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PGA Championship has plenty of legitimate candidates to be first-time major winners

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The PGA Championship gets a bit of a bad rap at times for being the major championship that produces first-time major winners, and sometimes major winners who never win another major again.

Think about names like Collin Morikawa, Rich Beem, Keegan Bradley, Mark Brooks, Jimmy Walker, and even Jason Day and Justin Thomas. They have all won the PGA Championship as their first major win and, at least for now, their only major win.

The bad rap is that other major championships produce first-time winners who have yet to win another major. Francesco Molinari, Henrik Stenson and Shane Lowry have won three of the past four British Opens as their only major titles. Hideki Matsuyama, Danny Willett, Patrick Reed and Sergio Garcia fall into the same category at the Masters, and Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Gary Woodland and Bryson DeChambeau are one-and- done (so far) major winners in the past eight U.S. Opens.

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But the PGA Championship certainly holds the image of the surprise or first-time winner for men’s major golf events. With the championship being played this week on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina, home of a past PGA Championship and a Ryder Cup, the question is obvious: Which golfer will break through for his first major win this week in the wind and sand dunes?

Jon Rahm plays his shot from the 16th fairway during the second round of the AT&T Byron Nelson golf tournament in McKinney, Texas on May 14, 2021.
Jon Rahm plays his shot from the 16th fairway during the second round of the AT&T Byron Nelson golf tournament in McKinney, Texas on May 14, 2021.

Here are some familiar and perhaps not-so-familiar names to look for this week:

1. Jon Rahm: Rahm's name has to be at the top of the list since he's the No. 3 player in the world rankings but is still without a major win. He has six top-10 finishes in majors including a tie for fifth in the Masters last month. The Spanish star is too good to go much longer without a major win, and the Ocean Course just might suit him. But he might not want to go too much longer without a major and let the doubters start to speak up.

2. Viktor Hovland: Like Morikawa last year, Hovland is a rising star who isn’t just going to be satisfied winning regular PGA Tour events. He has six top-10 finishes during the 2020-21 PGA Tour season, including one win and a third-place finish in each of his past two starts. He is the hot player coming into the event, but does he have the major experience with just three major starts as a pro?

3. Xander Schaffele: If it's a major championship, you can expect to see Schaffele’s name on the leaderboard at some point. That's been true for the past few years now, as the former San Diego State star has eight top-10s in majors since 2017. That includes the past three majors he's played. There has to be a breakthrough at some point, but like Rahm, Schaffele would rather win a major sooner than later and get the major pressure off now.

4. Max Homa: You could probably win a bar bet by telling people that Homa is one of the top 50 players in the world. Most people haven't paid attention to Homa, who is 40th in the Official World Rankings and has two wins in the past three years. Those wins came on tough courses like Quail Hollow and Riviera, both major championship layouts with strong fields. Plus he has Phil Mickelson's old caddie on his bag this week. So why not now?

5. Christiaan Bezuidenhout: No, the South African star doesn’t have an easy name to pronounce, but he does have a game that is easy to watch. He's 41st in the Official World Rankings, but has never won in the United States. In fact, he's never been in the top-five in a PGA Tour event, though he has seven international wins. That sounds like a dark horse candidate, doesn’t it?

Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or larry.bohannan@desertsun.com. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @Larry_Bohannan. Support local journalism: Subscribe to the Desert Sun.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: PGA Championship 2021: Field full of possible first-time major winners