ST. LOUIS — The last time Bellerive Country Club hosted the world’s best professional golfers was 10 years ago, when it held the BMW Championship, the third leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Sure, the course will play longer and firmer and presumably faster than it did that week, but I still figured I should check out the leaderboard and maybe get a little hint of some guys who might compete this week.
Or maybe not.
The winner of that event was Camilo Villegas, who also won three weeks later, then only twice more on the PGA Tour, none since the 2014 campaign.
Next on the list was Dudley Hart, who just turned 49 and is, I’m assuming, crossing off the days on his calendar until he can join the senior circuit next year.
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After him was Anthony Kim. Everyone pour one out for AK. In my heart, I still think he could show up on the first tee Thursday morning with an oversized belt buckle and his shoes untied and win this tournament, but, alas, he won’t be in the field.
Then came Jim Furyk, an actual, real, live competitor in this week’s field – although as Ryder Cup captain, he’s probably more interested in other players’ results than his own.
We have to get all the way down to T-17 on that leaderboard to find a legit contender for this week’s tournament in Phil Mickelson, who happened to share those 17th-place honors with Ernie Els and Justin Leonard.
Welp, that trip down memory lane was fun, but it didn’t exactly help me handicap this event.
Instead, I’m starting my ranking of every player in the field with a few big names who should hardly be forgotten 10 years from now.
1. Rory McIlroy
This pick comes with some trepidation. McIlroy played himself into the final pairing at the WGC-Bridgestone despite never looking sharp with his wedges or his putter.
Which means we can expect one of two things this week: Either he stays cold with these clubs and falls short again, or he figures ‘em out enough that his ball-striking carries him to a big week.
Give me the latter.
Four years is too long for a player of this magnitude to be shut out from majors.
2. Justin Thomas
I think Bellerive is going to produce a big-boy leaderboard, so you won’t see any longshots among my first few picks.
On the heels of Sunday’s victory, Thomas is riding even more momentum than he owned prior to last year’s PGA — when all he did was win.
As is the case in many years, I think the finale at Firestone is going to serve as a strong barometer for this leaderboard, which means we should expect JT in the mix once again.
3. Jon Rahm
The maturity of his game might outweigh the maturity of his on-course psyche, but Rahm is still a big-time talent in search of a second career top-5 in a major.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jon Rahm
Truth be told, I’ve had this week picked out all year as a tournament that could serve as his coming-out party. Don’t be surprised if he makes a serious run at the title on a course that should suit his game.
4. Bryson DeChambeau
This might be nothing, but when you’re looking for any sort of edge, you take it wherever you can find it: Last year, in the week before the PGA, Justin Thomas improved in each round of the WGC-Bridgestone, then carried that momentum to victory at Quail Hollow.
This time, DeChambeau was the lone player who improved during every round. Sure, that has more to do with a field-worst first-round 75 than some sort of karmic signal, but, hey, it shows some progress.
5. Dustin Johnson
Two weeks ago, DJ won the RBC Canadian Open without breaking a sweat. This past week, he seemed a bit lackluster until posting seven birdies in his first 10 holes during the final round, eventually finishing in what felt like a carefree share of third place.
The guess here is that he saved plenty of gas in the tank for this week, which — if you’re not going to win the WGC-Bridgestone — is the right way to do it.
6. Patrick Cantlay
Due to concerns over past back injuries, Cantlay has been very cautious with his schedule during his meteoric rise over the past year-and-a-half. But there’s a noticeable trend we should still consider this week.
During that time, he’s played back-to-back weeks just seven times. On those occasions, these are his results in that second week: 15-4-7-4-1-20-13. If he’s throwing caution to the wind, you might also want to, grabbing a Cantlay ticket before the tourney begins.
7. Tommy Fleetwood
Here’s a fun fact for you.
Each of the year’s first three major champions — Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari — had a commonality in their golf bags: None of them has a full equipment deal with a singular manufacturer.
Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Tommy Fleetwood.
Why is that relevant here?
Because Fleetwood — a former Nike staffer, just like those three major champions — similarly is without a contract. If you’re into the idea that “good things happen in fours,” history could repeat itself this week.
