The PGA Championship starts Thursday at Oak Hill Country Club. There are those who say the PGA Championship doesn't carry the same levity as the other three golf majors. Since the year 2000, you can make a legit case the PGA Championship has the most memorable moments of the four majors. Let's get into The Five Best PGA Championships and What We Learned.
As is often the case, one of the best ways to predict the future is to review the past. While past history is no guarantee of future events, history does often repeat itself. Therefore as we create our DFS lineups and place our bets for this week's PGA Championship, it is worth looking at some of the more memorable PGA Championships from this millennium.
And perhaps you have your own list of the five best PGA championships since the calendar flipped to 2000. But these are the ones I find most memorable.
So hop in your time machine of choice as we go back nearly 25 years to review the five best PGA Championships and what we learned.
The Five Best PGA Championships And What We Learned
For the purpose of this article, only PGA Championships held from the year 2000 or later or eligible for the list. The PGA Championship has been a consistently great tournament this millennium. Since 2014 the best players in the world win it more times than not. In that span, only two players have won the PGA who were ranked outside of the top 17 in the OWGR. It was not easy to narrow this list down to only five years, but let's get into the list and what we learned from those PGA Championships.
#5 Y.E. Yang takes down Tiger Woods (2009 PGA Championship)
Tiger Woods entered the 2009 PGA Championship final round with a two-shot lead over Y.E. Yang and Padraig Harrington. Tiger was at that time 14 for 14 in winning major championships that he had or shared the lead after 54 holes. It appeared to be a foregone conclusion Tiger would win his 15th major.
What took place on Sunday afternoon at the PGA would shock the golfing world. Y.E. Yang was a relative unknown for most PGA Tour fans. He went toe to toe with Tiger in the final pairing and defeated him. Yang looked greatness in the eyes and bested him. Yang's shot on 18 led to a birdie combined with Tiger's bogey would give Yang a three-shot victory. He would best Tiger Woods that day by five shots and become the first Asian-born player ever to win a golf major.
This was the beginning of a rough decade for Tiger Woods. Just a few months later the incident with his then-wife Elin happened on Thanksgiving. You know the one I am talking about. It lead to Tiger being in the tabloids for years as more and more women came forward claiming Tiger had an affair with them. Tiger would battle debilitating injuries for most of the early and middle 2010's. Tiger would not win another golf major until the 2019 Masters.
We learned that no golfer is unbeatable. Jon Rahm enters this week with a chance to put a real stranglehold on the PGA Tour. Will someone be able to stop his dominance in 2023?
#4 Dustin Johnson and the bunker that didn't look like a bunker (2010 PGA Championship)
Martin Kaymer won the 2010 PGA Championship in a playoff versus Bubba Watson. No offense to Martin Kaymer, but his win was not the main story of this major championship. What will be remembered is the mess that occurred on the 72nd hole of the tournament with Dustin Johnson and the most pitiful-looking bunker of all time.
DJ came to the 72nd hole with a one-shot lead when he hit his drive off the tee to the right his ball ended up outside the ropes. The ball came to rest in what turned out to be a bunker. When he arrived the crowd had been standing in the bunker around his ball. Because of all the spectators in this area "the bunker" didn't look like a hazard. DJ grounded his club before hitting his second shot. He would make bogey and appeared to be heading to a three-player playoff.
When Johnson went into the scoring tent he was made aware of his error. He would be given a two-stroke penalty. The two-stroke penalty cost him a chance to win his first major in a playoff with Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer. DJ has been adamant over the years he never considered his ball was in a bunker. He thought it was hard-packed dirt trampled down from the fans. For the record, I agree with him that it didn't look like a bunker.
The PGA to its credit had a sign posted in the locker room warning players some of the many bunkers were outside the ropes. Those bunker would still be played as a hazard and players needed to be aware of this fact.
We learned that golf's rules are complicated and sometimes hard to understand. There are plenty of players from the LIV Tour who feel like the PGA Tour is pressuring the OWGR to not accept LIV events for their rankings. This could eventually lead to some of the top names in the game missing major championships in the future.
