Post-Masters who are the leading contenders for the PGA Championship next month?

Who will follow in the footsteps of Masters winner Scottie Scheffler and enjoy Major Championship glory at Southern Hills?

Once known as "glory's last shot" the PGA Championship's move to an earlier slot in the schedule has quietly impacted on its stature in the game.

That handle was, in many ways, a desperate attempt for the then-fourth Major of the year to have some sort of meaning.

The Masters, of course, has no difficulty asserting itself: it comes first in the calendar, it's the only Major played at the same course every year, and the schmaltz is off the charts. Ergo, high excitement is created (more or less) naturally.

The US Open and Open have tradition, longevity, and the use of the finest courses in their respective lands; the two tournaments will never lack for relevance.

The PGA Championship was, in contrast, the awkward odd-one-out.

There was a time when folk talked of it being dropped altogether, in favour of a Major that travelled the world - or that maybe the tournament itself should become globally nomadic.

Initially, there were concerns when it was shunted forward in the calendar. After the first year of change, Justin Rose was among those who talked of the hectic nature of the new format - the feeling that golf's four biggest events took place in a too-hasty three month rush.

The extra chaos of Covid seems to have distracted from such debates and allowed the PGA to find a role. Last May, for example, the event genuinely felt like a Major rather than those times in the past when there was an element of exhaustion ahead of it.

What can we expect in 2022?

Well, first up there might be no defending champion. Phil Mickelson is either banned or in self-exile - and a return date is unknown.

The tournament ventures to Southern Hills in Oklahoma, last used for a Major when Tiger Woods won the US Open in 2007.

Let's take a closer look at the venue and the likely leading contenders.

Southern Hills Country Club

Created in the back end of golf's golden era of expansion (the 1930s), the club's ethos is hinted at by its English country manor-style clubhouse and traditional course layout.

It was designed by Perry Maxwell who was a co-designer at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, the long-term home of the PGA Tour's Charles Schwab Challenge.

It's hosted three US Opens (1958, 1977 and 2001, when won by Retief Goosen), four PGA Championships (1970, 1982, 1994, 2007 when won by Tiger Woods), and two US Amateurs (Ben An defeated Ben Martin in the 2009 final).

LEADING CONTENDERS

The design factor

Back in 2007 Woods revealed that the layout's many doglegs had him hitting "a lot of long irons or even fairway woods" from the tee. If that's the case then anyone who excels with irons is going to have a great chance and that screams one man: Collin Morikawa.

In just three years as a professional, he's wowed with his approach work and Southern Hills in effect provides him with more of that range of shot, in the sense that he'll be hitting blows of a similar length from the tee, as well as from the fairway. Now a two-time Major champion, he's clearly got the mind game, as well as shots in the locker, to contend and looks set to have another tilt at a Major title.

Home state vibes

Thus far, Viktor Hovland has an oddly solid, rather than impressive, record in the Majors. As an amateur, he finished T32nd at the 2019 Masters and then T12th at the same year's US Open.

He's now played nine Majors and has always landed a top 40 when he's completed the tournament (he's had one withdrawal), but T12th remains his best effort and he's yet to have genuinely been in the hunt at the weekend. That lack of experience in the white heat of major battle is the missing piece in the puzzle, otherwise he'd have a great chance on "home" soil.

Why so? Well, Oklahoma is where Hovland went to college and he still resides in the state. Moreover, he frequently cites his Oklahoma background as the reason for his strong golf in windy conditions. Should blustery conditions prevail in May, we can assume that he'll be prepared.

The Colonial Factor

That the course features plenty of doglegs immediately draws archiect Maxwell into the equation because Colonial CC is another course with a lot of tight holes that turn corners.

That similarity suggests Jason Kokrak, third at Colonial in 2020 and the winner there in 2021. Moreover, Kokrak is flush with confidence right now, having landed three PGA Tour wins in 2020 and 2021.

You could add victory in the QBE Shootout earlier this month to that tally. Not only did he play like a man now used to winning, but he wouldn't be the first golfer to win late in the year and kick on to win a Major the following year. Silly season events have a funny habit of gifting a player more confidence.

In truth, he has a very poor record in the Majors. In fact, he's still seeking a first top 10 after 19 appearances, but his T14th in the Masters was a career-best.

In the sweet-spot

If a golfer wins multiple Majors they tend to do so in a short period of time. Hideki Matsuyama is yet to add to his Masters triumph last year, but did defend his title in smart fashion.

If he can remain free of the injury problems he's suffered this year, it's worth noting that of current players who have played at least three PGA Championships he owns the fifth-best adjusted score average. It's a consequence of going 9-for-9 in the event, landing two top five finishes.

READ MORE: A new Battle of Brookline: Looking ahead to the 2022 US Open at The Country Club in Massachusetts

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