Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler are three to watch


A three-peat in sports is rare. In the history of major championship golf, the achievement has been nearly nonexistent.

Consider that arguably the two most accomplished men in the sport’s history, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, never won a specific major three straight years. None of the five men to win the modern career Grand Slam achieved the feat.

The last player to win any of the four majors in three straight years was Peter Thomson, who won three of his five British Open titles in 1954, ’55 and ’56. Those three championships were held on different courses, but at least the tournament was contested in the same place on the calendar.

That cannot be said for Brooks Koepka’s pursuit of three PGA Championships in a row.

Should Koepka win at TPC Harding Park – scheduled for Aug. 6-9 – he will become the fourth player in the men’s game since 1900 to win one of the professional majors three straight years. He’ll have done so with the event held in August, then May, then in August again – each year in a different time zone. Whether that makes it more impressive is debatable, but undoubtedly it would make it unique.

Koepka has become the game’s biggest force in major championships. Over the past three years, he leads all players in rounds led (13), top-five finishes (seven) and scoring average (69.3) across the majors. Koepka is gaining more than three full strokes on the field per round in that stretch, nearly a full shot per round more than his nearest competitor.

Koepka is a combined 70 strokes under par in the majors over the last three years. Since 1995, the only player with a better three-year cumulative score to par in the majors was Tiger Woods, who was 92 under in 2000 through 2002. In his last 10 major starts, Koepka has more wins (four) than finishes of worse than sixth place (two).

Brooks Koepka

No man has won the PGA Championship three straight years in the stroke-play era. Koepka can become the first if he continues the stellar ballstriking that carried him to victories at Bellerive in 2018 and Bethpage Black in 2019.

Srokes gained long game: This category combines a player’s performance off the tee and approaching the green. Nobody has been better at that in the PGA Championship recently than Koepka – he leads everyone in that stat since 2016.

Birdie barrage: Koepka has racked up 98 birdies (or eagles) in the PGA Championship since 2015, eight more than any other player.

Leading man: Koepka has led or been the co-leader following 13 major championship rounds since 2017, more than twice as many as anyone else. Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner are tied for second with six apiece.

Rory McIlroy

The last time the world’s best players competed at TPC Harding Park, it was McIlroy who came out on top. At the 2015 WGC Match Play, McIlroy beat Gary Woodland in the final to claim his 11th PGA Tour title.

Number one: The top spot in the world and Harding Park go hand in hand. In 2005, Woods won the WGC held there while No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. In 2009, Woods (No. 1 again) went 5-0-0 to lead the U.S. Presidents Cup win. And in 2015, McIlroy won the Match Play as the top player in the OWGR.

Ballstriking travels: McIlroy has been No. 1 or No. 2 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained tee to green since the beginning of last season.

Scoring opportunities: Every win in McIlroy’s PGA Tour and European Tour career has come with a score double digits under par. The average winning score at the PGA Championship the past 30 years is -10.9, the lowest of the four majors.

Rickie Fowler

He has eleven top-10 finishes in major championships, the most of any player without a victory since the start of 2011. Now 31 years old, Fowler is still two years younger than Phil Mickelson was when he broke through at the 2004 Masters.

Major presence: Since the start of 2014, only five players have a better scoring average than Fowler in majors (70.6). All five of those players are major champions. Is Fowler next?

Gaining strokes: Only two players have averaged two or more strokes gained per round in the majors since 2017: Fowler and Koepka.

California love: It would be fitting for Fowler to get his first major win in his home state of California. The last California-born player to win a major in the Golden State was Woods at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Golfweek partnered on this story with 15th Club, a firm that works with players, media entities, manufacturers and tours around the world in telling the true story of golf performance. Gwk

This article originally appeared in Issue 3 – 2020 of Golfweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.



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