#3 Brooks Koepka solidifies his greatness by holding off a charging Tiger Woods (PGA Championship 2018)
The 2018 PGA Championship is one of my personal favorite tournaments in the history of major championship golf. It was the last PGA Championship held in August before the event was moved to its new home on golf's schedule in May the following year. Brooks Koepka led going into Sunday attempting to win his third major championship in a little over a year.
Tiger Woods showed up in the parking lot on Sunday with his hat on backwards. He was sporting a swagger we hadn't seen in quite some time. Tiger Woods was about to put on an absolute show. Tiger fired a 64 over the final 18 holes, his lowest final round in a major for his career. The crowd was reaching ground-shaking levels as Tiger made birdie after birdie on Sunday. There were several moments in that final round where it seemed possible Tiger would win his first major in a decade.
Brooks Koepka had other ideas as he matched Tiger shot for shot on Sunday. Koepka would shoot 66, 66 on the weekend to defeat Tiger by two shots.
Tiger received a standing ovation as he walked to the scoring tent after the round. Tiger may have won the admiration of the fans but Koepka was the winner of the 2018 PGA Championship. Koepka solidified himself as the best player in the game at that moment and did so by holding off a Sunday charge from one of the greatest players in the history of the game.
We learned when a golfer is at the top of their game there is nothing they can't accomplish. Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler are the top two players in the game at this moment by a wide margin. If either of them brings their A-game to the event this week. I find it hard to believe they will not be lifting the Wanamaker Trophy Sunday afternoon.
#2 Tiger Woods wins his third straight major championship (2000 PGA Championship)
Tiger Woods entered the 2000 PGA Championship having won the previous two majors by an absurd 23 shots. He was 31 under par for those two major tournaments. Fellow PGA Tour players were scratching their heads and wondering if Tiger Woods could be defeated.
Tiger had a one-shot lead heading into the final round on Sunday. Paired with the 48th-ranked player in the world Bob May, Tiger and May both shot five under on the front nine. Tiger held a one-shot lead with nine to play, but May proved with his play on the front he was up for the challenge.
The two players entered the 72nd hole of the tourney tied for the lead. May putted first on 18 for birdie and made his double-breaking putt. Tiger needed to match May's birdie and make his six-footer to force a playoff. Tiger Woods would make the putt and the two players were headed to a three-hole playoff.
The three-hole playoff will forever be remembered for Tiger running toward the hole after hitting his birdie putt in the first playoff. He let out a roar as he picked his ball from the cup and zoomed to the next tee.
Tiger's birdie on the first playoff hole would be the difference in the playoff. Bob May played the three holes even par and Tiger played them one under. Yet Tiger's birdie was key as both players traded pars on the second and third playoff holes. Following that, Tiger left the tournament holding three of the four major championships all at once. He completed the Tiger Slam the following April with his win at the Masters. Tiger Woods at 24 years of age owned five major championships and had completed the career grand slam.
We learned that you never know who will step up and push the greats of the games to the limit. Rickie Fowler enters this event with nearly the same world golf ranking Bob May was in 2000. It would be an amazing story if Fowler is in the final group on Sunday.
#1 Phil Mickelson beats father time (2021 PGA Championship)
Phil Mickleson entered the 2021 PGA Championship as an afterthought. He was the 115th-ranked player in the world coming into that event. It had been nearly eight years since his last major victory at the 2013 Open Championship. Most importantly Phil Mickelson was nearly 51 years old and at an age no player had ever won a major championship.
Mickelson won his sixth major championship tying him with fellow greats Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo. That win was his first major win since the 2013 Open Championship. He also won the PGA in 2005 and has three Masters titles (2004, 2006, 2010). Only 11 players in golf history now have more major wins than Mickelson.
To put into context just how unexpected Mickelson’s victory was at the beginning of the week, just nine days earlier, the USGA announced they would give him a special exemption into the US Open since Mickelson hadn’t even qualified. He won’t need that anymore. He’s now exempt for the next five years.
We learned never to count out the greats of the game and not to discount the older players in major championship fields. In the 2023 PGA Championship field, I think of players like Adam Scott or Matt Kuchar. Players who are "past their prime" but at a venue like this contend or even win.
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