn't quite lived up to the hype.

The week-before-a-major slot will help steal some players who like a tune-up, but it was another dud of a week.

The Tour bungled the course setup last year, fearing that players wouldn’t like a venue that played firm and fast. And then the officials’ hands were tied this year, because of inclement weather.

Asked what he thought about Trinity Forest, Brooks Koepka said: “I like the old one better,” referring to previous host site TPC Las Colinas, which players once chose as the fourth-worst course on Tour. “It was fun to play. A lot more people.”  

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, huh?   

4. Here are one man’s favorites for the PGA Championship:

1.) Brooks Koepka: The defending champ followed up his title run at the Masters with another rock-solid performance at Trinity Forest, where he shot 20 under and finished fourth. Koepka likes to play his way into major form, and he’s looking as good as ever heading into a brutish venue.

2.) Rory McIlroy: Bethpage Black is one of the most demanding driving courses on the planet, so who better to tackle that test than the No. 1-ranked driver on the planet?  

3.) Tiger Woods: Rested after Augusta, Woods returns to a place where he’s won and finished T-6 in his only two appearances. The game’s preeminent iron player can contend anywhere again.

4.) Dustin Johnson: The world No. 1 (quietly?) tied for second at the Masters, and if his power fade is grooved, he’ll factor in back-to-back majors.

5.) Justin Rose: The more exacting the course, the better Rose seems to play. His solo third at Quail Hollow was just the tune-up he needed.

6.) Jon Rahm: Only a matter of time until he picks off a big one, and the PGA fits his immense skill set better than any other major.

7.) Rickie Fowler: Top-10s in his last two starts, and we’ll keep picking him in majors until we’re finally proven right.

8.) Xander Schauffele: All X does is contend in the big events – he has top-6s in half of his eight career major starts!

9.) Francesco Molinari: His Masters Sunday bobble notwithstanding, he’s as steady as they come and improving all the time on and around the greens.

10.) Tommy Fleetwood: Fresh off hosting duties (and a T-8) in England, The Flusher should keep rolling on Long Island.

5. Back to Bethpage Black for the first time in a decade, it’s a familiar sight for those players arriving early to start their PGA prep.

It’s wet.

Again.

That was the case in 2002, when conditions were so sloppy Sergio Garcia fumed that they would have called play had Woods been on the course.

And in 2009, USGA officials needed five days (and nearly one more) just to complete 72 holes, with Lucas Glover mudding his way to the title.

This 7,459-yard par 70 could play silly-long.

6. Most interesting this week – as usual – is how Woods will fare, and if his less-is-more approach is worth carrying over into the summer.

Still riding high from the Masters, Woods opted for rest over a tune-up at Quail Hollow, which every year looks and feels like a major. With the amount of wear and tear on his body that’s not a bad idea, but it does put an added importance on his practice sessions at home and also his pre-tournament homework on-site.

If this week doesn’t go well – and there’s no reason to think that it won’t – then we may see Woods add a tournament between the U.S. Open and Open Championship, to ensure that his game stays sharp.  

7. Bet that was a rough charter flight to Long Island.

Matt Wallace appeared to be in line for his fifth European Tour title Sunday at the British Masters but faltered down the stretch. He missed a 4-footer for birdie on No. 17 that would have practically sealed the title, then missed again from 15 feet on the home hole and could only watch as Marcus Kinhult buried his 10-footer for a one-shot victory.

Wallace slammed his putter in disappointment and stormed off the course without talking to reporters.

8. There was little to suggest that this was Kinhult’s moment to break through – he’d missed six of seven cuts this year, including four in a row.

In fact, he’d been largely overshadowed by his sister. 

Frida Kinhult, a freshman at Florida State, is the top-ranked player in the country, according to Golfstat, and one of the favorites for this season’s Annika Award.  

Hey, even the players’ loved ones have to keep their head on a swivel.

Maria Duncan found that out the hard way, when her PGA Tour player husband caught a mud ball in the fairway and one-hopped an approach shot off her dome at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Duncan only learned afterward that his errant approach had plunked his wife, and he was happy to report that she wasn’t hurt.

Good thing he’s only 171st on Tour in ball speed.

This week's award winners ... 

John Daly

Oh, Sorry, Don’t Mind My Cart Tracks: John Daly. In a somewhat surprising move, the PGA of America approved Daly’s use of a cart this week at the PGA Championship under the Americans with Disabilities Act. What remains to be seen is where Daly can actually drive his cart – the course is likely to play soggy for at least the first few days and Daly isn’t exactly known for his on-course consideration ...

Congrats?: Scott Piercy. He became the first player since Charles Howell III in 2010 to play all 72 holes without a bogey. He missed just 12 greens all week. That’s back-to-back top-3 finishes for this PGA sleeper.

Tweet of the Week: Eddie Pepperell. Video surfaced last week of Woods crossing the road while playing a practice round at Bethpage Black, prompting the King of Golf Twitter to tap out this:

Guess He’s OK: Kiradech Aphibarnrat. The Barnrat WD’d from an event last month because of a knee injury – the result of his awkward tumble while playing a shot from the trees at the Masters. It apparently wasn’t a long-term issue, since he closed with 64 Sunday to surge into the top 5 at the Nelson.  

Until the PGA Begins, Pay Attention to ...: NCAA men’s regionals. They kick off Monday at six sites around the country, with the top 5 at each regional moving on to the NCAA Championship in two weeks in Arkansas. We’ll have a full recap, right here, on Wednesday night.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Marc Leishman. Well, that was a big misfire if you had him penciled in for One and Done – Leish WD’d before the first round, citing a back injury. He’d finished second at Trinity Forest a year ago and had already posted five top-10s this season. Sigh.