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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Five players set to rival Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth at US PGA Championship

John McAuley looks at five players outside the world’s top five who could excel at Quail Hollow.

Rickie Fowler is a consistent contender at the big tournaments and his wait for a major title is sure to not go on much longer. Shawn Thew / EPA
Rickie Fowler is a consistent contender at the big tournaments and his wait for a major title is sure to not go on much longer. Shawn Thew / EPA

Rickie Fowler

Yet to shed that ‘best player not to have won a major’ tag, although has a superb chance this week. Fowler has played consistently well this year, winning the Honda Classic and finishing tied-11th at the US Masters and tied-5th at the US Open. Recorded another top 10 last week. Long and accurate off the tee, is the tour’s best bunker player and has the best putting stroke. Oh, and registered his first career victory at Quail Hollow. Nice place to get a first major then, too.

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Brooks Koepka

Brooks Koepka has the power and putting ability to secure his second major title of the year to go with his US Open. Michael Madrid / Reuters
Brooks Koepka has the power and putting ability to secure his second major title of the year to go with his US Open. Michael Madrid / Reuters

The powerful American has enjoyed an incredible major run this past 12 months, sparked by a tied-4th at last year’s PGA Championship. Since, he has gone tied-11th at the Masters, won the US Open – breaking his major duck – and tied-6th at the British Open. Clearly, Koepka loves the big events. He has a big game, as well. Marry his club-head speed with his strokes-gained-putting and Koepka leads the field on those combined. Basically, he hits it miles and putts great. It points to another good week.

Thomas Pieters

Thomas Pieters is in fine form and his distance off the tee can make him a contender at Quail Hollow. Kyle Terada / Reuters
Thomas Pieters is in fine form and his distance off the tee can make him a contender at Quail Hollow. Kyle Terada / Reuters

Another player whose first major appears right around the corner. The Belgian is in form, as reflected in last week’s fourth at Firestone, while top fives at the WGC-Mexico Championship and the Masters shows he has the fortitude to match the flair. And Quail is set up to suit him. Pieters’ average driving distance is 302.9 yards, 10 yards more than the average of the fields he’s competed against. He also sits inside the top 20 for putts in greens-in-regulation. Evidently, he’s got the tools.

Daniel Berger

Daniel Berger's playing style is well suited to Quail Hollow and he can change his mediocre major record this week. Erik S Lesser / EPA
Daniel Berger's playing style is well suited to Quail Hollow and he can change his mediocre major record this week. Erik S Lesser / EPA

One of that class of 2011 alongside Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, Berger’s future appears bright. His recent past isn’t bad either, a victory in June prompting a second and another top five, while he was tied-17th last week. Grew up playing on Bermuda rough, which Quail Hollow has, and specialises in hitting cut shots, which Quail encourages. Was tied-17th there last season. Although his major record isn’t great, Berger can change that this week.

Zach Johnson

Zach Johnson outperformed big-hitters before to win two major titles and his recent form suggests he should be in contention this week. Kyle Terada / Reuters
Zach Johnson outperformed big-hitters before to win two major titles and his recent form suggests he should be in contention this week. Kyle Terada / Reuters

Going against conventional wisdom, given the American doesn’t hit the ball particularly far and Quail Hollow is a bombers’ course. However, Johnson proved last week that it isn’t all about muscle, finishing second at Firestone, ahead of Pieters and Rory McIlroy. Johnson is in super form this past month, with a tied-14th at the British Open. Also, both his major victories came where you’d least expect them: a rain-soaked Augusta and a power-favouring St Andrew’s. Has shown serious form at Quail as well. Watch that continue.