Tiger Woods' surgically repaired back held him back again Sunday when he withdrew from the 2014 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. With just days left before the 2014 PGA Championship—the year's final major—his status is very much in doubt.
So, where does that leave the rest of the field?
It should surprise nobody that Rory McIlroy is the resounding favorite to win at Valhalla Golf Club over the weekend, according to Vegas Insider. As if he needed another showcase after his epic British Open victory, the Northern Irish star took the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational to become the world No. 1.
But things will be wide open between many of the top contenders who are able to generate low scores or stay within a few shots of the leader until their time comes.
Tensions and stakes are high entering the year's final major. Although the Ryder Cup looms for the best of Europe and the USA, nothing competes with the allure of chasing a major championship.
Let's break down the latest odds and predict how this year's tournament will unfold.
Note: Odds updated as of Aug. 4, 2014.
Rory Will Keep Inconsistencies at Bay
At the moment, it's looking like no golfer is capable of competing with McIlroy when he's on his game.
And he certainly has been these past few weeks. He tore through the British Open in a way we haven't seen in years, and even magnificent closing rounds from top golfers weren't enough to seriously threaten him down the stretch for his third major.
The 25-year-old wasn't done there. Not two weeks after his emotional win at Royal Liverpool, he headed into the PGA Championship tuneup at the Bridgestone and took home another trophy.
ESPN's SportsCenter recapped his recent accomplishments:
Rory McIlroy becomes No. 1 in World Golf Ranking with his 2nd straight win. In last 2 tournaments, he's won $3,195,788.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 3, 2014
McIlroy didn't post two opening rounds of 66 at Firestone Country Club like he did at the British Open, but his recent form was undeniable after he closed with a 66 to eliminate a three-shot deficit.
Early rounds of dominance are to be expected from McIlroy when he's clicking, but his most recent win confirmed that he can pull through tournaments even when he doesn't dominate early on.
Winning three tournaments in a row—especially when two of those are majors—is borderline impossible in a sport that features so many elite golfers who can get hot at any time. If McIlroy were to do so, this month-long span might become one of the most impressive stretches in the sport's history.
At this point, a strong performance and a top-10 finish will be enough for McIlroy to sustain all of the momentum he's built in the latter part of the season.
Tiger Will Not Play
A golfer's third tournament back from a serious injury is a good time to judge said golfer on how healthy he is, along with the strides—or lack thereof—he's making in his game.
If that's the case, Woods is in some serious trouble.
Woods sputtered throughout the weekend in his third event since returning from back surgery, and on Sunday, the inevitable became the obvious. Seemingly every swing was met with a grimace, which got worse and worse until Woods eventually withdrew on the ninth tee.
Should Tiger Woods play this weekend?
His status is currently uncertain, according to The Associated Press' Doug Ferguson, via PGA.com. But Woods' own recent history should prove that this short turnaround is nothing to mess with.
Earlier this year, before his back surgery, Woods withdrew late from the Honda Classic—only to return a week later at the WGC-Cadillac and reaggravate the injury, leading to the surgery that kept him out for months.
Woods is a shell of himself while battling this nagging back injury, and he'll have no legitimate shot of competing with golf's best until he's at 100 percent health. Especially now that he's on the outside of the Ryder Cup looking in, Woods would be best to focus on 2015.
Jordan Spieth Will Win PGA Championship
Just days after his 21st birthday, Jordan Spieth has seemingly done it all in golf—except close in on his first major championship.
The former University of Texas standout has shown multiple times this year that his fantastic 2013 season wasn't a fluke. A near win at the 2014 Masters and a playoff victory at the John Deere Classic have put him in the same conversation as McIlroy, Woods, Phil Mickelson and other top golfers who assume the favorite role entering most majors.
KEYE's Adam Winkler sarcastically wondered when the young Spieth would ever make a name for himself:
Happy birthday to Jordan Spieth. You're 21 now, kid. Time to actually go out & do something with your life. #Slacker— Adam Winkler (@WinklerKEYE) July 27, 2014
Well, he's already done so. Spieth boasts a strong overall game with pinpoint accuracy, timely putting and the consistency to rarely—if ever—put together a few bad holes in a row.
Even with less power than other top golfers, Spieth has been right in the thick of things in golf's biggest tournaments. What's more, he showed in this year's Masters that he can play his best with everything on the line—something foreign to most young players.
McIlroy cannot be counted on to duplicate his recent outings. Woods may not even make it to Valhalla, and no other top name outside of Sergio Garcia could run away with things. Spieth is consistent, poised and skilled enough to win any tournament he enters, and he'll close the 2014 major circuit with his first of many majors.