US PGA Championship: Rahm, Fowler, Matsuyama and the other contenders looking to break their major duck
The US PGA Championship often produces new major winners and we assess the best candidates to break their duck this weekend.
That unmistakable look of joy, bewilderment, amazement and sheer relief that comes when a player wins a maiden major is one that has become commonplace at the US PGA Championship.
Defending champion Jimmy Walker and Jason Day before him broke their respective ducks at the final major of the year.
Indeed, six of the past eight victors earned a first taste of major glory at the PGA Tour's flagship event, while Jordan Spieth's dramatic triumph at last month's Open ended a run of seven new major winners.
With that in mind, we have assessed the most likely candidates to add their names to the illustrious list of major champions at Quail Hollow this weekend.
Rickie Fowler is one of golf's many perennial nearly men. The popular American undoubtedly has the game to win a major and has at least a top-five finish to his name in each of the four headline events. It was another near miss at June's U.S. Open – where he tied fifth – but Fowler will surely end his wait soon and Quail Hollow, the scene of his first PGA Tour success in 2012, may just be the setting for him to do so.
At 22, Jon Rahm is still a relative novice on the PGA Tour. But already the question being asked by golfing pundits is not if the Spaniard will win a major, but how many. Rahm announced himself as a serious contender with a stunning win at January's Farmers Insurance Open and five top-five finishes have since followed on the PGA Tour, while he also won the Irish Open. It has not quite happened for Rahm in majors this year, but it would not be a surprise to see him atop the leaderboard come Sunday.
On the face of it, James Hahn is a bold inclusion. The American's best finish at a major tournament was a tie for 48th at this year's Masters. But the 35-year-old was the last man to win at Quail Hollow in 2016 and, although the course has undergone several alterations since, his experience of the track – coupled with four top-10 finishes this season – make Hahn a dark horse for victory.
If majors were awarded for style then Justin Thomas would have multiple trophies by now, his audacious cardigan and tie combo for The Open a particular highlight. The 24-year-old, a good friend of Jordan Spieth's, is a fierce competitor and has three PGA Tour wins to his name this season. He was in serious contention at the U.S. Open, where he shot the lowest score to par in the tournament's history with a third-round 63 at Erin Hills, before falling away to place ninth.
The highest-ranked player on our list without a major to his name is the darling of Japan Hideki Matsuyama. The world number three has all the attributes to be a major winner and has placed inside at least the top six in all four majors – including a second at this year's U.S. Open. Moreover, Matsuyama is a man in form after a stunning final-round 61 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational saw him win by five strokes from Zach Johnson. The 25-year-old was fourth 12 months ago and a US PGA Championship would make an excellent addition to a CV that has four PGA Tour wins – including two this season.
It would be a huge surprise if Thomas Pieters never won a major tournament and, at 25, time is certainly on the Belgian's side. The man with a mammoth drive already boasts three European Tour wins and was a member of Europe's 2016 Ryder Cup team. A fine performance at this year's Masters, where he placed fourth, was a timely reminder of the major quality he possesses. Pieters was also fourth at the Bridgestone Invitational last weekend.
The familiar chant of 'Kuuuuuuch' will ring around Quail Hollow for golf's ultimate Mr Nice Guy. Matt Kuchar is a regular contender in the latter stages of major tournaments, but at 39 he has suffered many disappointments. It looked for all the world that Kuchar's wait was over at Royal Birkdale last month as Jordan Spieth appeared to be crumbling at The Open. Unfortunately for Kuchar, Spieth showed why he is among golf's elite to find his composure and earn a dramatic win. There are few people who would begrudge Kuchar victory this weekend.