The 2014 PGA Championship may turn into another Rory McIlroy romp if his recent form holds up. McIlroy won his third major at The Open Championship, and then backed it up with his first World Golf Championship win at the Bridgestone Invitational last week.
In the aftermath of that last victory, McIlroy eclipsed Adam Scott for the top spot in the world rankings, becoming the prohibitive PGA favorite.
Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, is the venue for the last major of the season, last hosting the PGA Championship in 2000. Tiger Woods defeated Bob May in a playoff that year, which was one of the highlights from Woods' dominant days as the king of golf.
It's unclear whether Woods will even tee it up this week after he withdrew at Firestone last week during the final round when he reaggravated his back injury. However, Golf Channel's Jason Sobel notes the action Woods took before the tournament that suggests he may give it a shot:
Tiger Woods receives registration extension past Tuesday 5 p.m. deadline. Hmm. Guys who definitely aren't playing don't ask for extensions.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) August 5, 2014
In any event, it seems that McIlroy may be emerging as the premier player to beat, but as Golf Central points out, the world's elite are entering the PGA playing quite well:
The top-5 players in the world are all peeking at the right time. pic.twitter.com/Fu2qvk5YsS— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) August 5, 2014
Let's take a look at some of the notable groups to watch in the first two rounds and some other vital Valhalla information.
Note: Statistics were obtained via PGATour.com unless otherwise indicated.
When: Thursday, August 7, through Sunday, August 10
Where: Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky
Tee Times: For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds, visit PGATour.com.
Winner's Share: $1,800,000
FedEx Cup Points: 600
|Thursday, August 7||1-7 p.m.||TNT|
|Friday, August 8||1-7 p.m.||TNT|
|Saturday, August 9||11 a.m. - 2 p.m.; 2-7 p.m.||TNT; CBS|
|Sunday, August 10||11 a.m. - 2 p.m.; 2-7 p.m.||TNT; CBS|
Analyzing Marquee Groups
Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer
Yes, these are the past three major winners, but they also experienced career-altering moments at the same PGA Championship in 2010. McIlroy missed just about every putt he looked at in the final round, including one on the 72nd hole from 15 feet to get into a playoff with Watson and Kaymer.
When Kaymer beat Watson for the Wanamaker Trophy, the German star seemed to confirm his status as an elite player and eventually rose to No. 1 in the world. To say the least, golf has changed quite a bit since then.
McIlroy blew a 54-hole lead at the next major thereafter, the 2011 Masters, and then blew out the field at the U.S. Open at Congressional by eight strokes. The next year at Augusta National, it was Watson's turn for a major breakthrough, but the 2012 campaign was defined by McIlroy's dominance at the end, when he locked up a PGA Championship triumph by an unprecedented eight shots.
Watson slipped on the green jacket again in 2014; then, Kaymer burst back onto the PGA Tour scene by winning the prestigious Players Championship. Kaymer backed that up with an eight-stroke romp at the U.S. Open.
Having two players whose games suit the PGA Championship so well in his immediate proximity ought to push McIlroy to keep his recent momentum going. It appears that McIlroy is only continuing to grow as a player—and in a literal, physical way, per Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman:
Rory McIlroy said he's gained 6.6 lbs of muscle mass in the last 8 weeks. By the way, he won a major & a WGC in that stretch.— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) August 5, 2014
Although McIlroy is still far short of his prime, he could be starting the best stretch of golf in his career. Watson and Kaymer are more or less coming into their own and reaching their respective peaks, so this trio ought to be one of the best to watch.
McIlroy has to be the favorite at this tournament and to be named the player of the year. But if Kaymer added a second major to his two prior landmark wins, he'd make a strong case, as would Watson with two Grand Slam wins.
Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott and Lee Westwood
One of the top challengers to McIlroy for years to come figures to be Spieth, who just turned 21 and has already featured in the top 10 of the world rankings.
A slight dip in form, combined with McIlroy's surge and the stellar major championship play of American compatriot Rickie Fowler, has taken the spotlight off Spieth for a while. He enters the PGA at Valhalla as under the radar as he's been all season.
Spieth has yet to win in the 2013-14 campaign, but he has performed consistently well on the biggest stages, per Golf Central:
Jordan Spieth has not won in 2014… But he’s been close: pic.twitter.com/Erdh7A4UzR— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) August 5, 2014
Having just lost his No. 1 ranking to McIlroy despite tying for eighth at Firestone, Scott knows what's at stake this week. Adding a second major in as many years to go with his 2013 Masters would boost Scott's profile and be a nice way to serve notice that he isn't going to back down.
Defeating someone as mighty as McIlroy is far easier said than done at the moment, but Scott isn't backing down from the challenge, per ESPN Golf:
While Spieth has plenty of time to prove himself and collect multiple majors, Scott has overcome a slump after a promising start to his career to become a perennial major contender.
In Lee Westwood's case, he is still searching for his maiden major. Golf analyst Steve Elling points out how many close calls Westwood has had over the years:
With eight, Lee Westwood owns the most top-3 finishes in the majors without a victory since inception of the Masters in 1934.— Steve Elling (@EllingYelling) June 11, 2014
It's been a down year for Westwood. With the Ryder Cup approaching and his window to notch a major victory closing, though, he has as much to play for as ever. The good news is that he comes to Valhalla in fine form, having shot a final-round, seven-under 63 at Firestone to salvage a tie for 19th.
That brilliant display may have been a mere aberration—or it could be just the spark Westwood needed to finish the 2014 calendar year in style.
Padraig Harrington, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods
Which group will produce the 2014 PGA Championship winner?
Ever since Mickelson won the Claret Jug at the 2013 Open Championship, he's struggled to accomplish much of anything between the ropes. What has been a lost season thus far could be rectified in a big way if Mickelson managed to win his sixth Grand Slam tournament and second PGA at week's end.
Adding to the intrigue is the mystery surrounding Woods' status, which should be definitively known soon enough. The relations between Mickelson and Woods have traditionally been a bit chilly, so watching them go head-to-head will be fascinating, presuming Woods is fit enough to play.
Then there's Padraig Harrington, a three-time major winner whose last such triumph came at the 2008 PGA Championship. Before the Irish stalwart was in action at last week's Barracuda Championship, The Associated Press' Doug Ferguson brought up an interesting fact that is also applicable this week:
Padraig Harrington at No. 254 in the world this week. Last time he was out of the top 250, Tiger was a sophomore at Stanford.— Doug Ferguson (@dougferguson405) July 28, 2014
It's all gone downhill for Harrington. All three of the decorated veterans in this group have suffered through their share of recent struggles, so maybe Mickelson, Woods and Harrington can all feed off each other, play well and make the PGA Championship that much more exciting.
To close, here is some perspective from the Golf Channel's Justin Ray about Woods' greatness and how it relates to McIlroy:
Rory to world no. 1: last OWGR no 1 not named Tiger Woods to win a major was Fred Couples at 1992 Masters.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) August 3, 2014
For years, Woods dealt with impossible expectations, evident health problems and still won majors and reigned supreme at No. 1 in the world. Modern golf is indeed as deep as ever, so McIlroy has his work cut out to emulate the consistency Woods achieved when he was at his apex. Comparisons will only persist the better McIlroy fares moving forward, though.
That may not be fair, but Woods revolutionized the game and pushed the limits of what fans thought was possible. When McIlroy is clicking, he brings to mind Woods, Nicklaus and any legend to precede him.
Stiff competition awaits him at the 2014 PGA Championship, but McIlroy has a golden opportunity to take a huge step forward in his career.