The PGA Championship: An in-depth look at the leading seven contenders

The year’s second Major Championship returns to Kiawah Island for the first time since Rory McIlroy trounced the field by eight strokes in 2012.

Golf's Major Championships are coming at us thick and fast at the moment.

By the time we've enjoyed the fourth of this year we'll have witnessed no less than seven of them in less than 12 months.

Riches for those of us watching and potential riches for those who tee it up as well.

Not that money is the dominant focus this week. Instead the players are seeking to make a breakthrough at the top of the game or maybe just add to their legacy.

Rory McIlroy is definitely in the latter category and his chances of winning an elusive fifth Major are greatly improved following his win at this month's Wells Fargo Championship.

But for World No. 1 it is a different story: Dustin Johnson is seeking to arrest a down turn in both form and fitness.

Let's take a closer look at the leading seven contenders before Thursday's first round at Kiawah Island.

Rory McIlroy

There's something very, very Rory McIlroy about the current state of his game.

He departed Bay Hill in March with a glum face, he missed the cut at Sawgrass, couldn't reach the knockout stages of the WGC Dell Match Play, and was packing his bags before the weekend at the Masters.

Most golfers would need to tenderly nurse their swing and psyche after that, but McIlroy just pottered off to Quail Hollow, won there for a third time, and now returns to Kiawah Island, scene of his eight shot victory in this tournament in 2012, as the bookie's favourite.

Of course, it was a far from straightforward change in direction. It needed a new swing coach, a chat with Dr Bob Rotella, a trip to see Brad Faxon about his putting, a lot of hard work and a ton of self belief. But it was worth it and the game is always better for the sight of two-time PGA Championship winner McIlroy walking down the fairways with a bounce in his step.

Best price 11/1 with Unibet - can he win a first Major since 2014?

Jon Rahm

In one sense all is well in new dad Jon Rahm's world. In another he's looking a little like a bear who just plunged his hand in a beehive.

He finished fifth at the Masters last month, but in truth he was understandably distracted by the recent addition to the family and landed that finish with a fast finish of 66 having never been in-contention.

Rahm is still seeking a first Major win.
Rahm is still seeking a first Major win.

His next start witnessed a missed cut, his first since June last year, and he could manage only T34th last week in the AT&T Byron Nelson - far from the worst result in the world but he's only finished outside the top 30 eight times since this time in 2019 so to do so twice in a fortnight is a bit off piste.

Best price 14/1 with William Hill - can he land a second tournament top five in his fifth start?

Justin Thomas

The way in which Justin Thomas finished like a train in THE PLAYERS Championship was one of the highlights of the season.

He carded 64-68 to not only catch the leaders Lee Westwood and Bryson DeChambeau, but set them a target they were unable to match. It was a third high quality victory in the last two calender years, to sit alongside last year's Tournament of Champions and WGC St Jude Invitational wins.

But he'll be a little frustrated that he's not recorded a second major championship win and, in fact, has a rather underwhelming five top 10s from 21 starts in the big events.

Best price 14/1 with Unibet - can he lift this trophy for a second time?

Bryson DeChambeau

The one thing you know you'll get with Bryson DeChambeau is a story and he's proved as much in the Majors since the return from lockdown.

At last year's PGA Championship he grabbed a share of fourth and a few weeks later he lifted the US Open trophy, a first Major success.

Can DeChambeau tame Kiawah with his big-hitting?
Can DeChambeau tame Kiawah with his big-hitting?

But later in the year, and again last month, he thrashed his way round Augusta National like a malfunctioning machine, nothing like the battering ram which won at Bay Hill and then nearly added further success at Sawgrass.

Best price 16/1 with William Hill - will the enormous course suit his big-hitting or will the wind blow him off track?

Jordan Spieth

Rory McIlroy is far from the only golfer to have enjoyed a revival in 2021 and Jordan Spieth's is arguably even more impressive.

He had, after all, not claimed a win since the 2017 Open, but he's been complete breath of fresh air all 2021.

He began the year reminding himself what it was like to contend, always insisting that he was a work in progress, never scared of admitting the difficulties.

And in so doing he earned the win when it finally came at the Texas Open, followed by third at the Masters.

Best price 16/1 with William Hill - will his brush with Covid after the Masters have taken it out of him?

Dustin Johnson

Golf is not a game in which it pays to get carried away.

In truth, there's no reason to suspect Dustin Johnson thought he had the sport licked, but there were folk who started talking of Tiger-like results when he went ten tournaments never finishing worse than T11th with four wins.

So what happened next? Six starts, one top 25 and that was a mere T13th. Wack, wack, oops.

The problems had actually begun within the hot spell: he putted poorly when winning in Saudi Arabia (on Paspalum greens which he will face again this week) and soon his driving went the same way, then the rest of his game.

Best price 18/1 with William Hill - he withdrew last week with injury, will it present more problems this week?

Xander Schauffele

The Major Championship machine - when it comes to logging top 10s, that is.

Xander Schauffele owns eight of them in just 15 starts (and only four times has he finished outside the top 20).

It's a superb record, testament to his superb all-round game, calm demeanour, and understanding of what is needed in elite company when chasing the biggest prizes.

But his most recent experience of the big event, in the last group during the final round of the Masters, was a bit of a blow: he went backwards on the front nine and, when he recovered, he quickly regressed again.

Best price 22/1 with William Hill - will be bounce back from his Augusta National experience?

READ MORE: Kiawah Island clues: what the top players know about next week’s PGA Championship venue

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