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Sunday Scenarios

One scribe’s 11 potential dream outcomes for the 105th PGA Championship

By Alan Shipnuck

PITTSFORD, N.Y.—When the last players had straggled in, soggy and beaten down, their pants mud-splattered and nerves frayed, scorecards crowded with circles and squares; when the throngs of hearty New York fans had departed, after having energized the joint by treating this PGA Championship like a foul-weather Bills game; after reputations had been elevated and compromised, storylines punctured and narratives exploded; after the last F-bomb had been uttered and there were no more on-course microphones to destroy; when the rain finally stopped and moody Oak Hill was cloaked in darkness, it was hard not to feel like the third round was as much fun as championship golf can be. Oak Hill provided a relentless test, but well-played shots were still rewarded. The rain was perfect: never quite hard enough to stop play but heavy enough to push many players to the breaking point, as major championships are supposed to do.

Now we face a final round for all the marbles. Sunday is supposed to be sunny and perfect, but warmer, drier weather should only add more teeth to a reborn golf course that has already established itself as a premier stage. Brooks Koepka has the lead at 6 under; the guess here is that 7 under wins it. So, without further ado, here are a handful of potential outcomes, in descending order of juiciness.

Tommy Fleetwood shoots 62 to win. Tommy Lad played beautifully during the third round with a 68 that was bettered only by Koepka’s 66. There’s not a more likable guy in golf, and a Fleetwood win would be popular in the locker room, press room and caddie yard. Given his trouble closing out tournaments, winning from the clubhouse might be Fleetwood’s best bet.

Corey Conners shoots 68 to win. The 31-year-old Canuck played 17 holes of perfect golf on Saturday, but a late double bogey dropped him out of the lead. Given that this tournament is being conducted practically in Canada, Conners will have some (nice, well-mannered) support in the final round. His 0-4 showing at the Presidents Cup last fall is cause for concern, but Conners’s recent win at the Texas Open should steel him for (mild, polite) battle.

Justin Suh shoots 63 to win. At 25, the one-time amateur sensation has finally begun to find his footing on Tour, including a strong run at this year’s Players Championship. Suh has swag and palpable talent and, despite a 73 on Saturday to fall into a tie for 8th, seems comfortable on a big stage. Definitely a player to watch.

Justin Rose shoots 65 to win. Rose was the hottest player on the course for much of Saturday, but he played the final six holes in 2 over to skid into a tie for fifth. Rose, 42, is this close to having a Hall of Fame résumé: 2013 U.S. Open champion (at Merion), an Olympic gold medal, 11 PGA Tour victories and eight more in Europe, winner of the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai. A win at Oak Hill would crown a long, fruitful career and punch his ticket to the Hall.

Patrick Reed shoots 61 to win. Golf’s most polarizing player (Non-Mickelson Division) is trending, with rounds of 72-71-69. Given that his LIV colleagues Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau were booed on the 1st tee on Saturday, a Reed run would surely fire up the Noo Yawkers. LIV has claimed all of golf’s villains; a Reed win would create delicious angst.

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Scottie Scheffler shoots 65 to win. The usually unflappable Scheffler looked woebegone on the front nine on Saturday, posting a 39 to tumble out of the lead. But he steadied himself with an airtight back nine to stay in the fight. Earlier this spring there was a spirited debate as to whether Scheffler or Jon Rahm is the best player in the world. (Rory McIlroy and Cam Smith have fallen out of the conversation due to mediocre play.) Rahm seemed to have momentarily settled the matter with his Masters triumph, but a win here would tilt things back toward Scheffler. And conquering Oak Hill and Augusta National (to say nothing of Sawgrass) in the span of 13 months would stamp Scheffler as a player for the ages.

Viktor Hovland shoots 68 to win. This is the third straight major at which Hovland, 25, has thrown himself into the fray. The consistency is commendable, but Hovland needs to bring the heat this time after shaky Sundays at the Old Course and Augusta National. With his good looks, goofy puppy-dog personality and crazy wardrobe, Hovland is a star-in-waiting. The only thing missing is a signature victory.

Brooks Koepka shoots 69 to win. Big, bad Brooks is back… almost. The strong showing at this year’s Masters was a reminder of how compelling he can be in the biggest tournaments, and Koepka’s final round shakiness could be excused because it had been a minute since he was in the arena at a major championship. But after back-to-back 66s— the low round of each day—Koepka is the clear favorite on Sunday, which shapes up as a monumental moment for him. He built his brand as a big-game hunter with four major championship wins from 2017 to ’19, but since then Koepka has contended in seven of them and come up empty every time. It’s time for golf’s brooding antihero to deliver. If he does, Koepka, 33, will tie Seve Ballesteros and (Lord) Byron Nelson on the all-time list of major champions. And he would put plenty of daylight between himself, McIlroy and Jordan Spieth in the ongoing question of who will be remembered as the best player of the post-Tiger generation.

Bryson DeChambeau shoots 66 to win. After a long, injury-related slump, golf’s tortured genius is finding himself again. By 26, DeChambeau had compiled a spectacular résumé: NCAA champ, U.S. Amateur champ, seven Tour wins, including a U.S Open at vaunted Winged Foot. Can he return to the front ranks of the game? He didn’t have his best stuff on Saturday but fought hard to shoot 70. It might be a little soon for DeChambeau; it doesn’t look like he fully trusts his new swing yet. But nothing would be more fascinating than the King of Content breaking through, again.

Michael Block shoots 63 to win. The affable, swaggy club pro has stolen the show with three straight 70s, charming the galleries and the TV audience. Can he play with the same freedom on Sunday knowing how much money is riding on every swing? And how much opportunity: a top-15 finish gets Block invited to next year’s PGA Championship; a top 10 punches his ticket to the Canadian Open (the next non-invitational on the PGA Tour schedule); and a top-four finish sends Block to the f’ing 2024 Masters. The crowd will certainly be on his side, although the cheers might be a little lustier for his playing partner…

Rory McIlroy shoots 64 to win. McIlroy has displayed a rare (for him) grit in tussling with Oak Hill while fighting his swing and a head cold. On Saturday he posted his second straight 69 despite a three-bogey swoon late on the front nine. McIlroy has looked sharp with 13 of his clubs; if this generational driver of the ball can have a good day with the big stick, a low round is there for the taking. Unfathomably, McIlroy, 34, is approaching a decade since his last major championship victory. To get that elusive fifth one, what better venue than a course where he is a member in a town he visits often to see the in-laws? Destiny is knocking—can McIlroy answer the door? The mind says Koepka, but the heart would love to see Rory bust loose.

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