The news out of sweltering Charlotte, N.C. today is that the PGA Championship could be moving to May in 2019 as part of an overhaul in the overall calendar.
For now, though, the PGA Tour’s last major will be fought out in the dog days of August, this year at Quail Hollow.
Defending champion Jimmy Walker will be in tough to reclaim the Wanamaker Trophy, with 97 of the top 100 players in the world looking to unseat him. Hideki Matsuyama, who is no. 1 on the tour’s “Power Ranking” rolls in hot on the heels of a win at the Bridgestone Invitational.
Others who have picked up steam of late include two-time champ Rory McIlroy, as well as three players in the top 5 looking for their first PGA Championship win: Rickie Fowler (3), Zach Johnson (4) and Jordan Spieth (5).
In the history of the championship, there have been some great players who have risen to the occasion, multiple times. Here are 15 of the best.
15. Rory McIlroy
Not many other golfers are as well-prepared to hoist the Wanamaker on Sunday as two-time champ McIlroy. He was won twice at Quail Hollow in the past at the Quail Hollow Championship in 2010 and the re-named Wells Fargo Championship in 2015. He fired a course record 267 (21-under) at the 2015 event. As for the PGA Championship itself, the Northern Irishman won the tournament handily in 2012 at Kiawah Island, shooting a 13-under 275 to beat runner-up David Lynn by eight strokes. He finished tied for eighth in 2013 but stormed back at Valhalla in 2014, shooting every round in the 60s to finish with a 268, one ahead of Phil Mickelson. In the past two tourneys, he finished 17th and was cut last year, so he’ll be looking to reclaim lost glory on a course he plays very well.
14. Byron Nelson
A golfer reaches legendary status when a championship is named after him. Byron Nelson had a very brief, but successful career, going toe-to-toe with fellow legends Sam Snead and Ben Hogan (all of them born within seven months of each other). In his second to last year of professional golf in 1945, Nelson won 11 consecutive tournaments and 18 total that year, including his last of five majors at the PGA Championship at Moraine Country Club in Kettering, Ohio. It was his second Wanamaker win, when the tournament was still a match-play event. He won his quarter-final 3&2 over Denny Shute, then disposed of Claude Harmon 5&4 in the semis. That set up a big final with Sam Byrd, who easily beat Clarence Doser 7&6 in the semi-finals. Nelson would take Byrd down early, though, beating him 4&3. The winner’s share of the purse that year was $5,000 in war bonds.
13. Vijay Singh
At age 54, two-time champion Vijay Singh has his work cut out for him this week at Quail Hollow. He last lifted the Wanamaker in triumph in 2004 at Whistling Straits when he was a young lad of 41. Before that, he won his first of three majors (he has a Green Jacket from the 2000 Masters) at the 1998 PGA Championship held at Sahalee Country Club in Redmond, Washington. In that one, Singh successfully held off 1995 winner Steve Elkington and a challenge from Steve Stricker to become the first Fijian born golfer to win a major. It took a more monumental effort at Whistling Straits in ’04, as he tied with Chris DiMarco and Justin Leonard after 72 holes, shooting the highest final round score ever for a PGA Champion at 76. He won that three-hole aggregate playoff, though, shooting par on the last hole while Leonard and DiMarco went bogey.
12. Ben Hogan
While Byron Nelson lent his considerable name to a current championship, Ben Hogan — his arch nemesis — was one of the first to influence the science of the game where swing theory and ball-striking were concerned. Hogan won nine majors in his legendary career, including two PGA championships in 1946 and 1948. The 1946 event was match-play (it switched to stroke play in 1958) and featured Hogan and Nelson in the quarter-finals. Nelson lost his match, but Hogan whipped Frank Moore 5&4 to advance. It was over before it began in the semi-finals, with Hogan easily defeating Jimmy Demaret 10&9. Hogan finished off his first PGA Championship victory with a sound 6&4 triumph over Ed Oliver. In 1948 at Norwood Hills in St. Louis, Hogan would again have to defeat Demaret (then a two-time Masters champ) in the semis, this time by a much tighter 2&1. The final was no contest, with Hogan beating Mike Turnesa 7&6.
11. Nick Price
It took world famous Zimbabwean Nick Price a while to get going in professional golf, but when he did, in the early 1990s, there was no stopping him. After turning professional in 1977 at the age of 20, Price would win a PGA Tour event in 1983 (beating Jack Nicklaus in the World Series of Golf) but it would take him another eight years before winning again at the 1991 Byron Nelson. In 1992, Price set about making a name for himself at Bellerive in suburban St. Louis for the 74th PGA Championship. Price didn’t light it up early, going 70-70 to sit four strokes behind Friday leader Gene Sauers. He got himself to within two on Saturday with a 68, and then finished the comeback with a 70 on Sunday, winning by three strokes over Sauers (75) and three others. In ’94 at Southern Hills, Price would not have to stage a comeback, winning wire-to-wire (he shared the first round lead with Colin Montgomerie at -3) with a final score of 269 (11-under and six strokes clear runner-up Corey Pavin).
