The last major tournament of the golf season is nearly upon us, and the PGA Championship looks like it will be a fitting conclusion to the PGA Tour's slate of marquee events.
Rory McIlroy's final-day surge at the Bridgestone Invitational has opened the Northern Irishman as the heavy favorite. For the second week in a row, he got the better of Sergio Garcia, who must wonder if making the trip to Valhalla Golf Club is even worth the trouble.
Garcia and McIlroy are just two of the golfers commanding a ton of attention during the preparation for the PGA Championship. Here is a snippet of the news making early waves, along with two predictions for how the tournament will unfold.
Rory McIlroy Jumps into No. 1
With the victory in Akron, Ohio, McIlroy supplanted Adam Scott as the best golfer in the world, at least in the eyes of the Official World Golf Rankings. He sits 91.67 points ahead of the 2013 Masters champion. The last time McIlroy was No. 1 in the world was March 2013, per ESPN Stats and Info:
Rory McIlroy wins his 2nd straight start and will regain the World's Number 1 ranking for the first time since March 2013.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 3, 2014
He acknowledged after the final round at the Bridgestone Invitational that his triumph at the Open Championship will only go so far. He's got to remain focused on each tournament as it comes, per ESPN.com's Bob Harig:
That's the most pleasing thing about this week is not dwelling on what happened at Hoylake and just keep moving forward. That's what I'll have to do after this as well. I've just got to keep moving forward. I've got plenty of time at the end of the year to celebrate all these successes.
Garcia also rose in the rankings after the weekend, jumping from fifth to third, a little less than a hundred points behind Scott.
Golfers generally aren't judged solely by how many weeks they topped the world rankings, but having McIlroy displace Scott adds an interesting storyline heading into the PGA Championship. They're the two best golfers in the world, and they'll attempt to settle the score once again at Valhalla.
Tiger Woods' Status Remains Unknown
This is what golf fans everywhere feared. No matter how much Tiger Woods' camp attempted to spin his most recent microdiscectomy in a positive manner, major doubts remained as to whether the 38-year-old would ever fully recover.
2014 has been a disaster so far for Woods. His 69th-place finish at The Open Championship wasn't an outlier. He withdrew from the Bridgestone Invitational on the ninth hole Sunday afternoon. After his drive off the tee, Tiger was in a visible amount of pain. Even picking up his tee was a chore.
"He has to rest and get treatment and assess later," said Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, in regard to his client's chances of playing in the PGA Championship, per USA Today's Steve DiMeglio. "Pointless to make that decision (on playing) now without proper time to give him the best chance."
Tom Watson was witness to Woods' performance at Firestone and could tell that something was clearly off with the star. He discussed the topic in an interview with SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio, via ESPN.com:
I watched him play almost the entire front nine. And the shot he had at 5 ... I said, 'Something's wrong with Tiger.' You don't hit that terrible a shot ever—ever. And then, of course, No. 9, he just couldn't go any farther. It concerns me because that's an injury that seems like he tried to address before and he's come back from that particular injury.
Even if Woods makes a return, how good could he possibly be at Valhalla? Is his back going to recover that quickly?
Having Tiger might add to the buzz surrounding the PGA Championship, but he'd be a complete non-factor if he played.
Rory McIlroy Won't Finish in Top Five
Winning one major tournament is hard enough. Winning two back to back is highly improbable. Since World War I, only 12 golfers have accomplished the feat. We're talking a dozen different stars over the span of a century. McIlroy's looking at long odds, even if VegasInsider.com listed him as the favorite.
Few will argue with the opinion that McIlroy's the best golfer in the world. He proved that at Hoylake at Firestone. But that doesn't mean he's a shoo-in to take the PGA Championship.
So much has to go right for a golfer in order to win a major. Being supremely talented simply isn't enough. It takes the perfect confluence of events—performance, weather, avoiding injury, getting the right bounce, how your opponents do, etc.
Rory should play well and be in contention throughout the tournament. Picking up his second major of the year, though, will be a bridge too far.
Charl Schwartzel Will Be the Dark Horse
Charl Schwartzel has won exactly one tournament on the PGA Tour. That one victory just so happened to be the 2011 Masters.
The 29-year-old has struck out on the PGA Tour this year but has one win on the European Tour, at the Alfred Dunhill Championship. His results on both tours have been somewhat erratic throughout the year.
Schwartzel has five top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this year but missed the cut at both the Masters and U.S. Open. He also finished 48th at The Players Championship.
When Schwartzel's on his game, though, he can find himself right in the thick of things, as evidenced by his seventh-place finish at The Open Championship and fourth-place showing at the Bridgestone Invitational. That's allowed Schwartzel to build some confidence going into the PGA Championship.
The chance certainly remains that he could completely collapse in the first two rounds and miss the cut altogether, but don't be surprised if he makes a run for the top of the leaderboard.