Valhalla Golf Club is the backdrop Thursday for the world's best at the 2014 PGA Championship, which includes a red-hot Rory McIlroy and may or may not see Tiger Woods compete.
McIlroy himself is an obvious favorite less than a week removed from a dominant performance at the Bridgestone Invitational, especially given his track record at the tournament.
On the other hand, Woods withdrew from the site of McIlroy's dominance with an injury, and his status is very much up in the air, as noted by CBS Sports' Eye on Golf:
Regardless, the course in Louisville, Kentucky, is no joke. This weekend marks just the third time it has hosted the event, with the last being some 14 years ago. Below, let's project who will be the best and worst of the bunch based on momentum, prior performances at the tournament and more.
Best: Rory McIlroy
The No. 1 player in the world shows no signs of slowing down, to say the least.
Perhaps it was Jim Nantz who put it best recently, as captured by CBS Sports:
It is quite the fair question considering McIlroy has now won his last two starts in rather dominant fashion. A 17-under-par performance at The Open Championship set the tone, which was followed up by the triumph at the Bridgestone Invitational in which he never posted a scorecard above 69 and tallied a ridiculous 1.359 strokes gained putting average.
If that is not convincing enough, remember that McIlroy is the guy who won the PGA Championship in 2012 by a record eight strokes that was last set by Jack Nicklaus in 1980.
Last year, he wound up in 13th, and we certainly don't have anything from 2000 to work with in regard to the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club, but there is enough evidence to circle McIlroy's name in red pen as the favorite.
Anything outside of a first-place finish will be a disappointment.
Worst: Phil Mickelson
One participant we do have the 2000 data on is Mr. Phil Mickelson, and really, it's not all that bad. That year, he tied for ninth.
The problem lies in his recent output, both at the tournament and on the season as a whole.
Mickelson's best recent finish at the PGA Championship came in 2010 when he finished 12th. But that regressed into 19th, 56th and 72nd the next three years. If that is not the epitome of a downward spiral, nothing is.
For his part, though, Lefty is happy with how things shook out in the last week and change, as captured by ESPN.com's Bob Harig:
This was a big day for me heading into next week because I feel like I'm not trying to search and find it on Thursday. I feel like my game is right there. I have a little bit of momentum heading in, and I don't feel like I'm searching as much. I feel like I found what I'm looking for. I just have to keep it going and build on today's round and put together four good, solid rounds.
The problem is, words are great, but results are even better. He does not have a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour, has missed three cuts and has been rather ho-hum in terms of any and all leaderboards, sans a second-place finish in Abu Dhabi near the start of the season.
It all adds up to another quiet four rounds from the fading superstar.
Best: Sergio Garcia
It has been a ridiculous journey for Sergio Garcia at the PGA Championship over the years, with most great finishes followed by a cut or disqualification. In 2000, he tied for 34th and was cut the next year before tying for 10th.
That was followed by two straight cuts.
Alright, so history is not great. But if there is one thing that can overrule the history books in this sport, it is recent momentum.
Garcia has a whole lot of that. Just ask him:
The world No. 3 has three consecutive second-place finishes to his name, all of which have seen him tally 70 percent or better in the greens in regulation department. At the Travelers Championship, he had a strokes gained putting average of .684, with the number rising to a superb 1.083 this past week.
The owner of eight top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season, Garcia simply seems due. If there is one man in the proceedings this weekend who can remain consistent and meet McIlroy head-on, it's him.
Worst: Patrick Reed
Poor Patrick Reed.
At 24 years old, Mr. Reed got a bit in over his head when he decided to call himself a top-five player.
Back near the end of April, a tad after that proclamation, Reed missed four of five cuts. He then bounced back for 11th place at Quicken Loans National and 26th the week after at his next start.
And then missed another cut.
Golf Channel's Jason Sobel captured the iffy track record best this past weekend, when Reed managed to get his act back together and come in fourth place:
So yes, the top 10 so close to this weekend's event is great, as is the 1.023 strokes gained putting average. But consistency has been an issue, and to make matters worse, Reed has been cut twice and finished 35th at the prior three major championships this year.
Every time it seems Reed is finally back on track, he falters. Add in what appears to be a case of nerves on a major stage for a rather young player, and this weekend does not seem as if it will be one to remember for Reed.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of PGATour.com unless otherwise indicated.
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