10. Gary Player
The Black Knight was one of the first PGA Tour regulars to espouse fitness as means to career longevity. All that working out paid off, as Gary “Mr. Fitness” Player would go on to win 165 professional tournaments (third all-time), including nine major championship wins. Two of those nine came at the 1962 PGA Championship at Aronimink in Pennsylvania and 10 years later at Oakland Hills in Michigan. In ’62, Player shot an opening round two-over 72 adn was six strokes behind entering cut-down day. He wouldn’t shoot over par the rest of the tournament, taking the lead by the third round and finally winning by a stroke over Bob Goalby for his first Wanamaker. Ten years later, Player came into the 54th PGA Championship with a pretty stellar tourney resume, with six top-10 finishes in the intervening years between the ’62 victory. On the tough Oakland Hills layout, Player again would shoot over par his first two rounds (71-71) to enter Saturday three strokes back. He dug deep in favorable conditions that day, going low at 67 to take a one-shot lead. The Sunday scores weren’t great and all Player needed was a two-over 72 to win by two over Tommy Aaron and Jim Jamieson.
9. Larry Nelson
No relation to the legendary Byron, Larry Nelson didn’t learn to golf until he was 21 and just back from a tour of duty with the U.S. Army in Vietnam in the late 1960s. Self taught (he studied Ben Hogan’s book on the “five fundamentals”), Nelson would later turn pro in 1971 and qualified for the PGA Tour in 1975. Ten years after turning pro, Nelson won his first of three major titles, the 1981 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club. He carded a pedestrian 70 in the first round, but then strung together back-to-back 66’s to hold a four-stroke lead over Fuzzy Zoeller heading into Sunday. Both would shoot 71 in the final round, handing Nelson the Wanamaker for the first time. He would win the U.S. Open in 1983 but didn’t have much success at the PGA events after 1981, being cut three times and no top-10s before the 1987 tournament at PGA National in Palm Beach, FLA. Nelson would never lead the tournament and in blistering conditions (97 F) on Sunday, he shot 72 to tie him with Lanny Wadkins. In one sudden death playoff, Nelson shot part to Wadkins bogey, giving him a third and last major title.
8. Dave Stockton
Dave Stockton was not a household name in golf circles when he won his first of two PGA Championships in 1970 (his only two majors, as well). He had won three PGA tournaments after turning pro in 1964 and was entered in six majors (best finish T5 at 1970 Masters) before breaking through at Southern Hills. Temperatures soared that weekend to 101 F by Saturday, which didn’t seem to faze Stockton, who shot a 66 to take a three-stroke lead over Ray Floyd. His Sunday round was a whirlwind — he fired an eagle followed by a double bogey on back-to-back holes — and his 73 was good enough to complete a two-stroke victory over playing partner Arnold Palmer. In 1976, Stockton didn’t play in the Masters or the Open Championship and he was cut from the U.S. Open heading into the PGA championship at the Congressional in Maryland. After shooting 72 on cut-down day, Stockton sat eight strokes behind leader Gil Morgan. A 69 on Saturday got him to within four (Morgan faltered with a 75) of new leader Charles Coody. The Sunday rounds were canceled due to bad weather, which was good for Stockton, who shot an even-par 70 to beat Ray Floyd by one.
7. Lee Trevino
He was as good an entertainer and personality as he was a beloved Mexican American golfer. Lee “Merry Mex” Trevino played the game with elan and earned his nickname for his effervescent personality. His first PGA Tour win was the 1968 U.S. Open, which he had finished fifth at the year previous. That big debut was followed by two more majors wins at the Open Championship in 1971 and 1972. By 1974, he was still looking for his first PGA Championship when it rolled around at Tanglewood Park in North Carolina. His opening round 73 was five shots off a group who carded 68s and a subsequent 66 on Friday still left Trevino four shots back. He was superb on Saturday, firing a 68 to take a one-stroke lead over Jack Nicklaus and with both shooting 69 on Sunday, the Wanamaker was his. Ten years and two top-10s in PGA Championships later, Trevino was in a strong field at Shoal Creek. But, this time he had a share of the lead with Gary Player and Lanny Wadkins on cut-down day at 7-under. He went low on Saturday with a 67 to take a one-shot lead into Sunday and finished off his competition in style with a 69 on Sunday to win it by four over Player and Wadkins.
6. Ray Floyd
In the history of the PGA Championship (stroke play era) there haven’t been as many as tough to beat as Ray Floyd. He won two Wanamakers, the first in 1969 and the last in 1982. In all, he played in 31 PGA Championships between 1963 and 1994. Other than his victories, he had six top-10s, including a T7 when he was 48 years old in 1991. He also had eight top-25s, which make his resume quite impressive. In 1969, Floyd was a wire-to-wire winner, holding a share of the lead on Thursday and the outright lead through Sunday, though he narrowly beat Gary Player by just one stroke. Floyd won a Masters in 1976, but went through a 13-year drought at the PGA, which was held at Southern Hills in 1982. In Floyd fashion, he shot an astounding 63 (at the age of 39) in 100 degree heat on opening day, and would again lead wire-to-wire, finishing three strokes ahead of runner-up Lanny Wadkins.
