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Golf Pick ‘Em: PGA Championship matchup breakdowns

Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Golf Pick ‘Em is back for another season of picks and prizes in the NBC Sports Predictor app.

The free-to-play game has returned in 2021 and continues this week with the PGA Championship. Each week participants will choose between a series of head-to-head matchups, plus select an overall tournament champion and winning score.

Participants can compete for weekly cash prizes, with a $50,000 jackpot available for any participants who earn a perfect score (increasing up to $100,000 during some of the biggest events of the year). There will also be at least $1,000 awarded each week in cash and prizes, even if there is no player with a perfect score. With the second major of the year, this week’s jackpot at Kiawah has been increased to $100,000.


Here’s a look at some of the keys to this week’s set of 10 matchups on the Ocean Course, where Rory McIlroy won nine years ago and where Collin Morikawa will defend the title he claimed last year at TPC Harding Park:

Rory McIlroy vs. Justin Thomas

Keys: The last time the PGA was held on the Ocean Course, McIlroy cruised to an eight-shot win and his second career major. He comes in with added confidence from his victory two weeks ago at Quail Hollow, his first since late 2019. Thomas won The Players earlier this year and earned his lone major title at the PGA in 2017, when it was held on the course where McIlroy won earlier this month. Both are among the top pre-tournament favorites.

Edge: Thomas

Dustin Johnson vs. Brooks Koepka

Keys: This is the matchup with the biggest question marks. Johnson made an abrupt withdrawal from the Nelson last week, citing recurring knee issues, and has been in a relative slump since February which included his Masters title defense. Koepka played in Dallas but missed the cut, once again showing that his surgically repaired knee is not yet 100 percent after another early exit in Augusta. He won this tournament twice in 2018 and 2019, beating Johnson in the latter at Bethpage, but hasn’t played 72 holes since late February.

Edge: Johnson

Collin Morikawa vs. Hideki Matsuyama

Keys: The defending champ against the Masters champ. Morikawa broke through for his first major last year in San Francisco, and he followed with a win earlier this year at the WGC-Workday Championship in Florida. Matsuyama flew home to Japan after his stirring win at Augusta National, and returned to action last week at the Nelson where he finished T-39. Two of the best ball-strikers in the field who can sometimes struggle on the greens.

Edge: Morikawa

Bryson DeChambeau vs. Jordan Spieth

Keys: The U.S. Open champ against the man looking to round out the career Grand Slam. DeChambeau didn’t have to burn any extra jet fuel at the Nelson, where he finished T-55, while Spieth notched his first career top-10 finish at his hometown event. Both men have won earlier this year, with DeChambeau taking the title at Bay Hill and Spieth breaking his victory drought at the Valero.

Edge: DeChambeau

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Jon Rahm vs. Xander Schauffele

Keys: The two highest-ranked players in the world without a major. Rahm finished T-34 last week in Dallas and will be looking to contend at the PGA for the third time in the last four years. Schauffele is still in the midst of a two-plus year victory drought, having narrowly missed out on a win earlier this year in Phoenix and again at the Masters, but he’s now up to No. 4 in the world after finishes of T-18 or better in 12 of his 14 starts this season.

Edge: Schauffele

Viktor Hovland vs. Patrick Reed

Keys: Hovland is back in form again, having brushed off a sluggish few weeks with T-3 finishes at both Innisbrook and Quail Hollow, and he’ll look to follow his former college opponent on the list of PGA winners. Reed won earlier this year at Torrey Pines and finished T-8 or better in two of his last three starts, including the Masters.

Edge: Reed

Justin Rose vs. Ian Poulter

Keys: These two Englishmen should feel pretty comfortable on the Ocean Course, as both finished T-3 at the 2012 PGA played here. Rose made a run at the Masters and appears to have put the back injury issues from earlier this year behind him, while Poulter missed the cut at Quail Hollow with his son, Luke, on the bag as caddie.

Edge: Poulter

Tony Finau vs. Webb Simpson

Keys: Finau will look to continue his red-hot run of form in the majors, with seven top-10 finishes in his last 10 major starts. He enters off a missed cut at Quail Hollow, while Simpson has not played since a T-9 finish at the RBC Heritage. He missed the cut at Kiawah in 2012, months after winning the U.S. Open.

Edge: Finau

Sam Burns vs. Will Zalatoris

Keys: Two of the hottest younger players on Tour, as Burns followed his maiden win at Valspar with a runner-up showing Sunday at the Nelson. Zalatoris finished T-17 in Dallas after leading the field in SG: Approach and is just weeks removed from a runner-up finish in his Masters debut.

Edge: Burns

Phil Mickelson vs. Rickie Fowler

Keys: Two marquee names who head to South Carolina ranked outside the top 100 in the world. Mickelson won the PGA back in 2005 and finished T-36 here in 2012, while Fowler missed the cut that week. He also missed the cut last week in Dallas, while Mickelson held the 18-hole lead at Quail Hollow two weeks ago before failing to break 75 over the subsequent three rounds.

Edge: Fowler