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Punch Shot: Winner, biggest bummer and how Tiger will fare at PGA

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The 104th PGA Championship begins Thursday at Southern Hills. The writers weigh in with their predictions.

Pick to win:

Rex Hoggard: Justin Thomas. This version of Southern Hills, which is an airier alternative to the course the world’s best played during the 2007 PGA Championship, will be a second-shot and scrambling test and only one player fits that bill statistically. JT is fifth this season in strokes gained: approach and scrambling.

Ryan Lavner: Jordan Spieth. Playing just a few hours from home, at a demanding course that accentuates his unique gifts, with his confidence as high as it’s been in years – yeah, it’s time for Spieth to finish the Slam. It’s his best chance for the next few years.

Colby Powell: Hideki Matsuyama. The Japanese superstar failed to win on the PGA Tour between the 2017 WGC-Bridgestone invitational and the 2021 Masters, but has now won three times in a little more than 13 months. Iron play will be paramount this week at Southern Hills, and Matsuyama ranks 6th in strokes gained: approach the green this season.

Lock to contend:

Rex Hoggard: Scottie Scheffler. Until Scheffler, who has won four of his last eight starts, falls back to earth, it’s impossible to ignore the Masters champion and there’s a comfort level at Southern Hills that might prove pivotal.

Ryan Lavner: Jon Rahm. The win in Mexico helped take some of the pre-tournament pressure off a player who had gone 11 months without a victory and whose ball-striking has never been better. Rahmbo thrives seemingly everywhere, but he’s particularly dangerous when par is at a premium, as it will be here.

Colby Powell: Collin Morikawa. Speaking of strokes gained: approach the green, Morikawa has finished 2nd and 1st in that category, respectively, the first two full seasons of his career. He ranks 8th in that category this season but is nearly always a lock to be dialed in with his irons.

Full-field scores from the PGA Championship

Outside OWGR top-25 in the mix:

Rex Hoggard: Max Homa. Although his major performances have not been great, with his best finish in 10 Grand Slam starts a tie for 40th at last year’s Open Championship, his victory two weeks ago at the Wells Fargo Championship has the feel of a watershed moment. Homa is starting to realize how good he can be.

Ryan Lavner: Shane Lowry. The 2019 Open champion is enjoying a stellar run of form, highlighted by three top-3 finishes in the past three months. In total control of his iron play – which will come in handy when it’s pumping 25-plus mph – he’s also tidy on and around the greens. A not-so-sneaky sleeper.

Colby Powell: Will Zalatoris. Some players just ramp it up a notch at major championships, and Zalatoris is certainly on that list. In seven career major starts, the Wake Forest product has four top 10s, and could potentially have a better record if an injury didn’t force him to withdraw from the 2021 Open Championship prior to the second round.

Spieth embracing being grouped with Tiger, Rory

Spieth embracing being grouped with Tiger, Rory

Winning score:

Rex Hoggard: 8 under. By all accounts, this version of Southern Hills will present a much more demanding test than it did at the ’07 championship, but many predict a similar winning score. The first two days will likely yield few cards in the 60s with hard and fast conditions, but overnight rain on Friday and cooler temperatures on the weekend will be a welcome reprieve.

Ryan Lavner: 8 under. Just like 2007, only without the 110-degree heat index. Everyone will miss greens if the wind forecast holds, making anything in the high-60s a good score each day on this demanding par 70.

Colby Powell: 9 under. There are no easy birdies at Southern Hills, which plays as a par 70 with two long par 5s. Factor in the weather forecast, which calls for a different wind direction every day, and anything under par will be a good score until conditions potentially take a turn for the better on what should be a perfect Sunday in Tulsa.

Biggest disappointment:

Rex Hoggard: Phil Mickelson. No one will disappoint more this week than Mickelson already has. This was supposed to be a celebration of one of the game’s greatest moments, following Lefty’s late-in-life victory at last year’s PGA Championship. But instead, the defending champion is in a self-imposed exile and the professional game appears to be on the brink of a disruption. Very disappointing.

Ryan Lavner: Brooks Koepka. It feels foolish to doubt Koepka at a major – and especially this major, where he’s gone 1st-1st-T29-T2 the last four years (and even that lone poor finish he was in the mix, two shots back through 54 holes). But there are more questions than usual about Mr. Major. He hasn’t played in six weeks, the quality of his iron play has dropped off, and his putting is so suspect that, for the first time, he recently re-watched YouTube clips of his major wins, searching for clues. For once, he’s a risky pick.

Colby Powell: Xander Schauffele. The No. 10 player in the world comes into the week on the heels of only his second top-five finish (in an individual event) this season, but he failed to make the cut at the two biggest events of the year, The Players Championship and the Masters. In five career starts at the PGA Championship, Schauffele has just one top-15 finish and two missed cuts.

Tiger will contend, make cut or MC:

Rex Hoggard: Make the cut. The ’07 champion at Southern Hills will make the cut but it will be a challenge. Unlike the Masters, where he faced a limited field that included a sprinkling of past-their-prime former champions and amateurs, the depth of the PGA Championship field will demand more from his surgically repaired right leg, but he delivers.

Ryan Lavner: Make the cut. Southern Hills isn’t Oklahoma farmland, but it’s also not as grueling of a trek as Augusta National. That’ll help keep him from wearing down. Stronger, fitter and sharper, Woods should still be able to make the cut against the best major field of the year – but at the same time, it’s hard to see him keeping pace for 72 holes with so many top players currently in-form. Somewhere in the top 30-45 feels about right.

Colby Powell: Make cut. Woods contending heading into the weekend wouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s hard to see him maintaining that level of play for four days just six weeks after he faded in rounds three and four at the Masters. He sounds more confident in his body than he did at Augusta National, and he has fond memories of his 2007 PGA Championship victory at Southern Hills, so something around T-30 feels right as Woods continues to regain both his strength and his game.