Tiger Woods is good to go for the 2014 PGA Championship, and that's great. But if you're waiting around for Eldrick to return to his peak form before you start paying attention to the sport again, you're going to miss a lot of good golf.
Woods has been pretty much nonexistent in 2014. He missed the Masters and the U.S. Open with a back injury and finished 69th at The Open Championship. He has one top-25 finish and is 217th in the FedEx Cup Standings. Still, golf could hardly be in a better place right now.
Rory McIlroy, winner of his last two tournaments, including The Open Championship, is at the very top of his game, and he's an absolute joy to watch. Adam Scott has been a wonderfully consistent force at majors. Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler represent the blindingly bright future of the sport.
It's not just the talent at the top, either. Parity is also alive and well. In the last 11 majors, nine different players have been victorious. And that list doesn't include Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson or Matt Kuchar, all of whom are top-six golfers in the world.
Yahoo Sports' Shane Bacon put it simply:
Tiger aside, Rory, Sergio, Adam, Justin, Rickie, Henrik, Snedeker and Lee all playing well. Not to mention Phil’s 62. Next week will be fun— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) August 3, 2014
No matter how Woods is playing, Valhalla Golf Club should provide yet another scintillating major.
Here's a look at the updated leaderboard along with some notable Thursday groupings.
Day 1 Leaderboard
Day 1 Pairings to Watch
Note: You can find all first-round tee times here, courtesy of PGA.com.
Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington (8:35 a.m. ET)
So yeah, Tiger's 2014 troubles are well-documented, and we just got done noting how the sport is thriving without him. Phil Mickelson's season has also been marred by inconsistency, although he has been playing better as of late.
But come on.
It's Tiger and Phil. Eldrick and Lefty. Two golfers who will forever be entwined in the history books, two golfers who will forever be compared to each other and the two biggest names in the sport.
As ESPN.com's Bob Harig noted, it's a dream pairing:
PGA of America just announced: Tiger, Phil, Padraig first two rounds of PGA. Tiger, Phil together ... like almost never— Bob Harig (@BobHarig) August 1, 2014
Expectations in this group will be surprisingly low. But there's no way you can miss these two walking the same golf course together.
Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer (8:35 a.m. ET)
Quick, which golfers won the first three majors of 2014? That's right: Rory McIlroy (The Open Championship), Martin Kaymer (the U.S. Open) and Bubba Watson (the Masters).
Having this group tee off at the same time as Woods and Mickelson is a bit cruel, but with DVRs, live streams and other fancy technology, you can get around that minor problem. More than anything else, we thank you for this, PGA Championship.
McIlroy, obviously, would be worth watching no matter the duo teeing off with him. The 25-year-old has grabbed an absolute stranglehold of the golf world over the last several months, dominating The Open Championship and following that up with a win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week.
His talent has always been in the 100th percentile. But now, his confidence measures up next to his massive driving power. Take these comments, via the Golf Channel on Twitter, for example:
Part 1 of 2: “I said at the start of the year, that golf was looking for someone to put their hand up and sort of become, you know..."— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) August 5, 2014
Part 2 of 2: "one of the dominant players in the game and I felt like I had the ability to do that” - Rory McIlroy #PGAChamp— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) August 5, 2014
There is no one on McIlroy's level with the way he has played as of late, but seeing him match Watson big drive for big drive—Valhalla features nine holes 450 yards or longer—is must-see golf.
And if Kaymer plays like he did at the U.S. Open, this may just feel like watching a final three-man group on Sunday.