The PGA Championship has been energised by its move in the calendar, who can contend in 2022?

Phil Mickelson will head to Oklahoma to defend the title he won in such remarkable fashion at Kiawah Island in 2021.

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 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. This 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?

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 CC in Fort Worth, the long-term home of the PGA Tour's Charles Schwab Challenge.

It's hosted three US Opens (the most recently in 2001, when won by Retief Goosen), four PGA Championships, and two US Amateurs (Ben An won there in 2009).

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 has wowed with his approach work and Southern Hills in effect provides him with more of them, in the sense that he'll be hitting shots 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 a 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 seven 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. It would be surprising if that doesn't change in 2022 and, if he can gain some experience of contending at Augusta, he will have a great chance at Southern Hills.

The track is in Oklahoma where Hovland went to college and where he still resides. Moreover, he frequently cites not only his ability to play in wind, but the fact that his Oklahoma background is the reason for it. Should blustery conditions prevail in May, we can assume that he'll be prepared.

He also ended 2021 on fire, successfully defending his World Wide Technology Championship title at Mayakoba and then defeating the elite field at Tiger Woods' Hero World Challenge.

The Colonial Factor

The notion that the course features plenty of doglegs immediately draws Maxwell's other design at Colonial into the equation - because that is another course with a lot of tight holes that turn corners.

Which 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 his last 29 starts.

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 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 in April 2021 and the chances are that he won't defend his title. There will be lots of media attention for him to deal with (not his favourite activity) and Bubba Watson has twice struggled with the defence of a green jacket for that very reason.

But Matsuyama may therefore play the PGA with an element of freedom and of current players who have played at least three 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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