The dog days of major championships are upon us. That’s not to say that the PGA Championship is bad, it’s just not the same. We can pretend to care about it as much as the others, but the season’s final major has always been the “meh” major.
This is a major championship by designation only. If it was called the Dove Skincare Open or the Tervis Invitational, we would forget many of the events. Even with it being called the PGA Championship, so many of the tournaments are bland and unidentifiable.
In the same vein, the similarity to a regular PGA Tour event allows more players to be in the mix. There is major championship pressure, but not the pressure that comes with winning a Masters, US Open, or Open Championship. Shaun Micheel and Rich Beem are perfect examples. Fine players in their own right, but not guys who truly would have been looked at as perennial contenders in majors.
Anyway, the show goes on. Let’s break down the most memorable PGA Championships over the last decade.
Tied 10th Place - 2016 - The “Did This Event Actually Occur” Major
2016 was a weird season for golf. The Olympics threw a wrench into the schedule and caused a serious amount of restructuring. The 2016 PGA Championship was conducted at the end of July and ended major championship season before August started.
Henrik Stenson had also just defeated Phil in one of the best major duels of all time two weeks prior. It was almost like the golfing community wasn’t ready for another major championship just yet as the players arrived at Baltusrol.
I know I wasn’t ready, because I don’t have any recollection of watching the event. I’m sure I did, but there was no draw for me to watch Jimmy Walker try to close out a major. He only won by a single shot but the tournament was never in doubt.
Tied 10th Place - 2013 - Dufner’s Revenge
Listen, I love Jason Dufner as much as the next guy. He is a really fun character on the tour and does not take things too seriously. His lone major was just not very memorable.
Duf shot 63 in the second round but left a 10 footer short in the jaws on 18. I’ll never forgive him for that. Scores were really low that day, including a 64 from Webb Simpson, but Dufner had a shot at major championship 62 and didn’t capitalize.
On Sunday, the ageless Jim Furyk gave Dufner the lead on the 8th hole and no one was able to catch him. He and Furyk both bogied the final two holes but the writing was already on the wall. No one had made a final round charge to post a number and Duf daddy coasted to a victory.
Tied 10th Place - 2012 - He’s Better Than You
The 2012 PGA Championship will forever be “the major that Rory shot 75 and still won by 8”. Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course provides a unique test for a major championship, but it was unable to produce a memorable finish in 2012.
Weather interfered during the second and third rounds, sending scores way higher than other rounds. Tiger got into the mix for a second but quickly fell back. Hot Carl Petterson had a share of the lead for a bit. Still, none of these storylines lasted and the tournament was over on Saturday night. Ian Poulter made a strong run to start Sunday but was only able to get within three of McIlroy. Rory played flawless golf on the way home and captured his second major title without any drama whatsoever.
It was an incredible display of golf that I will definitely forget about ten years from now.
7th Place - 2008 - Ben Curtis!
Looking back on it, the 2008 PGA Championship might be the most insane leaderboard in the history of leaderboards. These are all things that happened in 2008:
Jeev Milkha Singh, Ken Duke, Billy Mayfair, and Charlie Wi were all in the top 10 after the first round.
54 hole leader was Ben Curtis. (We were 4 holes away from living in a world where Ben Curtis has 2 major championships…)
JB Holmes shot 81 in the final round
Sergio suffered his second straight crushing major championship blow
Twitter would have really enjoyed the final five holes of this event. Sergio and Ben Curtis trying not to throw up on their shoes while Padraig Harrington strutted his way to victory.
6th Place - 2017 - Jordan’s Friend Breaks Through
Hot take: had Justin Thomas not won last year’s PGA, it would be one of the most forgotten on this list. The final round leaderboard was decent and the drama was edging, but the closing stretch at Quail Hollow is too hard to provide serious intrigue.
All week people talked about how difficult Quail Hollow was and the changes that the Faz made to the course. It was longer, more severe, and “harder” in relation to par. The first three rounds were boring and no one made a run.
Luckily, Justin Thomas put on a show on the final nine holes. He had the put that lingered on the edge on 10, the chip in on 13, and then he hit the absolutely perfect shot on 17 to make birdie for a defining moment. A 200+ yard 7 iron on the 71st hole will be the moment that everyone remembers from the week.