8. Brooks Koepka
It’s no secret: Koepka ups his game for the big ones.
In a piece I wrote this week, I found that his major results are an average of 16 spots higher than his non-major results over the past five years, second on the list over that time.
While Koepka can sometimes appear bored at regular PGA Tour events, the majors clearly hold his interest and he rarely disappoints.
9. Tony Finau
Three majors this year, three top-10s for Finau. The man with immense talent is seeing his potential come to fruition on some big-time stages.
It’s still a bit unnerving that he’s played in more than 100 events on the PGA Tour and owns just a single win — which came two years ago at the opposite-field Puerto Rico Open — but it’s only a matter of time before he claims the second one.
In the meantime, he’ll just keep contending at majors.
10. Si Woo Kim
Regularly underrated — and perhaps rightfully so, considering his inconsistency — the former Players Championship winner is trending in the right direction after a T-10 at Firestone.
He owns plenty of value as a top-10 prop (around +1250 odds), which would be his first in a major. Other picks are sexier, and I’m sure I’ll receive some grief for placing him above a few big names, but the leaderboard can’t be all chalk. I’ve got a hunch about Kim.
11. Xander Schauffele
No player has a better differential between his major results and non-major results over the past five years.
12. Rickie Fowler
Poor Rickie. Repeatedly fares well in majors and repeatedly gets criticized for not having won one yet.
13. Paul Casey
He’s been the model of consistency over the past few years, like Matt Kuchar — plus about 20 to 30 yards.
14. Louis Oosthuizen
Fun fact: Oosty owns the career runner-up slam, having finished second at all four majors before.
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15. Joaquin Niemann
This kid is the real deal. He’s already gotten some major championship experience, so the training wheels should be off.
16. Webb Simpson
There’s a stigma that Simpson plays boring golf, but he’s been way better in all aspects this year than most people realize.
17. Gary Woodland
One of the few players who took a scouting mission to Bellerive and saw the track before this week.
18. Kyle Stanley
Fresh off a solo second this past weekend, he’s playing the best golf of his life.
19. Tiger Woods
This just feels like the right spot for Tiger: not quite in the mix, but not quite out of the mix, either.
Ian Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Tiger Woods
20. Haotong Li
Budding superstar is getting more and more comfortable on the biggest stage every week.
21. Luke List
Like Finau and Cantlay, List is on a short list of guys who coulda, woulda, shoulda played good enough to win this season.
22. Jason Day
He played well last week, but might’ve been too pumped for two rounds with Tiger and was gassed by a final-round 73.
23. Francesco Molinari
I was wrong before The Open, listing him way too low. And I’m aware I just might be doing that again.
24. Billy Horschel
Solid ball-striker who’s been trending in the right direction. Early tee time could make him a nice first-round leader pick (100-1 odds).
25. Jordan Spieth
Yes, it’s been a disappointing year for Spieth. Yes, he’s struggled with all facets of his game at different times.
And, yes, he could erase all of those memories by winning this week and writing his name into the record books as the sixth player to win the career grand slam.
That would be a tremendous story, but based on his recent performance – no birdies in the final round at Carnoustie after being 54-hole leader; T-60 in a 71-man field at Firestone — don’t expect it to become a reality.
26. Charley Hoffman
27. Phil Mickelson
28. Matt Kuchar
29. Marc Leishman
30. Thomas Pieters
31. Daniel Berger
32. Byeong Hun An
33. Henrik Stenson
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Henrik Stenson.
Weird year for the Iceman: He leads all driving and ball-striking stats, but injuries have kept him from stronger results.
34. Anirban Lahiri
35. Thorbjorn Olesen
36. Patrick Reed
37. Ollie Schniederjans
38. Aaron Wise
39. Julian Suri
40. Jason Kokrak
41. Justin Rose
Credit: Ian Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Justin Rose.
Yes, this feels too low for one of the world’s best, but fresh off a WD from a lingering back issue, proceed with caution.
42. Ryan Moore
43. Ian Poulter
44. Beau Hossler
45. Kevin Na
46. Brandt Snedeker
47. Kevin Chappell
48. Zach Johnson
Found him at irrationally long odds?