5. Sam Snead
It really is too bad that Slammin’ Sammy Snead couldn’t have played during today’s bombing-style PGA Tour. Admired widely for having arguably a “perfect swing”, Snead won a record 82 PGA Tour events, including seven majors. Three of those majors were PGA Championship victories, the first in 1942, then 1949 and 1991. In his lengthy career, which spanned six decades, Snead also had two solo second place finishes at the PGA Championship, as well as three third-place finishes, the last coming in 1974 when he was 62 years old. In 1942, just before a stint during World War II in the U.S. Navy, Snead trumped Jim Turnesa in a hard fought 2&1 match to hoist his first Wanamaker. Snead would beat Johnny Palmer in 1949, 3&2, a match that saw them all square through 12 holes. Slammin’ Sammy won his third and last at Oakmont in 1951, whipping Walter Burkemo 7&6 in a match he led from the opening hole on.
4. Gene Sarazen
A young Eugenio Saraceni, son of poor Sicilian immigrants, began caddying at local golf clubs around his native Harrison, N.Y. when he was just 10. He eventually took the game up and essentially taught himself to play. By the time he was 20, in 1922, the re-named Gene Sarazen won the U.S. Open and his first of three PGA Championships at Oakmont. A rival of Bobby Jones during that era, Sarazen beat Jock Hutchison 3&1 in the final. Sarazen went back-to-back in 1923 at Pelham Country Club, taking down Walter Hagen 1-up on a second playoff hole (the 38th of the day). It would be 10 years and one second place finish later before he’d claim his third Wanamaker at Blue Mound Country Club in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. He won handily, beating Willie Goggin 5&4 in the final round. In his last PGA Championship of note, he made the round of 16 at age 54 in 1956.
3. Tiger Woods
Of all the golfers on this list, Woods is the greatest of the stroke-play era, having won four of his 14 majors at PGA Championships. It really is too bad that one of the PGA Tour’s greats won’t be teeing it up this week at Quail Hollow, what with all his has done for the game (especially the massive purses). Woods won his first two Wanamaker Trophies back-to-back in 1999 and 2000 and then the other two in the same fashion in 2006 and 2007. Woods and Sergio Garcia, both very young in 1999 (23 and 19, respectively) staged a dramatic run to the finish, with Woods emerging victorious by a stroke. In 2000, he went wire-to-wire, beating Bob May in a playoff at Valhalla. At the height of his powers in 2006, he returned to Medinah, site of his inaugural triumph, shooting a course record 65 on Saturday to share the clubhouse lead with Luke Donald at 14-under. Donald scuffled to a 74 on Sunday, while Woods carded a 68 for a five-stroke win. His 2007 win was a thing of beauty, as he shot a 63 on Saturday (then tied for lowest single round score in a major) to climb from six back to being ahead by two. He never faltered from there, shooting a pair of 69s to beat Woody Austin by two strokes.
2. Walter Hagen
In the early days of the PGA Championship’s match play era, Walter Hagen cemented his status as that time’s greatest competitor. Sir Walter of Rochester, N.Y. won his first Wanamaker in the fourth ever PGA Championship at Inwood Country Club in New York, 8&7 over Johnny Golden. Then, starting in 1924, he would become the only pro golfer to win four PGA Championships in a row. He started it with a 3&2 triumph over Johnny Farrell at French Lick, Indiana. In 1925 at Olympia Fields in Illinois, Hagen cruised to a 6&5 win against Bill Mehlhorn. Salisbury Golf Club on Long Island was the site of the 1926 PGA Championship, where Hagen again had to take down Johnny Farrell in the semi-finals, 6&5, in order to face Leo Diegel (who would win back-to-back in 1928-29) and beat him 4&3 in the final. His last victory was his most narrow at Cedar Crest in Dallas, where he clipped Joe Turnesa 1-up in the final round.
1. Jack Nicklaus
The greatest champion in our estimation, any era, is Jack Nicklaus. The career majors leader with 18, Nicklaus won five PGA Championships, starting in 1963. Not only that, but he played in 37 of them, starting with a tie for third at age 23 in 1963 and culminating in a missed cut at age 60 in 2000. In addition to his five titles, Nicklaus had four second-place finishes, three thirds and two fourths. In ’63, the Golden Bear erased a three-shot deficit on Saturday by shooting a 68 at the Dallas Athletic Club to beat Dave Ragan by two. He went wire-to-wire in his next victory at PGA National in Palm Beach, FLA in 1971, besting Master’s champ Billy Casper by two shots. In 1973, he opened with a 72 at Canterbury Golf Club near Cleveland and was five shots behind. After a pair of 68s, he headed into Sunday one ahead and after firing a 69 on Sunday, won by four. At Firestone in 1975, Nicklaus found himself four strokes off the lead on cut-down day, but in true form, came out with a 67 on Saturday and swung the lead to four in his favor. He held off a charge by Bruce Crampton to win his fourth title by two. Jack’s last Wanamaker at age 40 in 1980 was perhaps his most electrifying, as he went 70-69-66-69 at tough Oak Hill in Rochester to win by seven.