5th Place - 2015 - Dayman, Fighter of the Nightman
While the basic philosophy of Whistling Straits offends my sensibilities, you cannot argue with its ability to create drama. The golf course is wild, the scenery is extraordinary, and the closing stretch can create chaos in a heartbeat. It’s a 10 handicapper’s worst nightmare, but it is playable for the best in the world.
The first round leader was Dustin Johnson, a very very very very very appropriate leader after what happened in 2010 (more on that in a minute). He was unable to make noise on the weekend but it was fun to see DJ back in the mix.
The real story would be Jason Day battling world beater Jordan Spieth on Sunday. Spieth won the first two majors of the year, missed a playoff by one shot at St. Andrews, and was in the final group at the PGA, insanity.
Still, Day was able to outlast the young Texan and win his first major title. His putting was off the charts in Wisconsin that week and he put Spieth in his back pocket over the course of the final round. It was a fun duel and one that will be remembered.
4th Place - 2011 - Keegs Up, A Town Down
The only way you could get me to go to Atlanta in August is by extending an invite to a PGA Championship. That’s exactly what happened for the world’s best players in 2011 as they descended on Atlanta Athletic Club.
Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley shot the two lowest rounds of the week on Friday and held the 36 hole lead as they headed into the weekend. A few other players got into the picture heading into Sunday but the real drama was solely on the shoulders of Bradley and Dufner.
They were in a dead heat until late in the back nine when Keegan made a triple bogey 6 on the 15th hole. This left Dufner with a four shot lead and just four holes to play. The Duf finished bogey-bogey-bogey-par while Keegan birdied 16 and 17. It was one of the crazier final hours of regulation I can remember.
Keegan was a relative unknown at the time and while Duf wasn’t a superstar, it was shocking to see him go down in the three hole playoff. Long live the belly putter.
3rd Place - 2014 - Can We Play Through?
“It’s much darker out here than our cameras make it appear”
The 2014 PGA Championship literally finished in the dark. Rory, Phil, Rickie, and Bernd Wiesberger all played the 18th hole at the same time, and Rory actually putted out to the shine of cameras.
I’m not sure anyone will ever forget the bizarre scene that was Valhalla. Rory was pumping big dog off of every tee and hitting some of the most insane shots to recover from wild ones. Phil was grinding his way through a tough stretch and Rickie was faltering down the stretch (surprise).
On 18, Rory and Wiesberger played up on their tee shot and second shot (much to Phil’s shagrin) in order to finish in time. The drama intensified as Rory almost put it in the drink off the tee and Phil was visibly upset with the decision to let them hit up again. Still, Rory putted out in the blackness and collected his fourth career major. It was also his third title in a row having won the Open and WGC the two weeks prior.
2nd Place - 2010 - The Grounding of the Club
Whistling Straits unofficially has over 900 “bunkers” surrounding the golf course. That seems a little excessive to me but they are the defining feature of this Wisconsin golf hub.
In 2010, many of the bunkers were labeled as waste areas and players were allowed to ground their club. These areas had fans walking through them and were typically well off the fairways. On the 72nd hole, Dustin Johnson appeared to find one of these bunkers. He hit his shot over the green, made a miraculous bogey, and was set to join a playoff with Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer.
A rules official met up with DJ as he walked off the 18th green, telling him that he had grounded his club in a bunker, not a waste bunker. Confusion followed and DJ was ultimately assessed a two stroke penalty. It was one of the strangest scenes in major championship history.
Martin Kaymer went on to win his first major championship over Bubba, but the Dustin Johnson penalty will forever be the defining moment of the 2010 event.
1st Place - 2009 - What the Hell is Happening?
The only PGA Championship that Tiger Woods has been seriously involved in happened 10 years ago at Hazeltine. Tiger was leading after the 1st round, 2nd round, 3rd round, and through 11 holes of the final round. Then all of a sudden, he wasn’t.
Y.E. Yang chipped in for eagle on the 14th hole and took a one shot lead over Tiger. He then hit an incredible shot on 18 to inside of 10 feet and defeated Tiger Woods. It is the only time in Tiger’s career that he blew a 54 hole lead in a major.
I was 15 years old when this happened but I remember it like it was yesterday. The sense of pure astonishment as I finally had to accept that Tiger was not going to win. It was an uncomfortable, unfamiliar feeling. Why had my childhood hero let me down?
Little did I know that this let down was just the beginning of 2009 Tiger drama, but that’s a story for another day.