Be careful: Club pro Zach J. Johnson is also in this field.
49. Hideki Matsuyama
50. Matthew Fitzpatrick
51. Brendan Steele
52. Jamie Lovemark
53. Keegan Bradley
54. Branden Grace
55. Ryan Fox
56. Andrew Putnam
Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Andrew Putnam.
Comes into this week fresh off his first PGA Tour win, as he took the modified Stableford event in Reno-Tahoe.
57. Peter Uihlein
58. Whee Kim
59. Chesson Hadley
60. Jimmy Walker
61. Danny Willett
62. Adam Scott
63. J.J. Spaun
64. Jason Dufner
65. Sungjae Im
Don’t know the name?
He leads the Web.com Tour money list — by nearly $100K over the next-closest contender.
66. Alex Noren
67. Dylan Frittelli
68. Kevin Kisner
69. Emiliano Grillo
70. Cameron Smith
71. Scott Piercy
72. Russell Henley
73. Sergio Garcia
Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Sergio Garcia.
If you’re scoring at home, I have Sergio exactly 72 spots lower than I did in my pre-Open Championship ranking.
74. Charl Schwartzel
75. Rafa Cabrera Bello
76. Pat Perez
77. Shane Lowry
78. J.B. Holmes
79. Charles Howell III
80. Martin Kaymer
81. Andrew Landry
82. Bubba Watson
Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Bubba Watson.
Over the past five years, no player has a worse differential between his major results and non-major results.
83. Austin Cook
84. Ross Fisher
85. Brian Harman
86. Chez Reavie
87. Jhonattan Vegas
88. Kiradech Aphibarnrat
89. Andy Sullivan
90. Brian Gay
91. Russell Knox
92. Tyrrell Hatton
93. Chris Kirk
Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Chris Kirk.
An alternate to start the week, he got into the field when Justin Thomas (and not an unqualified player) won at Firestone.
94. Chris Wood
95. Michael Kim
96. Nick Watney
97. Ted Potter Jr.
98. Chris Stroud
99. Ryuko Tokimatsu
100. Stewart Cink
101. Jim Furyk
102. Adam Hadwin
Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Adam Hadwin.
Like Justin Rose, Hadwin pulled out of last week’s tourney with an injury, which should downgrade him this week.
103. James Hahn
104. Eddie Pepperell
105. Patton Kizzire
106. Bill Haas
107. Brandon Stone
108. Alexander Levy
109. Satoshi Kodaira
110. Ryan Armour
111. Shubhankar Sharma
112. Vijay Singh
113. Adrian Otaegui
114. Padraig Harrington
Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Padraig Harrington.
Ten years removed from his third and final major, Harrington hasn’t finished inside the top 35 at any event this year.
115. Paul Dunne
116. Mike Lorenzo-Vera
117. Seungsu Han
118. Brice Garnett
119. Alexander Bjork
120. Scott Brown
121. Jorge Campillo
122. Yusaku Miyazato
123. Davis Love III
124. Matthew Wallace
125. Yuta Ikeda
126. Jordan Smith
127. Troy Merritt
The recent Barbasol Championship winner reportedly underwent emergency surgery last week for a blood clot that ran from his chest to his biceps.
Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Troy Merritt.
According to that Golf Channel report, Merritt is still planning to try and tee it up at Bellerive this week, but despite his strong play lately, he should be downgraded based on this news.
128. Thomas Bjorn
129. Shugo Imahira
130. Mikko Korhonen
131. Justin Harding
132. Y.E. Yang
133. Rich Beem
134. Paul Broadhurst
135. John Daly
136. Shaun Micheel
137. Ryan Vermeer
No offense intended toward any of the 20 club professionals who reached this week’s field.
The PGA is their championship, and they should all be commended for going from private lessons and stocking inventory to playing well enough to qualify for this tournament.
Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Ryan Vermeer (left) and Chris Stroud (right).
I’m listing them in order of how they finished at the PGA Professional Championship — and here’s hoping one of ‘em proves me wrong and makes it to the weekend.